Bees are Buzzing, Keeping Business Good in Londonderry

May 15, 2013 No Comments by

Apple tree blossoms are reaching full bloom in Londonderry, NH.

With blossoms blooming in Londonderry, bees will be busily buzzing by, pollinating flowers and ensuring apple growth. These flying “pests” are essential to the growth of apples and other fruits in town, as they cross-pollinate, a process required for fruitful trees and plants.

Nearly all commercial apple varieties require cross-pollination, as they cannot self-pollinate to produce a fruitful crop. To cross-pollinate means the bees carry pollen from one variety of apple tree to another. The varieties must also be compatible, for example early bloomers should be cross-pollinated with other early bloomers.

Crab apple trees are planted throughout Mack’s orchards to help with cross-pollination.

Did you know?

It is suggested that a colony with 20,000 bees would provide adequate pollination for one acre of fruit trees. According to Andy Mack Jr., of Mack’s Apples here in Londonderry, there are currently just over 100 acres of fruit trees on the property. For the best pollination results, Mack’s alone would need over 2 million bees! And that’s not including Merrill’s, Elwood or Sunnycrest orchards!

New Hampshire is home to more than 100 species of bees and only a small handful of these are responsible for pollination. European honey bees, in particular, take much of the responsibility in cross-pollinating the local trees. At any given time, 1/3 of these bees in a colony are foraging for nectar and pollen.

“Renting” bees is a common practice in Londonderry. Mack’s Apples rents hives every year, without fail. “Commercial apple orchards depend on extra hives, because apple orchards in full bloom present vastly more blossoms than native pollinators can handle,” explained Mack Jr. “Thus you need to bring in the reinforcements.”

Hives like these are shipped into Londonderry each spring to help with pollination.

An apiarist, or beekeeper, brings about 100 hives, six to a pallet, into Mack’s on a large flatbed truck. “They arrive after dark, and hopefully, on a cool night, which keeps the bees less active,” said Mack Jr. The pallets are taken off the truck using a forklift and are driven to the the orchards by the same tractors used in the fall to move fruit bins. They are strategically placed throughout the orchards, where they remain for a week or two. The length of time they’re are kept depends on the demand for bees further north, how long the blossoms last, and the weather.

Did you know?

Like the weather affects growth of other plants and fruits in Londonderry, it affects the work of the bees. Honey bees generally only fly in good conditions. Only six percent of the bees fly in temperatures around 51°F and a mere 21 percent fly in temperatures around 54°F. For a full 100 percent to fly, temperatures need to be at least 65°F. Wind also affects the bee’s flight. If winds are less than ten miles per hour, a large number of bees will pollinate, but if winds reach more than 15 miles per hour, all foraging can stop.

The importation of bees wasn’t always so simple, Mack Jr. recalls. “Years ago, we picked up individual hives from a local apiarist and loaded them on trucks by hand. This required trucking them into the orchard and placing them on apple boxes. Many hives were old and rickety, and with our luck it would be a warm night. Bees would be all over the hives. The guys would be working in the middle of the night after working all day, because May is such a busy month. Everyone would be tense and crabby, because you’d get stung often, even with protective gear. Ours was never in perfect condition.”

This honey bee hive is located on the corner of Cross Road and Adams Road, nearly across the street from Mack’s U-Pick 2. Though not part of the “rented” bees, they likely find pollen in the trees on the Mack’s property.

“It was a miserable job that took up to 3 nights to complete. And then you had to repeat it when it was time to return the hives, which inevitably would be heavy with honey on an even warmer night, leaking healthy, often very angry bees. When I was younger I did everything I could to avoid this job because it was NOT fun. Nowadays, with forklift and tractor the job takes an hour and a half. The breezy trip keeps the bees at bay. Haven’t gotten stung yet.”

Makes you think twice before swatting at a honey bee in Londonderry.

Farms, Outdoors

About the author

Jacklynn has been a resident in Londonderry since the age of 5. She grew up in a quiet neighborhood and went through the great school system. She has fond memories of bike riding through town in the spring and summer, sledding in the winter, and apple and pumpkin picking in the fall. She now has children of her own and looks forward to raising them in the same town she enjoyed so much as a youth.
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