At the end of February I took a series of photos at a farm I visit frequently. Plum, Apricot and Almond blossoms each had a photo post dedicated to them. I was surprised to get any comments at all, let alone engaging ones. The comments and the photos sparked conversations about fruit blossoms culinarily, which cultures have tapped into their subtleties and possible uses for light perfumes such as the ones emitted from Spring's first breath.
But there was more. Someone brought up the fact that early blossoms, especially in California, where our rainy season is primarily in the winter months, stopping just as late spring, early summer arrives, could mean that fruit orchards will lose their fruit even before it has had time to begin.
Every fruit blossom is a fruit, if it can get that far.
Last year Northern California was hit with a winter so wet many of us felt like we were caught in the middle of Love In The Time Of Cholera. (A book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez wherein there are dozens of pages dedicated to describing, in minute detail, a place where it has rained for decades!) Because of that onslaught, farmers producing all kinds of crops had to stand still and either watch their livelihood wash away, or wait for soil firm enough to sow seeds in.
If you tried to find or buy cherries last year, you know what I'm talking about. Even strawberries came super late. California almonds quadrupled in price and the demand for Organic almonds far exceeded what was harvested.
But the fault lay not only in the daily downpour, or the actual water itself, but from the fact that bees, who are the number one pollinators (turning those blossoms into fruit/nuts) for orchards in California, and beyond, were not doing their job of "sexing the blossoms." (Upwards of 80% of The United State's domestic fruit and nuts are grown in California!)
Bees do not like to work in the rain. Even if they did, the pollen collected would wash off their legs in a rainstorm, making their efforts useless. If the blossoms open up, and then the rain comes, the bees cannot do their thing, but also the tree is forced to let go of the blossom-- it's just a little slip of a delicate creature, and it can't bear the weight of the water.
This is not the only worry or problem. Beekeepers all over the world would be blessed with an issue as slight as weather conditions.
Bees all over North America are disappearing.
Where are they disappearing off to? How are bees disappearing?
These questions are on the lips of orchardists, bee keepers, scientists, fruit lovers, and possibly the bees themselves.
There's the question of mites and the pests which attack whole bee colonies. Then there's the pesticides farmers are spraying their crops with. Certain chemicals kill bees at alarming rates, whether by actual physical contact, or the bees who've been contaminated bring it back to the hive only to commit unintentional genocide, (or the fact that pesticides rarely stick only to the plant that they're meant for.)
I have seen article after article on this subject. It's something worth taking note of, if you want to know more about not only who, as in humans, grows your food, but also who, as in creatures, facilitates tree's reproductive cycles, therefore giving you the local and/or ripe seasonal fruit you crave, want and buy.
If you have time to listen to an amazing podcast (audio only) about where North America stands in terms of agriculture's main pollinator, bees, click on this link. Thank you A Faustian Bargain for this link!
I'm sure I preach to the converted when I say that eating seasonally, locally and as sustainably as you can afford is important. It is this way that you first begin to have a relationship to those who make it possible for you to eat at all. Animals, soil and humans alike.
Other resources for information on this subject:
The intriguing Pollination Home Page.
An article about "the vampire mite."
Science News talks about the importance of relying on more than merely one species of bee.
The NY Times reports on the tale of the vanishing bee.