One of the most colorful signs that spring has returned to the Tehachapi Mountains is the annual appearance of fruit tree blossoms. In shades ranging from snow white to deep pink, flowers burst forth on the branches of assorted fruiting trees that include almonds, cherries, peaches, apples, pears and others.
April is typically the biggest month for fruit blossoms in our area. I have occasionally seen old almond trees bloom as early as January during a warm winter, but almonds are a definite outlier at our elevation — they often bloom too early and get hit by a frost, so there's never been a commercial almond orchard planted in the Tehachapi Mountains.
However, homeowners have sometimes planted almonds, in a triumph of optimism over experience, but Tehachapi oldtimers used to say that you'd only get a crop of almonds or apricots (another early bloomer) about every third year.
In recent decades, the average of successful fruiting years for these early bloomers has probably increased, and in the case of apricots the results of a good year are definitely worth the attempt.
Fruit on a tree starts its life as a flower, and that flower must be pollinated in order for the fruit to develop. Fruit tree blossoms are typically only viable for 3 to 10 days, so the window for pollination isn't very long.
Enter the bees. A fruit tree in full flowering is a bustle of insect activity as a variety of bees and other winged pollinators visit to collect pollen and nectar. In the process, they spread pollen from one flower to another, causing the flowers to get fertilized and develop into fruit.
Honeybees are often the most numerous and noticeable bees at work on a flowering fruit tree, but they are by no means the only ones. A diverse assembly of other wild bees also visits and provides pollination services. These bees range from tiny, often colorful bees the size of house fly up to giants like bumblebees and carpenter bees that are as big as your thumb.
Honeybees get much of the credit for pollinating fruit trees, and they are indeed busy and dedicated little pollinators, but the wild bees also deserve acknowledgement — many of them are actually better at pollinating than honeybees, but there aren't nearly as many of them.
It is an interesting and pleasant springtime experience to stand quietly by a fruit tree in full flower, and watch the pollinators as they come and go on a warm day. It may take a few minutes for your eyes to adjust down to the scale of the little winged workers, but once they do, you'll notice the great diversity of the crew.
As you observe, occasionally moving around the tree for different viewpoints, you can perceive the flurry and bustle of the busy flyers as they move from blossom to blossom. You may even start to recognize individual bees, since even honeybees can vary widely in abdomen color from black to golden orange. And the pollen grains that coat their backs and hind legs also differ in color depending on the flowers they've been visiting.
Some of the blossoms visitors aren't even bees — you'll see wasps and hoverflies making their rounds as well.
Last year we had a late killing frost, I believe it was on April 24, and many trees bore little or no fruit, though some growers still had a light crop. This year, our late winter/early spring was quite cool, which kept the trees from blooming early, so hopefully this year's harvest will be bountiful. If so, some credit and appreciation will be owed to the diverse Kingdom of Bees.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.