Better bee habitat means better fruit - and more of it!

University of Reading research fellow, Dr Michael Garratt has been studying pollination in commercial apple crops and has come up with some interesting results.

fruit blossomDr Garratt’s research has shown that Braeburn apples, in common with strawberries are largely pollinated by bumblebees, whilst Cox, Bramley and Gala apples depend mostly on solitary bees for pollination.

Fruit set drops by up to two thirds when there are no pollinators and, in addition, for the Gala variety of apple, the size of the fruit is also negatively affected by the lack of pollinating insects.

After some number crunching, Dr Garratt’s report claims that better pollination could increase the market value of the Gala apples by more than £5million a year. This puts a value of more than £430million per annum on the services provided to fruit growers by pollinating insects such as bees.

Increasing apple yields for gardeners

Naturally, I want to see the UK economy recover, but I also want to see a better crop of Bramleys on my own fruit trees, especially since we’re only days away from the blackberry picking season (I do like home-made blackberry and apple jam), so what can we gardeners do to help improve fruit yields?

bee in wildflower meadowLancaster University PhD student Alistair Campbell has concluded from monitoring pollination in Herefordshire cider apple orchards that solitary bees are responsible for 60 percent of visits to the blossoms that will ultimately form apples, but that they need food sources before the trees come into flower.  Wild flowers, particularly dandelions are important for this as are staples such as clover and birdsfoot trefoil.   It’s also important that the bees have suitable nesting sites, places to overwinter and are well fed once the apple blossoms have faded.  Again, wild flowers are important and wildflower meadows or strips are very useful for this.

So, gardeners, as you prepare to pick your apples this autumn, don’t forget to plan ahead and think about how you will be encouraging bees into your garden next spring.  Autumn is the optimum time of year to be establishing wild flower turf (let the weather water it in for you) or to sow a wild flower meadow from seed.

Take a look at our short video to find out how it’s done.

 How to make a wild flower meadow