On my soapbox – Bees and grapes

BeeDon’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of bees. I do everything I can to reduce my impact on them and we plant many flowering plants they like. From what I see the native bee population is healthy here on Hollywood Hill. Most are the bumblebee type of bee and I do occasionally see honeybees. Blackberry flowers are winding down this time of year and there were huge numbers of bees on the wild blackberries. I love to try and count all the different types I can. I swear I’ve seen at least 10 different types of bees. Lavender is next around here and bees love them too.

The reason for my soapbox are these list going around the internet and particularly on Facebook where the list shows the crops that we would not have if we didn’t have bees. On several lists, I have seen grapes listed. Don’t believe it for a second. The reason is that domesticated grapes are self fertile, not requiring intervention by insects to carry pollen from flower to flower. The reason they are self fertile is that most of domestic grapes are hermaphroditic, meaning they contain male and female sex organs in their flowers.

How could that happen? Easy! Way back maybe 10,000 years ago. Humans harvested wild grapes by climbing up trees and picking them. In the wild, grapes have male and female plants. They mainly use the wind for pollination with some assistance from insects. It’s not clear how much help they offer or not. Grape pollen is extremely small and can be carried by the wind to the next vine over on the next tree. But what ancient humans found was that occasionally the would find a vine that seemed to produce a good crop every year. What they didn’t know was that they were hermaphroditic. Grape vines are ridiculously easy to start from cuttings. Basically cut a vine in winter from last year’s growth and stick it in the ground. I have done this hundreds of times. This is called cloning. Humans selected hermaphrodites because the produced a more consistent crop.

Fast forward to modern times. Almost 100% of table, juice and wine grapes are hermaphrodites. When the flower opens, the pollen is right there and fertilizes the ovaries giving us grapes. No bees needed. So if you see grapes on one of these lists, politely correct them.

For more information, read here: http://www.academicwino.com/2012/06/pollination-dynamics-of-cabernet.html/

and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees (Grapes are listed as Zero impact from pollnators)

June, 2014. El Nino Yet?

June2014GDDBack in April there was a lot of talk that this would be an El Nino year. Warm water was coming up to the surface out in the middle of the Pacific ocean and during El Nino we get some of the warmest and driest weather we see. Albeit, we basically go into a drought situation every summer here in the Pacific Northwest, but during El Nino it gets even drier and hotter. It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to this year and the grapes I would get from my vineyard. In April we got off to a great start and by the beginning of June it looked like it was going to be living up to expectations, but then what typically happens in June around here we get into the June gloom. I’m beginning to wonder if the El Nino is falling apart already or we just haven’t seen it show up yet.

14dayforecastOne thing I have been noticing from the climate prediction center that their medium range forecasts are getting wetter but not necessarily cooler. The image on the left shows the 14 day forecast from June 19th. I would probably bring my umbrella for your 4th of July fireworks if this holds out and again not looking very good for the grapes. It especially doesn’t look good for the east coast where it’s supposed to be hot and rainy which means thunderstorms and tornadoes this time of the year. The 1 month and 3 month outlooks still look good, but we shall see!