Issue: June 1, 1998


Poor cherry crop due to poor pollination

Question:

My sweet cherry tree bloomed well this year like the one described in last week's question. However, I saw no sign of freeze damage in the tree or in surrounding plants. Could something else have caused the problem?

Answer:

Yes, the weather in New Mexico is usually a good choice if there is blame to assign; however, there are other factors to consider as well. Another major factor in fruit development in New Mexico orchards is pollination or the lack of proper pollination. Weather can cause poor pollination if it is cold or rainy during the time of bloom. If it is cold or rainy, the insects which carry pollen from one plant to another may not be active. Rain is usually not a problem in New Mexico when it comes to pollination, but temperature can cause the bees to stay in their hives.

Sweet cherry trees require a pollinator tree to be relatively near. If such a pollinator tree is not nearby, thencherries will be few or none. That is because most sweet cherries cannot be effectively pollinated by pollen from the same variety of cherry tree. For example, if you had only Bing sweet cherries and there were no other cherry varieties nearby, you would have no or few cherries produced. Sour cherries don't bloom at the same time, so they are not effective pollinators for sweet cherries.

In New Mexico and many other parts of the country there is another factor affecting the pollination of fruit trees and vegetables. That is the lack of pollinator insects due to the death of many bee colonies caused by mites which parasitize the bees. There two major mite problems, the varoa mite and the tracheal mite. Both can cause problems by weakening and killing whole bee colonies, whether the bees are feral, that is wild bees, or "tame" bees in hives.

There are other bees and insects which can provide pollination services. These include the large and fearsome looking bumble bee and many types of smaller, non-colony forming bees. However, bad weather combined with reduced honey bee populations can be a major factor causing poor pollination of cherries, other fruits, and vegetables.


Composting kitchen wastes

Question:

Is it ok to put kitchen scraps into the compost? Can I get diseases using them?

Answer:

It is good to put some types of kitchen scraps into your compost. If there is sufficient heat generated in the compost, plant disease organisms will be killed. Human disease organisms, if that was your concern, should also be killed by composting process. However, human diseases are not carried by plants.

You should avoid adding to the compost kitchen scraps which contain fats and oils such as meat, foods cooked in large amounts of butter or oil, and such. Most people avoid breads and bread products because they also contain oil and because they are very attractive to mice and ants.

Just think, what you didn't eat from the kitchen may be composted and used to grow food in the garden which is then eaten. This gives a new meaning to your mother's admonition to eat everything on your plate! At the time she said that, didn't you wish broccoli could be turned into strawberries?