The Orchard Is at Pink

apple buds fling
            pink sweetness
spring frenzy

Apple growers, as well as beekeepers, fruit researchers, and orchard advisory consultants, all casually announce, “The orchard is at pink.” It’s their scientific way of saying, “The festivities are soon to begin.” Pink is one of the growth stages in fruit trees — when each tightly clustered fruit bud opens, and anywhere from five to seven individual flower buds, each enrobed in pink, magenta, or red petals, rise from a whorl of tender green leaves.

The King Bloom is encircled by buds.

The King Bloom is encircled by buds.

Each one of these pink-robed buds is prepared to produce an apple. Before finding myself the owner of a small orchard, I assumed that one fruit bud would create one apple. But the apple tree wants to ensure its own longevity: each fruit bud opens to a cluster of blossoms, with each blossom capable of producing fruit. In the center is the King Bloom, the strongest and largest. All the others are in reserve, princes and princesses waiting to take over the throne should something happen to the King. The King Bloom opens first, and the others follow soon after.  It’s possible that each of these pink buds will produce an apple with the King Bloom in the center.

Pink is the time when the banquet table is set. The scurrying and preparation is done. The orchard grasses have greened, the daffodils and dandelions are in bloom, and we have planted out our new trees. The first loud guests arrive. Robins and mourning doves hop from ground to tree; bluebirds flit through the branches. The herons are back and fly their pattern from Delaney wetlands to beyond the orchard and back again, necks stretching, wings flapping, achingly beautiful. Geese honk incessantly defending their nesting areas, and a pair of swans antagonizes any creature not respectful of their water rights.

Last Sunday I saw my first bumblebee, and on Monday, Melissa Ljosa brought two hives of honeybees who will live here all year. I had to take a sculpture to the Design Center in Boston that morning and when I returned, I heard the bees as I walked among our Asian pear trees. I didn't have to look; I could feel their buzzing energy.

Asian pear white buds.

Asian pear white buds.

Our Asian pears are in full bloom, always one stage ahead of the apples. I smelled the trees’ sour scent. Asian pears, so delicious and sweet to eat, give off an unappealing odor, old cheese, (at least judged by this human). Pears, as well as plums and cherries, have white fruit buds, thus, orchardists don’t use the designation pink, but white bud. These clusters of white buds are beautiful, but only apples have a rosette of green leaves with pink rising. This contrast of color makes apple blossoms magical.

When the apple orchard was at pink, I used to call Gus Skamarycz, our beekeeper for many years before he retired. My call at pink would let him know the blossoms had donned their lipstick and were almost ready to greet the bees. He would wait a few days, and then arrive before sunup with two hives. I would meet him in the orchard, his bees still asleep.

“Why so early?” I asked the first year.

“I want the bees to open their eyes in a new place, see the blossoms, and go to work,” he replied.

When I asked, “How long does it take a hive to pollinate an orchard?” Looking around, Gus said, “A strong hive can pollinate this orchard in a few hours, but you have different varieties.”

Not all of our trees will bloom at the same time. The Macintosh apples are the first to open and the earliest to ripen; the Golden Blushing apples reach full blossom two weeks later—their ripening peaks in early October. Gus’s bees would stay for two weeks to provide pollination for all the trees. With Melissa’s two hives now in residence, we don’t worry about pollination and she doesn’t worry about food for her bees.

Next week we will be at bloom in the apple orchard, the stage when the pink buds open. Join us next Saturday, May 6 for Blossom Viewing. We’ll be in the orchard from 3 to 5 if the day is sunny. Bring paints, pen and paper or a poem to share; we’ll listen to the bees and toast the trees, our own free-form, apple blossom viewing.