Backyard Apple Tree Ecology
I love my backyard ecology. There is much going on. Right now my apple trees are in full bloom. They are calling to honeybees and other pollinators. They are using oodles and oodles of resources–energy and material they have gathered from the sun, soil, and air in order to provision their future generations with the benefits that come through genetic exchange. Each tree is pouring nectar into its flowers. The bees are taking that nectar and in doing so cover themselves in pollen, which they drop on other flowers, on other trees. Win-win. The trees get to use sex to increase their offspring’s survival and the bees get enormous stores of the sun’s energy in the form of sugars, which will benefit their offspring.
Later the tree will encase its precious seeds in something that will attract other of the tree’s helpers: Frugivores. Certain birds and mammals (including the mammals that live in my house) will eat the fruit and carry the tree’s seeds far and wide (or that’s the way it’s suppose to work).
The tree without these helpers would doom its future generations. We all need helpers. And these trees are my helpers. They will give me both honey and apples which will make pies, dried apples and juice:
The apple trees also provide for a spiritual dimension. In the summer I hang a hammock and in the long days of summer when I get home where I read and think. My daughter has a large flower garden under the trees and she spends time walking underneath the trees in a small circular path that rings the five trees where she thinks and dreams and imagines new worlds. She will sometimes walk under the trees for hours.
Hunting among the apple tree leaves are vespid wasps. Yellowjackets. They are great for the trees and our garden. They take a sip of nectar, but they are not great pollinators. Unlike bees they are not very hairy and don’t hold the pollen as well. They only take enough nectar to suffice for the day’s hunt. And they are hunters. They are going to pull caterpillar larvae, leafhoppers and other competitors from our garden plants and produce. They take these little insects and grind them up in their jaws and feed them to their larvae. Our house is ringed with yellow jacket nests. Yeah, we have to pull them down sometimes because they’ve built it where we want to go, and they do not share their space. But if they are away from where people gather we let them be. They are helping us.
If you are really lucky. Really, really lucky. A baldfaced wasp will build it’s paper nest in one your trees. They look like dark large yellowjackets. They build beautiful paper nests about the size of a soccer ball. Although they can be rather nasty neighbors if you get in the tree with them, you can stand underneath and they don’t mind. They don’t see you as a threat until you are even with them. Here’s my daughter under one (upper right):
At the end of Fall the new generation of queens they’ve reared will have abandoned the nest and have found a safe place to overwinter, like under the bark of a fallen log. The worker females die. You can then take their old home, they won’t use it again and decorate with it. We have several of these hanging in our house. Works of art from nature.
Because we use no pesticides, the apples are wormy with coddling moth larvae. But we don’t mind. They are easily cored for juice or the wormholes cut away for eating. We feel like Brigham Young Did:
Last season when the grasshoppers came on my crops, I said, ‘Nibble away, I may as well feed you as to have my neighbors do it; I have sown plenty, and you have not raised any yourselves.’ And when harvest came you would not have known that there had been a grasshopper there. Pay attention to what the Lord requires of you and let the balance go.
According to present appearances, next year  we may expect grasshoppers to eat up nearly all our crops. But if we have provisions enough to last us another year, we can say to the grasshoppers—these creatures of God—you are welcome. I have never yet had a feeling to drive them from one plant in my garden; but I look upon them as the armies of the Lord.
Whether we know it our not we are embedded in ecologies of reliance. These are necessary to life. When we forget this we forget that we are dependent on each other including our helper plants and animals–like wasps!