Henry pokes his head in the cabin door and asks, “Do we have a paintbrush?”
I look around and quickly wrack my brain, “No. What do you want one for?”
“I need to pollinate my peaches. Do we have anything kind of like a paintbrush? Maybe something hairy?”
I look down at the dog napping at my feet. This is the time of year when her soft undercoat starts to shed in clumps. I pluck one such clump from her rear end and hold it up. “Will this work?”
“Perfect!” he says.
We have five young peach and nectarine trees growing in our greenhouse. Henry planted them under cover because Oregon’s climate is pretty marginal for peaches. Growers here only get a good crop about every third year. In the greenhouse, they will bear every year, though Henry has to prune them back heavily to keep them from getting too big.
The peach and nectarine trees are in full bloom right now, about a month ahead of a normal outdoor flowering schedule. Peaches are ideally pollinated by insects who smear pollen around the female flower bits as they buzz in and out of the flowers in their search for nectar and protein-rich pollen. The weather in early March or even early April in Oregon is often cool enough to keep insects grounded, sometimes leaving fruit tree flowers untouched.
Even if the weather were nice now, our wealth of honeybees doesn’t necessarily benefit the things Henry grows in the greenhouse. Honeybees will enter the greenhouse if the doors are open in warmer weather, but they have a hard time orienting under cover, so they often getting trapped inside and eventually die.
One remedy that’s really only feasible on a small scale is pollinating by hand. Hand pollinating is generally done with a paintbrush, but in this case, a clump of dog hair was a decent substitute. Henry simply went along swiping each flower with the “brush”, accumulating pollen and redistributing it around the tree. This was not a precise operation, but it will greatly increase our chances of a good peach yield come July.
Here’s the “before” shot of the dog hair “brush”…
…and now the “after”. It’s pretty surprising how much pollen one tree can produce.
Henry is glad to have one more little random chore crossed off his to-do list. I’ll be sure to report back on the results when we get to peach season.