Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pollinating the Cashew Tree at the Huntington Museum of Art

Recently, my friend, Carolyn Bagby contacted me. She wrote, "Our conservatory director, Mike Beck, has a cashew tree that is budding that will be in need of pollination in a week or two. We were talking about this at lunch today and I told him you might be willing to help him with this problem."
I contacted Mike who is the Director of the very beautiful Consrevatory at the Huntington Museum of Art. He told me they have a cashew tree starting to bloom & he had always wanted to try to get it pollinated to have actual cashews growing in it. I toured the Conservatory with Mike and there were several things I noticed. First, there were huge windows all around to let in light. Bees orient, in part, by polarized light. I was concerned that the bees would simply fly toward the windows and get stuck there trying to get out. To overcome this, I rubbed lemongrass oil on the opening of their hive, since bees also locate their hive by its unique smell.
The second concern was that there were several other wonderful smelling flowers in bloom. The vanilla vine, along with a few other trees and orchids were blooming profusely. Bees will always choose the flower which has the highest percentage of sugar in its nectar.
I researched cashew pollination on the internet and discovered that the flowers are very attractive to bees, which are used to pollinate the trees in the tropics. I shared this with Mike & we agreed to give it a try.
The trickiest part of the operation is that we obviously couldn't have an open beehive in the Conservatory while people were there. Since the Museum is closed on Monmdays, we agreed that I would bring a small observation beehive to the tree at closing time on Sunday, March 29th and return to pick them up the next evening.

Mike met me at the door and the we opened the hive directly under the cashew tree. As predicted, many bees flew directly to the large windows and spent their time trying to find a way out. But Mike came back on Monday and saw several bees around the cashew flowers. He even rigged up a small plastic flower pot on a long handle and scooped a few bees off the windows. He then poured those over the cashew flowers to try & give them the idea. All he got for his efforts was a stinger in the ear!
The next day, I brought a small bee vac which scoops up the bees into a chamber from which they were released near their hive after they returned to my beeyard.
Time will tell whether the project was successful & the Museum will have its own cashews. But Mike & I had a lot of fun & learned many new things about bees & trees!