Bees vs. Seeds

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Many FruitGuys customers love seedless mandarins and grapes - they've become increasingly popular and even expected. But did you ever wonder how they get the seeds out?

There are many varieties of seedless and easy-peel mandarins. FruitGuys customers have had a chance to taste many of these during the citrus season, including: Satsuma, Dancy, Daisy, Page, Pixie, Gold Nugget, Tahoe Gold, Shasta, Yosemite, W. Murcott, and Clementine. The majority of Clementines sold in the U.S. are grown in California and Florida. Citrus are self-pollinating plants so they don't need pollinators like bees, wasps, bats, or hummingbirds for help to produce fruit. Mandarin growers plant their orchards with seedless varieties but if there is a seeded-variety tree nearby, say a Valencia orange, and pollen from that tree gets on to the seedless tree's blossoms, there's a chance that a future mandarin may have some seeds in it.

In springtime, beekeepers place hives in citrus groves all over California to capture delicious orange blossom honey and to aide in pollination of other crops. But bees don't read "seedless only" signs; they fly into seedless orchards with a bit of pollen from seeded trees, doing what bees do. The result can be mandarins with pips, sometimes a few, sometimes many.

Bee colonies have been declining in the past decade and agriculture wants to support them but the growth in the market for seedless mandarins has led some farmers to question which is more important: the bee or the seed.

"We've coexisted with them but we don't need them," Joel Nelson, executive director of California Citrus Mutual, an Exeter, CA-based trade organization, told The Los Angeles Times in January. "Now we're trying to adapt to changing consumer demands and we're hamstrung." Large citrus growers have asked for a two-mile bee buffer to protect seedless crops, but beekeepers are not required to move their hives. Beekeepers such as Gene Brandi, a member of the California State Beekeepers Association, say it is frustrating not being able to bring bees into areas with good natural feed. To mediate the dispute, the California Department of Agriculture has proposed that disputes between orchards and beekeepers can be resolved upon request by a state agricultural commissioner.

The FruitGuys find seedless fruit in California through growers we've known for years such as Porterville's Cruz Ranch and Friends Ranch in Ojai. Ronnie Gutierrez manages his family's orchard of diverse citrus. Gutierrez says he is not worried about the bees and their possible seed-spreading activities. "The bees help my trees," says Gutierrez, who has worked with the same beekeeper, Max Eggman, since he was a kid. "He knows where to put the bees and cross-pollinated trees are not a problem." Mr. Eggman humbly put it back on the farmers. "There's no magic, it depends on the varieties of trees."

As a knowledgeable farmer who weathers many of the ups and downs of nature, Gutierrez said, "The only thing I can guarantee is there is no guarantee."


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