You have all been hearing about the problems with bee colony collapse, and a shortage of pollinating bees. Last year we had a very poor tomato crop and I have been wondering why. The other day I was talking to a friend who had a similar problem two years ago. He solved his by hand pollinating the flowers and had a much bigger crop than normal.
Now I know that tomatoes are considered a self-pollinating flower so I did a little research on this and here is what I found.
Tomatoes and bell peppers are considered self-pollinating. This means that they have flowers that contain both the male and female parts. As a result, you don’t need more than one plant for reproduction. The pollen falls within the flower to pollinate itself. However, insects and wind are still important. They can help pollinate self-pollinating plants, the buzzing of their wings helps to shake the pollen off into the flower. A gently breeze will spread the pollen.
Now last year was very hot and dry. This can cause a self-pollinating plant to fail to pollinate. When temperatures rise above 85 to 90 degrees F (depending on humidity) during the day and 75 degrees F at night, pollen may become unsuccessful. When it is hot and dry, pollen may become so dry that it doesn’t stick to the female part of the flower. Humidity can also be a factor. In humid regions of the U.S., pollen may become so sticky that it does not fall.
Now after the first failure my friend started hand pollinating the flowers.
Here is how he did it. This will work on self-pollinators or ones that require a male and female flower.
- He used a wooden pencil with a new eraser; you can also use a small brush or cotton swab.
- Identify the male part (self-pollinators) or the male flower.
- Vegetable plants will have more male flowers than female flowers.
- Use the pencil, brush or swab to gently swirl around the stamen of the male flower.
- Carefully swirl the pollen collected on the brush onto the stigma of the female flower. On plants that have male and female flowers, you can cut the male flower off and shake it over the female flowers.
- Touch all surfaces around the middle of the female flower.
- Collect pollen from multiple male flowers for each female flower on the plant.
We are hand pollinating the flowers on our tomato plants and expect to have a good crop.