I remember walking through my dad’s garden as a kid, and watching him gently stick his finger in blooms. He explained then that he was pollinating the plants, to be sure that they grew. I didn’t ask questions, but when I started gardening this year, I found myself repeating his motions.
Gently helping the plants along.
Now, if you’re a backyard beekeeper and have plenty of pollinators, or if you have a huge garden with plenty of plants (and likely lots of extra fruit & vegetables), you may not need to worry about ensuring pollination occurs.
Really, nature does a very good job of turning blooms to fruit.
But, I have a small space, and just a few plants. So, when I see blooms, I like to help out the neighborhood bees and do a little bit of pollination by hand… you know, just to be sure 🙂
The process varies by plant type. Tomatoes for instance, are self-pollinating, and have the male and female parts within each bloom. Often, just a gust of wind helps shake the pollen from the male parts to the female parts.
Squash, zucchini and cucumbers are different though. You still just need one plant, because each plant has male and female blooms, but the pollen needs to be transferred from the male bloom to the female bloom to produce fruit.
Usually, it’s pollinators like bees and butterflies that travel from blossom to blossom carrying the pollen.
But, if you’re interested in doing a little pollinating by hand, the process is pretty simple!
Often plants produce a bunch of male blooms first. When my plants started blooming a few weeks ago, I didn’t have an obvious female bloom yet. I kept trying to convince myself that some of the male blooms were female so that I could start pollinating. But, once female blossoms started appearing on the plants it became VERY apparent which ones were males and which were females.
The easiest way to tell the difference?
Female blooms have a small version of the mature vegetable attached to the end of the blossom.
In this case, it’s a yellow squash. See? The one on the right has a tiny yellow squash on the end (and is female). The two on the left are male blossoms.
Pollinating By Hand
- Identify the male and female blossoms.
- Grab a small paint brush or Q-tip.
- Gently dip your tool in the male blossom, putting a bit of pollen on the tip.
- Then, dip your tool into the female blossom.
Repeat as needed, but clean off your brush between plant types, otherwise you may cross-pollinate and end up with some hybrids.
Then, you’ll know that you, or the bees, have been successful because your crop will start growing, FAST! This yellow squash progressed from the tiny fruit on the end of a closed bloom (the first photo in this post), to harvestable for dinner in exactly 7 days.
Off you go, to be a busy “bee”! Let me know how it goes. I hope your gardens are starting to take off!