Pollinators are very important in the garden for fruit production. But not every plant relies on them. Are tomatoes one of them?
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Pollinators and Their Job in the Garden
We moved into our new home in 2019. During our first year gardening here, there wasn’t as much fruit production. At my parents’ home where I was previously gardening, there was always an abundance of bees and other pollinators. Their property has an Eastern RedBud, apple trees, a pear tree, and lots of flowers. I hadn’t even thought about there being a lack of bees at our new home. But when it came time for the plants to produce fruit, our harvest struggled. At first I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The plants looked healthy. They were thriving! As I began to really hone in on what could possibly be an issue, I noticed that there weren’t a lot of bees around. There were basically no honey bees. There was an occasional bumble bee, carpenter bee, and lingering wasp.
There was a lot of work to be done on the property to attract them.
It’s estimated that somewhere between 75% to 95% of flowering plants on earth rely on pollinators.
To put it in perspective, think this – “every 1 out of 3 bites of the food you eat was pollinated by bees”.1
Their numbers are on a decline though for various reasons – changes in the climate, misuse of different chemicals, loss of habitat through activities like deforestation, and many other causes.
So Do You Need Bees, or Rather Pollinators, to Grow Tomatoes?
Yes, bees/pollinators are important for growing fruit on your tomato plants. Although tomato plants are self-fertile and can self-pollinate (they have both male and female parts), pollinators are needed to move pollen around from plant to plant. The anther of a tomato flower only releases pollen when vibrated.
What is an anther? An anther is the part of the stamen that produces pollen.
Bees are able to vibrate and therefore release the pollen through what is known as “buzz pollination”. The bee places its upper body, or thorax, close to the anther, creating a vibration with its flight muscles.
Although wind does move pollen around and does an OK job, pollinators are much more efficient at getting the job done.
Can Pollination Occur without Pollinators? What About in Greenhouses?
Pollination for tomatoes can occur, but relying on elements like the wind isn’t always the best option. Other factors like high temperatures and excessive moisture or humidity result in poor pollination.
You can try pollinating by hand. On warm, sunny days with low humidity, it’s the optimal time to try this technique. You can either gently shake the plant, or gently tap the flower, which will help it release pollen.
In a greenhouse setting, the two best options for pollination are bees and hand pollinating.
The best time of day for pollination to be done is midday.
Other Tomato Topics You May Be Interested In
1. “Protecting Bees, Building Habitat, and Strengthening Communities Together.” The Bee Conservancy, 14 Apr. 2022