I had one of those laughable moments a few weeks ago when it was like I was a brand new, inexperienced gardener again, when I had for a second, forgotten everything I have learned over the years.
I was in the greenhouse wondering why I had next to no tomatoes and especially next to nothing on the pepper plants when in previous years I’d had lots. It took a second but then I remembered that maybe I should hand pollinate the plants. Now it’s not as dodgy as it sounds, although Kate does admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable about the whole thing. Like it should be done in the privacy of a darkened room.
Basically if you think about it, the plants in the garden get all sorts of pollinating visitors from bees to butterflies to hoverflies and also gets a bit of wind around the flowers. The greenhouse gets some insects, but not nearly as many as if the plants were outside and it would be a rare day for the greenhouse to get any kind of proper wind inside, so naturally, it takes a bit longer for all the flowers to cross pollinate.
So we can help that along. It’s another one of those simple and quick tasks you can add to your weekly routine and it goes something like this.
Option one: tomatoes
Tomatoes are what’s called self pollinating or self fertile, which means the flowers have both male and female parts and basically pollinate themselves. this works because the tomato flowers hang down (face down) and vibrations from the wind, insects etc make the pollen fall from the stamen (male part) to the pistil (female part) and pollinating the plant.
So to help this happen, you just need to cause some vibrations on the flower, just gently. You can do this by tapping the flowers. Nice and simple, or as is actually quite common, you can actually use an electric toothbrush. Yup you read that correctly, an electric toothbrush. Basically just hold it against the stem just above the flower for a couple of seconds. That’s all it takes, and the vibrations help the pollen to drop.
Option two: peppers and chillies
The flowers on pepper and chilli plants are slightly different. They are open and designed to be pollinated by insects, bees, moths and even ants etc. As the insects crawls around in the flower, they get pollen on them which they then transmit to other flowers as they go exploring. So to mimic this… grab a soft bristled paintbrush or a cotton swap. Start at one point in the greenhouse, make a note of your starting point, and just very gently brush the cotton swab or paint brush over the pollen in the flowers on the plants. Then do the same on another plant to transfer that pollen and pick up some new pollen.
I say to make a note of where you start because you want to do this methodically to make sure you cover every flower on every plant.
Option 3: courgettes
The first time I did this when we were growing courgettes in the greenhouse, and I thought that might be a nice thing to talk to you about because it’s a wee bit different on plants like courgettes. Courgettes have both male and female flowers so you need to make sure you are taking the pollen from the male flower and transferring it to the female flower. Don’t worry it’s easy to tell them apart. The male flowers are basically the flowers on long thin stems. The female flowers are on short, fat stems that look like tiny courgettes.
Give it a try, go have a look at the current state of affairs in your greenhouse and make a note of how much fruit you have on the plants and then go around and give the plants a little bit of help with pollination. Then have another check in a couple of weeks and see if it’s made a difference.