Pollination: Let the Bees Do It

With the days getting longer and nights warmer, the plants in your greenhouse should be thriving.

Your greenhouse plants, tomatoes, cucumbers or squash, may start to send out their first flush of flowers. If you’ve bought plants locally, you may have bought plants with flowers or even little tomatoes already on the vine.

If this is the case, your next thoughts should centre on pollination. Pollination is what bees do. Because of the earliness of the season and because our tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in a greenhouse that is closed a greater part of the day, the job of pollination falls on the gardener.

To pollinate tomatoes, simply wiggle the cluster of flowers with your fingers. Do this every day and within a few days the flowers will fall off and, in its place, you’ll see a tiny tomato.

I always get excited to see the fruit as it seems to be a major milestone in the growing of tomatoes.

When it comes to pollinating zucchini, squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe or watermelon, the process of pollination becomes a little more involved. With these vegetables/fruits, each plant produces male and female flowers. To distinguish between the two is fairly easy as the female flower has the vegetable/fruit at the base of the flower.

A paintbrush works well in transferring pollen from the male to the female flowers. As with tomatoes, eventually the female flower wilts and, if successfully pollinated, the vegetable/fruit grows larger.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind. Some cucumber plants are self-pollinating such as the variety “Sweet Slice” and hybrid pickling cucumber.

This is where it is important to note the variety of vegetable/fruit that you have planted.

When you have two types of squash in one greenhouse such as a “butternut” variety and “spaghetti” squash, keep them far away from each other to prevent cross pollination.

We’ve had good luck growing watermelon and cantaloupe as long as we pollinated each female flower several times by hand.

Our experiment with pollination and bees took an interesting turn one year.

After a particularly tiring pollination session in the greenhouse where Frank (my husband) and I collected male cucumber flowers and went around pollinating all the female flowers, Frank had the brilliant idea of getting bees to do this task.

The bees were due to arrive in early spring and, sure enough, they did long before we could drive into the farm. This meant a hike of about a kilometre on just-melting mud.

Bees are shipped in five-pound packages containing thousands of bees.

I was remotely aware what one or two buzzing bees sounded like, but I was not prepared for the racket that a thousand or more excited bees would make.

The usual 45-minute hike into the farm took twice as long for me. I had my arms extended sideways as far away as I could with a bee package dangling from each hand.

But the bees were home.

I don’t know if the bees ever found the greenhouse and did the pollinating thing or not. We still pollinated some of the plants by hand “just to be sure”. Enough bees must have discovered the greenhouses because the job of pollinating seemed to disappear.

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