How to Hand Pollinate - A Beginner's Guide
Cue the Marvin Gaye on your playlist, because it’s time to help the flowers get it on. The topic might sound racy, but perhaps be necessary in order for your plants to produce their fruit. So what is hand pollination? It is manually transferring pollen from one flower to another. But there are different flowers and ways to go about it.
When does hand pollination come into play? Usually when you have indoor or isolated plants that pollinators can’t get to. If you live in an urban area, especially a high rise, pollinators have a harder time getting to those city flowers. In other cases, such as plant breeders, they’ll use hand pollination as a more secure method for pure plant breeds, or on the flip side, use them to create hybrid plants. This technique can also be implemented when your gardens are just not producing enough fruit.
Playing the Bee With the Flower
In order to perform the act, it first depends on what you’re looking to pollinate. Some plants have male and female flowers, while others have hermaphrodite flowers, which are self-fertile. The male flowers have a stamen inside which is a filament covered in pollen. The female flowers have the pistil, which is a stalk located in the center and is usually sticky. The hermaphrodite flowers have both male and female parts.
Hermaphrodite flowers are the easiest to hand pollinate. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are plants that have self-pollinating flowers. Sometimes just a light shake of the plant (That’s right, be gentle) can get the job done. If you want a more thorough and fun way, you can use your finger or a small paint brush to spread that pollen around, jumping from flower to flower.
Members of the cucurbit family have male and female flowers, and can be a little more meticulous when hand pollinating. These members are cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. The males usually arrive first in clusters on the stems. The female flowers can arrive a bit later than the males. The females sit upon a stem that looks like a tiny fruit. This little berry is the potential fruit that you’re waiting for.
To start, pick the male flower and pull the petals off. Take a small paint brush and gather that golden dust, then swab the pistil of the female flower. Continue to paint the pistil with the pollen, remembering to replenish that pollen brush after every few strokes. Another method is to skip the brush and just use the petal-less male flower to swab the inside of the female flower. No tools needed.
The Future of Hand Pollination
The hand pollination technique has been useful in the past for the specific reasons I’ve talked about. But these days, with bees, butterflies and other pollinators dying out due to pesticides, diseases and environmental changes due to intensive farming, hand pollination is being taken to the next level in gardens these days. As much as our hands can shake and paint the inside of our garden flowers, there is nothing on this earth that can replace the bees. They are crucial to our survival in living on this planet. So be aware in planting your next garden to always have flowers nearby your vegetables.
Local wildflowers and other plants that attract pollinators are best. Calendula, sunflowers, catnip and zucchini are good at attracting our pollen spreaders. Be smart and don’t use pesticides on your plants. There are other, natural ways to help keep pests at bay. Another thing you can do for the bees is have a watering station for them. Bees need water. Put a shallow dish with marbles or stones inside, then fill with water. You can watch as they take little sips, keeping those little bees hydrated, you entertained and your garden happy.
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