|Pollinating tomato plants in Better Farm's aquaponic garden.|
Put simply, there are two types of pollination: same-flower pollination, and multi-flower pollination.
- Same-flower pollination Veggies and fruits in this category include peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. In these plants, pollen just needs to be released from one part of a flower to another part in the same flower in order for pollination to occur. Wind is the most common pollinator here, literally “shaking loose” the pollen. Insects, like bees, also help with the vibration of their wings or the physical action of their climbing on flowers moving the pollen around.
- Multi-flower pollination Plants in this category include cucumbers, melons and squash. These plants produce both male and female flowers. For pollination to occur, pollen must move from the male flower to the female flower. Generally, this is accomplished by insects flying or crawling from one flower to another.
For plants with male and female flowers, you're going to have to manually transport pollen from male flowers to females. Can't tell which is which? Male flowers are smaller and you can often see the pollen as “dust” inside. Female flowers tend to be larger and often have a small, unfertilized fruit at their base. For example, with cucumbers, you can actually see a small ½ inch long cucumber at the base of the female flowers. If left unpollinated, this will drop off. If pollinated, it grows into a full-sized fruit.
To fertilize these plants, you can use a Q-tip or tiny paintbrush. Just dab the male flowers a few times and then dab the female flowers and buds. This morning I pollinated tomato plants and clovers using both methods just for due diligence. I'll be knee-deep in aquaponics for the next few weeks repeating the process and capturing pics of the progress. Here are some action shots: