I usually write about fitness, but I also love growing food. Today I’m talking about buzz pollination of tomato plants. I tried to grow tomatoes in the Sunset District of San Francisco for 20 years. People say it is possible, but I never had any luck. No matter what cultivar, how early I planted, fertilizer etc. I could never get more than one or two tomatoes off any plant before they die. I know why. Late blight. It begins with a brown spot on a leaf and two weeks later the entire plant is dead. Nothing you can do to stop it. But this year in May I moved to San Rafael, same hardiness zone as San Francisco, 10a, but dry. It’s a whole different ball game. I planted Juliet, Brandywine and Roma tomatoes and got a bountiful harvest, by my standards. After that long introduction, I’m going to tell you a secret to growing more, bigger and delicious tomatoes.
The magic word is buzz pollination
Tomatoes are supposed to be self-pollinating, their flowers have both the stamen that releases pollen and the pistil which collects it and sets the fruit.
So ostensibly the flower pollinates itself. My friend Michiel came over and looked at my tomato plants. He said,” Wow those are big plants but not so much fruit. You know to shake them, right?” I said, “What?” “Yeah, you shake them and it gets the pollen out.” This sounded like hooey, so I looked it up. It turns out that the stamens don’t give up the pollen that easily and shaking the flowers or a little wind helps to release the pollen.
But something does an even better job.
Bumblebees are the masters of buzz pollination
Bumblebees grab the flower with their back legs and the pistil with their mandibles and vibrate their bodies to release the pollen. They vibrate at a frequency between 200 and 450 times a second. I don’t have bumblebees, so I looked around my house for something that vibrates at that rate that I could use as an artificial bumblebee. I do have a generic sex toy from Amazon. Don’t judge me. It vibrates at 250 Hz. I buzz every flower for a second or two with that every day. I’ve gone from one or two flowers per cluster setting fruit, to all of them. Now you may say that using a sex toy to pollinate your tomatoes is risqué.
Wouldn’t an electric toothbrush work?
Yes if it is a sonic toothbrush and vibrates at 200 to 450 hz. I don’t have a sonic toothbrush and they don’t advertise the vibration frequency. Thank you for watching my tomato tips, I intend to share more tips on growing tomatoes and all other kinds of fruits and vegetables.
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