How I became a pollinator…

pollination_post_coverI used to naively assume that as long as my garden is outdoors, it will be pollinated… I mean, I even planted a lot of bee-friendly flowers and greens (like basil and mint) to attract them, so what could go wrong?

Yet, a couple of weeks ago I did notice that even though my cucumber plants were in full bloom, there were no little cucumbers to be found. Instead, there were a lot of wilting cucumber buds (these are actually female flowers that were not fertilized).img_0726

At the same time, in my community garden plot cucumbers of the same variety, of the same age (in fact, I purchased the seedlings on the same day) were developing beautiful fruit.img_2762

So I decided something fishy was going on in my balcony garden, most likely a disease or pest. I started reading… and to my surprise I discovered that those wilting pods were most likely a result of failure to fertilize. Apparently, balcony gardeners experience this quite frequently, because the bees and other pollinators rarely fly that high!

So I tried manually pollinating the cucumbers, and lo and behold! I have maturing baby cucumbers! img_0719

Pollinating cucumbers is pretty easy. No fancy equipment needed, just a small soft brush. img_2797

Next, you need to identify a male flower and swirl the brush in the center of the male flower to gather up the pollen.img_0717

Then find a female flower, which looks like baby cucumber with a flower on top. Transfer the pollen by sticking the same brush (that you swirled in the male flower) into the female flower and swirl again. img_2787

That’s it, you’ve just pollinated a cucumber!

In addition to cucumbers, you likely have other plants in your balcony garden that could benefit from manual pollination. For example, while members of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, have bi-gender flowers (they are hermaphrodites, having both stamens and carpels within a single flower), their fertilization rates are higher if you mechanically disturb the flowers (by a gentle tap, for example), which releases the pollen from stamens and increases its chances of reaching the carpel.

It’s really easy to locate and tap the stamens in an eggplant flower
Pepper flowers are smaller, but the principle is the same

Strawberries are another example. Gently brushing over the flower’s yellow fluffy center greatly increases the chance of fertilization and fruition.img_0729

This simple trick made a big difference in by balcony garden. Hopefully, it will help you, too!


7 thoughts on “How I became a pollinator…

  1. Pingback: How I became a pollinator… — The Fire Escape Garden – SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS COVENANT HOUSE

  2. Pingback: Lessons from the balcony: mid-summer – The Fire Escape Garden

  3. Fascinating. I’m working on my first garden in years. So many things to contemplate. I have been wondering about the pollination and if it is truly happening. I never considered taking matters into my own hands! Thanks for the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is really good to see. I really enjoyed reading this particular blog. Here in Britain, especially in urban areas like London, local councils are encouraging local residence to plant and grow more flowers to bring about more pollination and to keep our suburban gardens more bee friendly. There’s recently been cause for concern here regarding our bees.

    Liked by 1 person

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