I 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).
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.
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!
Pollinating cucumbers is pretty easy. No fancy equipment needed, just a small soft brush.
Next, you need to identify a male flower and swirl the brush in the center of the male flower to gather up the pollen.
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.
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.
Strawberries are another example. Gently brushing over the flower’s yellow fluffy center greatly increases the chance of fertilization and fruition.
This simple trick made a big difference in by balcony garden. Hopefully, it will help you, too!