bumblebee.jpgOne of my favorite things to do (and I seem to have many of those), is giving gardening presentations, classes, and workshops. One of my favorite topics is tomato plants. I have a tomato talk coming up soon, so I’ve been brushing up my slides and shaking the dust off of my gardener’s “winter brain.”

I never like to just give the same ol’ presentation, so I go through it and spend time researching a question or two that I still have on the topic.

So this time, I decided to really look into how tomatoes are pollinated. I’ve heard many people say “Oh tomatoes self-pollinate!” And I know that’s not right, but I wasn’t sure how best to describe what really happens. As it turns out, tomatoes are indeed “self-fertile”; this means they have all the parts necessary in each flower to produce fruit. Technically, no other flowers are really needed for fruit production. But left alone in a still, non-windy environment with no one visiting the flowers, the plant will not form fruit.

Enter…Ta-dah! My hero, the bumblebee! Bumblebees are our hardest working tomato flower pollinators. They pollinate the flowers through a process called (brace yourself) sonication. Basically, they hang on to a flowers, vibrating their wings but not flying. When those wings vibrate at the right frequency, the pollen is released in the flower. Some of it will pollinate the same flower, and some of it will travel on the bee to another flower. Pretty cool, eh?

I supposed this would be a better post in June or July, but too bad! I happen to be thinking about this now! Sometimes the wind will shake a little pollen loose, and we can also help by shaking the plants a bit (not too hard!). Sometimes I just shake the cages a bit when I’m working around the plants.

Other bees may also visit and help out. Occasionally I see a honeybee or two, but it really is our native bumblebees that handle most of the load. So be good to your bees!