Wondering if your tomatoes require bees for pollination? We all know the important role bees play in pollination. One of the biggest challenges tomato farmers face is the lack of fruit set.
This is a case when flowers fail to produce fruits. One of the main reasons behind tomatoes abruptly stopping producing fruits is the lack of pollination. It leaves most farmers wondering.
Do tomato plants really need bees? The answer is yes, but not always the case. Bumble bees can help in tomato plant pollination but are not necessary, especially in greenhouses. In fact, you don’t need to encourage bees in greenhouses.
Does this answer your question? Most tomato farmers are not sure whether to encourage bees around their farms or not.
Keep reading below as I discuss tomato pollination. Are bees necessary when growing tomatoes?
How do tomato plants pollinate?
Tomatoes are self-pollinating plants. That simply means they can self-pollinate without help from external forces like bees.
In fact, most plants with fruits are self-pollinating, or self-fertilizing. Such fruits or plants are called self-fruitful. You can just plant a single tomato plant and still get fruits.
How much of your elementary science do you remember? Plants also have male and female parts. Well, a tomato plant has both male and female parts. Because of that, a tomato plant can produce fruit on its own without pollination from other tomato plants.
However, that does not happen all the time. Nature does play a big role with winds moving the pollens around.
In some instances of high humidity and temperatures, pollination can be affected even with bees around. I’ll discuss more on this later.
How do bees pollinate tomatoes?
Bees can also help pollinate tomato plants through their buzz. Tomato anthers will only release pollen when vibrated. But bumble bees are able to make this vibration through their buzz.
When suckling nectar, bees place their upper body on the anthers. As they rest their frequent wings buzzing is capable of vibrating the anthers and releasing the pollen grains.
Before humans understood how bees would help with pollination, human beings used to do it manually. A vibrating tool was used in commercial tomato greenhouses to vibrate tomato plants.
The process was labor-intensive and not as efficient as bee buzzing. Studies have also shown farms pollinated with bees have a greater tomato yield than those pollinated by hand.
Overall, bumble bees and honeybees are sufficient means of transporting pollen from one tomato plant to another. Some farms have gone as far as maintaining beehives nearby. You can also entice bees by growing several bright-colored plants around your tomato garden.
How to know if bees have pollinated your tomato plants
You’ll be surprised but commercial bumble bee supplies have found a way to know if bee pollination has taken place. Tomato growers can easily check tomato bee pollination.
When bees pollinate flowers, they bite into them to suck nectar. They leave tiny but visible marks every time they bite flowers. A single bite mark is enough to show that pollination has taken place.
But growers can check for the number of marks to learn the level of pollination. More bite marks indicate a higher level of pollination.
But for commercial tomato growers, there is a lot more to look at than just the number of bites. Such farmers have to look for temperature and humidity levels.
For example, when the humidity levels are too low, there is little pollen grain germination. Even when bees land on the flowers, there is little chance of spreading the pollen grains. There is not enough pollen to release to the bees.
How to pollinate bees by hand
Yes, you can pollinate tomatoes by hand. Hand pollination is easy and effective. It’s done by a vibration device that shakes the pollen and helps spread the pollen grains around.
Pollen shedding is usually done from morning until afternoon. The ideal time for optimal pollination is midday. This is when the weather is sunny, warm, and with very low humidity.
There are commercial pollinators or electric vibrators that can help you shake the plants. Even a simple battery-operated toothbrush can help with manual vibration. These vibrations help the flowers to release the pollen grains.
Generally, hand pollination varies from one farmer to another. Some farmers even collect the pollen in a container and use cotton swabs to spread it on the flowers.
Overall, tomatoes require bees for pollination but can also do without them. Like most fruit-producing plants, tomato plants are self-fertilizing with both male and female parts on the same plant. They can pollinate on their own with the help of wind.
But bees are necessary and help improve pollination in tomatoes. You can encourage bees around your tomato garden as they make sufficient substitutes for pollinating.