DIY How To,  Gardening

How to hand pollinate tomato plants for more fruits!

Red and green cherry tomatoes growing on the vine

Ever wondered why your tomato plant isn’t producing as many tomato fruits as expected? Fear not!

Tomato plant flowers are generally pollinated by movement from the wind and with the help of insects such as honeybees and bumblebees. However sometimes there isn’t enough wind movement or insects around to pollinate all the flowers on the tomato plant.

Last year I started growing tomatoes for the very first time. As a newbie then and I was wondering why my tomato plants were only producing about 4-5 tomatoes per plant. On average they should produce approximately 200 fruits per plant. I then went off, done some research and got some advice from my mum who is a pro at gardening.

This year I have decided to give growing tomatoes another go, as I wanted to start being a little bit self-sufficient during this corona virus pandemic. With some research and advice from my green fingered mother, I was able to successfully grow tomatoes and managed to pollinate every singe flower!

Tomatoes are self-fruitful

This means that tomato plants can self-pollinate and don’t require another tomato plant to be nearby, because the flowers of tomato plants contain the male and female parts called stamen and pistil respectively. There are many self-fertilizing fruit and veg plants, however here we are focusing on tomato plants.

Pollinating tomato plants by hand

As we know there is decline in bees, which in turn means there would also be a decline of pollinated flowers. Don’t fear! I will share 2 easy and effective ways to hand pollinate tomato flowers to greatly increase the yield of tomato fruit. The flower of tomato plants usually shed pollen from the morning to the afternoon with midday being the optimum time to pollinate. Flowers that are ready to be pollinated are the ones that are wide open. Once it has been successfully pollinated the next day you can see that the flower slowly closes and starts to wilt (the flower part only). It then eventually goes brown and dry and falls on to reveal a tiny green tomato developing.

Shake it baby!

The first method is to gently shake the tomato plant for the pollen to be shaken off the male part and fall on to the female part within the flowers. I personally don’t do this but have heard of many people including some of my friends doing this. This is the easiest and quickest method but I personally find it doesn’t pollinate all the flowers.

Tickle time!

The second method is to gently tickle each vine with the flowers on, for the pollen to come lose and land on the pistil. This is more effective than the first method but can take ages, hence also not really a method that I use.

The Vibrator!?!

Before you think what on earth… let me explain! I recommend this method to everyone, as I managed to successfully get all flowers on my 4 tomato plants to pollinate and turn into fruit. An electric toothbrush is required, a cheap one would do. You can go to a Pound shop in UK or Dollar store in the states to get a cheap kids one. I have bought an Oral B Pulsar electric toothbrush, its slightly more expensive than other disposable electric toothbrushes, but still cheap and also allows me to change the battery once it runs out. This way I wont ever need to replace it, saving me money in the long run. Since ever I got this toothbrush to pollinate the flowers, I called it the tomato dildo…

Anyways, what you do is get the toothbrush and gently touch all the tomato flowers that are wide open. The vibration mimics the actions of the bees wings and loosens the pollen to distribute it to the pistil, the female part. I look for the open flowers daily and do it to get the most out of my plants. I find this method is the most effective and quickest method to 100% pollinate all my flowers.

Which tomato strains I used and why

This year I have been growing Gardeners Delight (also known as Lycopersicon Esculentum) tomato plants, because this cherry tomato variety produces heavy crops small delicious fruits. I generally prefer cherry and plum tomatoes over the larger varieties.

I have also got a plum tomato plant, which I got for free from a lovely lady locally through the Green Island Veg Economy (IOW) group. If you are also from the Isle of Wight and enjoy growing fruits and vegetables, I highly recommend this group!

If you would like to save money on your water bill, have a look my article: 20 ways to save money on your water bill!

Have a look at How To Make FREE & Easy Compost With Kitchen Scraps! to give your tomato plants a growth boost.

I hope this helps you yield fruits from your plants.

Lei Hang - The Thrifty Island Girl