In answer to a recent question about attracting bees, you said something about hand pollinating as an alternative if bees can’t or won’t do the job in the garden. I hate to sound ignorant, but what is the best way to hand pollinate?
Asking questions doesn’t make you sound ignorant… so no worries! If your veggies are flowering but not producing much fruit, it might be time to give them a little help. There are essentially two types of plants: those with male and female flowers, and then those with single flowers that contain both male and female parts.
For those plants with male and female flowers, like cucumbers, squash, and watermelon, first determine which are the female and which are the male flowers. You can tell this by the tiny, immature fruits that are on the stem attached to the flower. So, on a cucumber plant, you’ll see a tiny, immature cucumber attached to the female flower. Take the male flower, break it off below the stem, and peel back the petals to expose the pollen. Gently dab the male flower into the center of the female flower and then let nature take its course! You can also use an artist’s small paintbrush to do the same thing.
For those plants with single, bi-sexual flowers, simply take an artist’s paint brush, rub the brush on the stamen (the pollen-covered filaments that surround the center) and then onto the pistil (the female center of the flower). That’s it!
I’m writing in response to the person writing in about the apple trees, ants, and aphids. I have twenty-two apple trees and have found two things that work, and they work better if used together. First, wrap duct tape (the miracle do-all) sticky side out around the trunk of the tree. Add another layer every week (or sooner) as it dries out and collects ants, aphids, dust, etc. Once the ants are under control and no longer running up and down the bark, use ladybugs to go after the aphids. They are voracious eaters of aphids. (Pyrethrins are plant-based pesticides that comes from chrysanthemums that you can use for an immediate response to a large infestation, then go with the tape and ladybugs after a couple of weeks and a hard rain.)
Second, plant some sacrifice plants that will better attract the ant/aphid team. Ants herd aphids like we herd cattle and use them just about the same. So give them a better pasture. You will have to find what works for your area and climate, but I use corn. I plant a good hardy sweet corn in between the rows of my trees in raised bed, mulch heavy because I live in the south west mountains of New Mexico, and the ants/aphids here are much more interested in the corn than my apple trees. It also helps the soil in the orchard, and who doesn’t love fresh sweet corn? To find out what works best, talk to gardeners in your area. Gardeners and growers are notorious gabbers and some always seem to stretch the truth. So get lots of opinions.
Another valuable source of information in most counties is the local ag college extension agent. Here and there you will find someone more interested in collecting a check than in helping the local farmers and gardeners, but they are paid to be a local source matter expert, so use them guilt free.
Good luck, and if the trees are covered now, hit them with a pyrethrin spray then go the gentler route.
Thank you for writing in with this great advice! I’m sure our readers appreciate the information.
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