Pollinating Tomatoes under HPS and MH Grow Lights

by Jerry Morse
(Vicksburg, MS USA 39180)

I have a Better Boy tomato that is growing under indoor grow lights. It is blossoming now and has been for about 2 weeks. Will an oscillating fan cause it to pollinate, or do I have to pollinate manually? I have read the article about using an electric tooth brush to pollinate, but I am lazy, do not understand that technique and prefer the oscillating fan if it will do the trick.





Answer: While certain crops, like corn, are exclusively pollinated by the wind, tomatoes rely quite a bit on the action of bees for pollination. The difference between corn and tomatoes is that corn flowers open up to release their pollen, while tomatoes produce their pollen inside a protected part of the flower that does not open to release the pollen....these "pollen sacs" have only a very tiny hole from which pollen can escape.

Normally, the pollen has a very difficult time escaping. The pollen tends to cling to the inside wall of the pollen sac. Even when it is struck, as with the flick of a finger, only a little pollen comes out. However, when a bee lands on the tomato flower, the high frequency vibrations caused by the flapping of its wings prevents the pollen from clinging to the walls of the pollen sac.... the pollen begins to pour out of the pollen sac like sand through a time glass.

The reason an electric toothbrush is recommended is because it simulates the high frequency vibration, helping the tomato flower to release large quantities of pollen. A vibrator could be used also. Even this, however, is not enough to ensure lots of tomatoes (or to ensure you get large tomatoes). Once the pollen has left the tomato flower, it needs a way of getting onto the pistils of all the other tomato flowers.

The least productive way to do this would be to allow the natural air currents take the pollen where it will. You can increase the effectiveness of this method by increasing the air movement in the room while you are releasing the pollen (such as with an oscillating fan). However, if you want to guarantee large numbers of fat tomatoes on every plant, you either have to let the bees have access to your tomatoes (not an option in winter) or else you have to hand pollinate.

To pollinate by hand, you first need to collect some pollen.....the more the better (this is where the electric toothbrush comes in handy). Then, dip a very fine paint brush into the pollen and brush it over the pistils in the center of each tomato flower. I have read that each grain of pollen becomes a seed in the tomato, therefore more pollen equals fatter tomatoes. Direct contact, by bees or by paint brush, are the best ways to accomplish this.

If you do nothing and simply let nature take its course, you will still get a few tomatoes on each plant. On the other hand, considering all of the time and effort it takes to grow the tomatoes, it might be worth the extra step to ensure a bountiful harvest. For those who would like more information, visit my page on growing tomatoes.

And by the way, I would love to hear how things turn out when you're all finished!

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Misc Hydroponic Gardening Q&A.

Check out all of Jason's recommended items.
Find out the cheapest and easiest ways to garden productively in this article.

Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 22 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people.

I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as possible....and in the last 20 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!

As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol).

And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.



Make a year's worth of compost in one week!
What is colloidal humus?

Make the world's best compost


Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 20 years and I have only just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole year! I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food production system.

And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients.


High Efficiency
Hydroponics

One final solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants is concerned. Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle, you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system!


Aquaponics

Click Here to learn more!

This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 20 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.


Produce garnden vegetables AND fish together. Eliminate fertilizer costs!

Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!


High Efficiency
Soil Gardening

This is where my advice ends for people growing in water. But some of you out there are in love with soil gardening and organic gardening, and rightly so! It's a pro-human activity. It is pro-conservation. It is pro-life. It nurtures and promotes life at all levels, from the micro-organisms to beneficial insects, to healthy humans. It's natural. it's spiritual. Gardening is written deeply into our DNA, like how you feel watching a bonfire or sitting by the ocean or next to a river.

My friend John at Food4Wealth has more than 20 years experience organic gardening, so he reminds me a lot of myself. He knows organic gardening like I know hydroponic gardening, and over the years he has learned just about every trick there is to organic gardening. He knows what makes the plants grow, and he knows how to do it with as little effort as humanly possible. His garden never needs digging, naturally repels pests, has no weeds, always produces more than his family is able to eat, produces vegetables everyday all year round, and....only requires 8 HOURS of light, easy effort PER YEAR!


Low effort organic gardening!

Years and years of experience and results can't be argued with....the Food4Wealth gardening strategy is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work....specifically for organic gardeners who love soil gardening. THIS is the most efficient and productive way to do organic gardening, period! And combined with the ability to make a years' worth of colloidal humus compost in just one week (see World's Best Compost), this overall organic soil gardening strategy is just unstoppable- foolproof, low cost, and low effort!

Learn about high yield organic gardening






If you've found this site helpful at all, I would really appreciate it