Gardener’s Birds and Bees Story

Ok, so we aren’t going to tell “the story”, just a story. A story about pollination.

Pollination is an essential part of fruit production. Pollen from a flower’s anthers (the male part of the plant) sticks to a pollinator. The pollinator then takes this pollen to another flower, where the pollen sticks to the stigma (the female part). The fertilization of the flower creates the fruit.

In your garden there are plants that have both stamens and stigmas. These are called monoecious or more commonly called self pollinating. In your garden peas and tomatoes have this type of bloom. An insect or the wind or lightly shaking the bloom will cause the pollen from the male part (stamen) to fall onto the female part ( stigma) and the fruit is formed.

Courtesy Oregan State University
Courtesy Oregan State University

Other plants have separate male or female blooms (dioecious). These blooms require an insect to visit the male bloom where it picks up pollen, it then travels to a female bloom where the pollen is transferred to the stigma or female part of the flower. Plants included here are squash, pumpkin and cucumbers.

So why do we care about this? Well it’s important to your garden’s productivity.
It all starts with the variety planted. Say you planted a hybrid variety of cucumbers that are to grow all female blooms (gynoecious). That should mean lots of cucumbers. You do need however to grow a second type of cucumber that will have male blooms for the female blooms to be pollinated.

Let’s take a close look at a butternut squash plant.

Looking at the above squash blooms, can you spot the difference?

Squash bloom not Pollinated

When a female squash bloom is not pollinated the ovary (looks like a baby squash) will fall off with no fruit production happening.

Here at Murlo, we have a small garden patch. We want what we have to be very productive. Let’s look at a few things a gardener can do.

If you think back to when you were young, did your grandparents plant sweet peas in their garden? Not only do we love their scent, but bees do too. Our native bee populations are attracted to flowers for food. They feed off the nectar and pollen. As they collect nectar and pollen moving from one flower to the next, they are also pollinating our vegetables, so feeding us in the process. To increase pollinator populations in your garden plant a variety of flowers by colour and bloom time. Think tulips or daffodils to supply the bees as they come out of hibernation. Allow some of your herbs to go to flower. Continue to deadhead flowers all season to encourage more blooms. Think of the flowers as pollinator bait.

Some plants rely on wind to help them pollinate. Corn falls into this category. The pollen falls from the tassels to the silk and an ear of corn is formed. We can’t control the wind but we can take advantage of it. If you plant corn in a row, the single corn stalk can only rely on the plant on either side of it to be pollinated. Planting corn in a block increases the chance of pollination to occur.

The other way we can increase pollination is to take an active role. We can pick a male bloom and rub it onto the squash or pumpkin female bloom. We can flick the tomato blooms or use a paint brush to pollinate blooms. Lightly run a broom across the corn plants to shake out some pollen.

A healthy productive garden is not just tended to by us. Eliminating the use of insecticides, adding flowers and a water source will help increase pollinator populations in the garden. With time the garden becomes a healthy environment rich with wildlife from bees to birds to frogs all working together, and adding to our harvests.

Happy gardening!

One response to “Gardener’s Birds and Bees Story”

  1. I now can say I really do understand the “birds and the bees”. Highly informative. Thanks!