Archive for the ‘pollination’ Category

The garden is completely exploding with foliage.  

I can’t believe how big the tomato plants are (righthand side of the above photo)– especially considering I was so worried about them surviving when I first transplanted them this spring! 

What is puzzling to me (though not unwelcome!) is that the peas have started producing again!  

At the beginning of the month, the plants were looking like they were about done… kinda dry and yellowy, no more new blossoms.  Then in the midst of the heat we’ve been having here in the midwest, they’ve started to produce more blossoms and pods!  On Sunday, I picked 8 pods! Crazy.  I thought peas were supposed to die off when it started getting hot outside.  

All of the tomato plants have baby tomatoes starting on them:

Yellow Pear

Early Girl

Tiny Tim

Something that is probably obvious, but I have found very interesting, is how different the leaves look on the different varieties of tomato plants.  We only had Early Girl tomatoes last year, and the leaves looked like “typical” tomato leaves (whatever that means!).  The Tiny Tim has rounded, blunter leaves that are, of course, much tinier than the full-sized plants.  Yes, I’ll say it again, I am constantly amazed at how miniaturized the plant is!  You’ll just have to come over and see it to appreciate it. 😉  The Yellow Pear leaves are much more feathery than the Early Girl leaves.  I’ll have to notice in the future how the shape of the tomato fruit is related to the shape of the leaves of its plant.  

Last, but certainly not least, the strawberries are still producing.  They’ve been flowering a lot more, which is great!  

I haven’t even had to do much hand-pollinating to get them to fruit.  And thankfully, as I think I’ve mentioned before, the fruit is much sweeter and tastier this round.  🙂

I’ll mention the cucumbers in a future post!

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or, “A brief photo tutorial on hand-pollinating cucumbers.”

A bit of introduction:

Last year, I was having problems with getting cucumbers to grow. I’d see the flowers, I’d see the baby cucumbers (which I later learned were female flowers, more about that below), and then the baby cucumbers would shrivel. I posted about it in the “Shriveling cucumbers” post, which has consistently been the top-viewed post on this blog. Between the suggestions of a friend of mine and people commenting on that post, I learned that my cucumbers weren’t being pollinated properly. This is probably because my garden is about 4 stories above ground where bees are unlikely to fly (why fly 4 stories up when there are all kinds of nice flowers right near the ground? 🙂 ) People with traditional in-ground gardens or container gardens at ground level are much less likely to have problems with their cucumbers remaining unpollinated. I had some success with hand-pollination last year (and got all organized with red and blue strips of t-shirt fabric!), but I never actually described my technique. For the sake of completeness, I decided to write this post.

First, you need to know the difference between a male flower and a female flower on the cucumber vines.

Male flowers look just like little yellow flowers with pollen-holders in their centers:

side-view of a male cucumber flower

“center” view of a male cucumber flower

Female flowers are also yellow, but are easily distinguished from male flowers by the mini-cucumber that is right behind the base of the petals. The center of a female flower is also different from the male flowers. Instead of containing pollen-holders, the female flower has a pollen-receptor.

side view of a female cucumber flower. note the miniature “pre-cucumber” just behind the base of the petals.

“center” view of a female cucumber flower

I use a small, soft paintbrush to pollinate my cucumbers. I gently grasp a male flower at its (his?) base and swirl the paintbrush around to collect pollen.

collecting pollen from male flower on soft paintbrush

If you’ve done it right, you’ll see a dusting of yellow pollen on the bristles of the paintbrush. To deliver the pollen to the female flower, gently grasp at its (her?) base and brush the pollen into the center of the female flower.

delivering pollen to female cucumber flower

It’s also worth re-posting some of the links that were given to me in comments of the “Shriveling cucumbers” post, because they were really helpful:



I found another method for hand-pollination on this blog:


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There are 2 baby cucumbers starting on one of my cucumber vines! Yay! I tried to pollinate the one that had bloomed, but it had just rained and everything was pretty wet. We’ll see….

I’ll be posting a detailed post on hand-pollinating soon…

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Husband was inspecting the strawberry plants yesterday morning and noticed that we have some blushing berries!!  Here’s a photo that I took when I got home from work yesterday:

I’m hoping they get bigger as they ripen, since these are looking pretty tiny still!  I’ve actually never witnessed strawberry growth on a plant, having always bought my berries.  So this has been pretty exciting for me.  

So, those strawberries seem to be the product of successful strawberry pollination.  We also have non-berries– flowers that must not have gotten pollinated at all and are just sort of there.  They haven’t grown or changed much, and I expect that they will fall off or something (should I clip them?  I need to look into this).  

We also have bulbous berries (isn’t bulbous such a wonderful word!  It’s onomatopoetic — if being bulbous had a sound… and i think there’s a word for that– a word having a sound that the thing would sound like if it had a sound…  but I digress… back to bulbous berries).

Husband thinks that these are a product of uneven pollination.  They’re definitely growing into berries, but they’re ugly little malformed things.  Hopefully they still taste good! 😉  

Some of the plants are starting to put out new growth!  I’m hoping that this means another round of flowers (and another chance, hopefully, to perfect my hand-pollination technique).  

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Here’s another big long update post!

Last Friday evening, we cut our first bunch of mesclun leaves!

Mesclun leaves

We mixed them into a big salad that we served when friends of ours came for dinner 🙂 Yum! I think that from now on, all of my gardens will include a Mesclun mix! We harvested some more on Monday and had enough to add to my salad for Tuesday’s lunch. And not too soon! The weather has turned really hot here (today, it’s supposed to break 90 F!) and some of the Mesclun has bolted already.

bolted Mesclunbolted Mesclun

I have cut a few leaves of the Black-seeded Simpson and tried them. It has a very mild, “green” flavor– nothing nearly so strong and nutty as the mesclun leaves. It hasn’t been great in the pots– I think that it would do better where it got more sun. I’m not sure if I’d plant it again on our balcony if we didn’t have seeds left. But I might try it again in the fall when it gets a bit cooler. It hasn’t bolted yet, but it most likely will soon.

Early Girl and Black Seeded Simpson

You can (sort of) see in the center of this pot (with Black-seeded Simpson around the outside) that the Early Girl tomato plants are doing much better! In fact, all of the tomato plants are growing splendidly. The warm weather and sunshine has done wonders for them. Even the Yellow Pear plant has very obviously perked up and put on some new leaves!

I think that the Tiny Tim plant is so cute! It’s hard to imagine a small tomato plant that bears fruit after seeing the HUGE plants we had last year!! But everything about the plant is miniature so far! The sprout was noticeably smaller than the other sprouts, and now the seedling is definitely growing healthily, but definitely smaller than the other tomato plants.

I don’t have any photos of the cucumbers today, but they are definitely going strong. Two of the four surviving sprouts have put out at least one or two big true leaves, and the other ones are on their way. I’m so glad for this warm weather!

I do, however, have photos of the peas!  They are growing like crazy! They’ve basically reached the top of the tomato cage (Note to self:  I wonder if I should figure out a way to extend the height?  I’ll have to look at the seed packet and see how high they will grow– I think we got a “dwarf” variety?)  Below is a photo of them from Monday.

Pea plants

On Tuesday evening I noticed that there was a bud forming!  This morning, I went out and took a few pictures– and there are even more buds coming!  Woo!  I’ve never had peas fresh from a garden before, and I am so excited to taste them.  Plus, I think that pea flowers are gorgeous.  They look like little orchids.

Pea bud

Pea buds

Last, but certainly not least, it seems that the strawberries have been successfully pollinated.  Of course, I don’t know for sure if it was my efforts with a paintbrush or natural pollination by wind/high-flying bees/etc., but I’m pretty excited at the prospect of strawberries fresh from the balcony.

baby strawberry

There are baby strawberries like this all over the plants!  Woo!!

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The weather here has been cold and kind of nasty, so my garden isn’t faring as well as I’d like.   The chilliness isn’t the worst part– it’s been raining so much that there’s been hardly any sun for my poor plantlings.  It’s not terrible (yet), but not great either. I went and took some photos on Tuesday… The lighting in the pictures is kind of weird– it was so dark and cloudy that the automatic flash went off for some of the photos.

The strawberries have continued to grow and have lots of flowers. I’ve been trying to go out every other day or so and take a paintbrush to the flowers to encourage their pollination. So far not much has happened besides the petals falling off the flowers, but hopefully we’ll see some progress soon.

One of the plants that we thought was dead has suddenly come back to life– there are little happy green leaves starting 🙂 Hopefully we can keep it alive this time 😉

In the photo above, you can see the two Italian flat-leaf parsley plants that Ramona gave us. We put them into two pots that had previously held dead strawberry plants. They are doing well– I noticed some new growth in the middle!

The mesclun is thriving! I think that we’ll start cutting some pretty soon to eat in our salads. I’m excited! However, the yellow pear tomato plant that is in the center of this pot (above) is looking sort of weak. I am pretty sure it’s due to the non-sunny non-warm weather we’ve been having. The leaves are pretty limp (I do make sure to keep the plants watered!!) but it hasn’t turned brown and keeled over yet. And this was the best looking sprout of the bunch! I’m pretty sad that it’s not doing so well.

The Black-seeded Simpson is actually doing better now! In the top photo just above, you can see that the four plants are making pretty big leaves finally. In the lower photo just above, you can see the new sprouts from the seeds that I sowed after all but one of the original lettuce plants died.

In the centers of both of those pots, we planted the Early Girl sprouts. They are still standing, but they haven’t been doing much. I’m hoping that now that the weather is getting better (yesterday it was finally sunny and almost 70 degrees, and today it’s sunny and in the 70s, and I think it’s going to be warmer for the next few days!), we’ll see some new growth on these plants. I’d be pretty sad if all of my tomato sprouts pooped out! (We might have to make an emergency trip to Prairie Gardens for seedlings… 😛 )

Tiny Tim is still hanging on, too! This sprout actually looks the best of all the tomato sprouts… I have high hopes that we’ll at least have a mini cherry tomato plant later this summer!

All is not bad, though. I’m finally seeing growth on the cucumbers! And the chives are starting to look like more than just a single tiny green blade here and there.

Here’s a close-up of the true leaves finally starting on one of the cucumber sprouts. My dad (who has gardened in the past) has assured me not to fear, cucumbers grow like crazy. Now that these true leaves are starting to unfurl (and warm weather is on its way), I think we might start to see some of that crazy growth– I certainly hope so!

Finally, I will leave you with the most hopeful image of them all– the peas!

They are doing great! They get bigger every day, though I haven’t seen signs of any flowers yet. I did add some extra vertical supports to the tomato cage using dental floss to give the tendrils something to cling to.  I think they were happy with that!

So here’s hoping that the warm weather (and sunshine!) will bring rapid growth to my garden! 🙂

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I’ve been thinking about the strawberry flowers recently and wondering how the flower turns into the fruit.  Tomatoes are self-pollinating.  With my cucumbers, I had to pollinate the female flowers with pollen from the male flowers by hand (see here and here and especially the comments here).  So I started to wonder about the strawberries.  I’m pretty desperate for them to be a success, since I’m not so convinced of the success of some of the other plants out there.

This morning I Googled “strawberry pollination” and got quite a few hits.  One I especially liked was this site,  which talks about how strawberries are basically self-pollinating, but need help doing it.  This other site discusses growing strawberries in a greenhouse, and how they have found bumblebees to be the best solution to their pollination needs.

Now I love being on the 3rd floor (fourth if you consider that the garage is really the ground level) of my building– no rabbits, no squirrels, no mice, etc.  However, it seems that we’re too high for most insects that do any sort of substantial pollination work.  We have plenty of mosquitoes and spiders to catch them, and occasionally we have wasps, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bee this high.  And I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work to buy some bumblebees to keep out on our tiny balcony 😉  So back to hand-pollination it is!  I went out with a paint brush this morning and just sort of swiped around each flower to disturb the pollen and get it on the pistils (I hope I used that botany terminology correctly!).  The nice thing is that I don’t have to worry about male and female flowers with strawberries.

I’ll update about how the hand-pollination works!

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On Saturday, I went out onto the balcony and gave my cucumbers a closer look. I’m still suspicious that the pot is too full of vines. I started trimming off all the dead-looking leaves and the shrivelling baby cucumbers, and in the process noticed that I could easily trace two of my vines from soil to end. There wasn’t much going on with either of them– just a few male flowers, so I decided to be ruthless and just cut them off right at the soil line. (Pulling them would probably damage the other roots in the pot, and I don’t want to kill all my vines!)
After this treatment, the pot looked a bit sparser but slightly healthier with all the brown, crumbly leaves removed. I also found a few open female flowers on the other vines and pollinated them.
This morning, I took a look out my balcony window and noticed that the newly pollinated baby cukes look like they’re growing. So that’s a good thing. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the chopping of the two vines on Saturday, but I’ll take any cucumbers I can get! 🙂

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For the most part, I’d say that my container garden is still successfully growing. The tomatoes just keep coming– and I’m definitely not complaining about that! MMMMMM home-grown tomatoes…. you can’t get much better than that.

In my last post I mentioned that my pepper plants were all bendy. They seem to be doing okay– we’ve got some full-sized peppers out there (though they are still green…). The plants just look sort of funny. I asked my husband to switch the cucumber pot with the pepper pot so that the peppers might get more sunshine. (Even though their stems had seemed fragile, as I mentioned before, my husband managed to move the pots around without sacrificing any branches!) Maybe this will aid in their turning red. We’ll see.

The cucumbers, however, are looking kind of sickly. On Saturday, we picked a weenie, misshapen cucumber and a more normally shaped/sized cucumber to add to the salad we brought for small group dinner. I expected to see more cucumbers flourishing on the vines since then. But even though I had faithfully hand-pollinated some baby cucumbers, they seem to be dying off. A couple of the more noticeable babies (they’re near the top of the cage and I can see them through the sliding door) started getting bigger, but now they’re turning a suspicious yellowy color and not looking healthy. It may be that the pot is finally just too full. Eight vines is probably too many for one pot. (But I just couldn’t bear to kill the extra vines before they had a chance to grow!)

I wonder if I should just bite the bullet and clip some of the vines at the soil line to give the other vines “more room” or if I should fertilize more… or if this is just some freak lull in cucumber production in my garden. Let me know if you have any thoughts!

I’ll post some pictures later tonight, if I have a chance.

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So it’s time for an update!

My husband and I were in Corsica for two weeks, which is part of the reason there have been no updates on this blog for a good long while. The other part of the reason is that I have been very busy with research (partly due to the fact that I took a 2-week vacation!) But we’re back, and I’m still getting back into the swing of things… even though we’ve been back for a bit already.

While I was gone, my best friend took care of the garden. And boy, did she do a fantastic job! She not only watered it and made sure everything was okay each time she came, she also did some hand-pollinating of cucumbers, kept track of the produce from the garden (25 tomatoes, and 4 cucumbers while we were gone!!), and even kept a fantastic journal of how the plants were doing each day and how the weather was acting. She even sent me pictures partway through our trip! And on top of all that, she and her husband made fantastic tomato sauce from tomatoes from our gardens (theirs is in-ground) and left us a good portion of it in our freezer to enjoy when we got home! Totally above the call of duty! I am so grateful, I can hardly express it. Thank you, J!!!!!!

So of course, the garden is in fantastic shape (it always thrives under J’s care!) and the next wave of tomatoes is about to hit. We also have some cucumbers about ready to be picked (thanks to the hand-pollination done while we were gone) and the pepper plants are bending over from the weight of the peppers that are growing on them.

Do pepper plants need support, just like tomatoes? I’ve never heard of that before (not that I’ve done so much research into it)… but my plants are extra-bendy, it seems. Plus, the stems are pretty fragile. On a day closer to when we arrived home, I was out on the balcony gloating over my plants ( 😉 ) and I brushed past a pepper plant (hardly touching it) and the whole stem snapped off (two small peppers, included). So I’m wondering if there’s something wrong that is making the plants so weak. They are very tall (what’s the typical height?) — perhaps too much nitrogen is making them extra leafy.

I fertilized the garden last Sunday– my plan is to fertilize about once per month (this will be the second time) unless the plants look like they need more.

Now that I’m back, hopefully I’ll be posting more frequently (and of course, with pictures).

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