Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who pollinates the tomatoes and in what key?

Bumblebee on coyote mint at Garin Park 
"I like the joke on the bumblebee;
His wings are too small to hold him.
He really can’t fly, professors agree
But nobody ever told him."    ~~Anonymous
"Tiny Insect, Big Impact" is at the Oakland Museum until July 24.

I wrote a blog on tomato flower pollinators a couple of years ago and this exhibit rounds out the information very well. 

Bumblebees buzz in Middle C and are very good at shaking loose the pollen for tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, and manzanitas.

Here's my original article:

Who is pollinating our tomato plants?

Yesterday Bart saw a lady carpenter bee at his tomato flowers.  Which made me wonder who else is providing pollination services for the plants?  Lots of bees - honey, bumble, small/unidentified - are currently working my Drumstick Alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon).  So we do  have different bees present in the yard right now.   Are they also flying over to the tomato beds?

I digress a bit here:  I checked the Bee Garden plant list to see if Alliums were listed on their recommended plant list.  The list doesn't mention any Alliums at all.  And our Alliums (Allium Hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' andAllium stipitatum 'Mount Everest') have been full of bees since the first one opened. 
Note to self:  The Drumsticks started blooming around the time our tomato flowers started opening.  Plant some near tomatoes?  Or will that just encourage lazy bees who won't fly the 50 feet or so to get there?  Also, can we eat any of these onions, if, for example, by accident someone plants a mystery onion in the same bed and forgot to mark the plant (when it wasn't a mystery)?.

Nothing on tomato pollinators here at The UC Cooperative Extension Vegetable Research and Information Center.  Bart told me that one of the booklets said that if your tomatoes aren't forming, that you should tap the main stem three times.  I'm like "Tap the stem three times?  Put it into a paper bag and wave it over your head and scream like a chicken?"   When I was finished with that image, I thought, oh, maybe they are wind pollinated.

A google search for "pollinators tomato" brings up the time of day, temps etc. needed but nothing on pollinators. has a good page on how to tell if your tomatoes are getting pollinated and the role of the bee in pollination.  And the Xerces Society has a good page on native bees and tomato pollination.  So our efforts to attract bees to our garden is helping us to pollinate our tomatoes.  Note to self:  And then what about them peppers?  (answer in future)


  • Not just wind, not quite good enough.
  • In their native habitat, according to, halictid bees are the original tomato pollinator.  You need what they call "sonicating bees" that vibrate the plant and help disperse pollen.
  • In the greenhouse, humans need to tap the plants manually or use a vibrating device.
  • Also in the greenhouse, bumblebees are used.  They are not nearly as bored, I imagine, going from plant to plant doing their bumblebee things, whereas people probably tire easily in this task.
  • In our yard, bumblebees.  
  • And also Bart is a major pollinator.  He checks on his tomato babies and naturally wiggles the plants as adjusts them in their cages.  
  • And then we will be watching to see if other bees visit them.  
  • Honey bees are also possible pollinators, but Bart says he read somewhere that they aren't as good as bumblebees.  
  • And Bart suggested that might be why people play "sonicating" music (Heavy metal or Black Keys or Beethoven) to their tomatoes rather than soothing music.


No comments:

Post a Comment