Pollinating tomatoes indoors

I’m sick of growing tomato plants, only to have the fruit destroyed by squirrels and rabbits and birds. So this year, I’m planting them inside my enclosed patio. The challenge, of course, is pollination.

Does anyone here have experience with artificial pollination? Would you use a small paint brush, and just lightly go over the blossoms? I’ve heard that an electric toothbrush is good, because it mimics the action of a bee. But wouldn’t the bristles be too hard, and damage the blossom? Do I actually have to make contact, or is it enough to shake the blossom?

What about cross-pollination between plants, or even between varieties? Is that a good thing?

All you’re trying to do is knock some pollen loose, so it falls onto the stigma.

You could use an electric toothbrush to vibrate it, but it’s probably better to hold the back of it by a stem, not try rub the blossomwith bristles- though it wouldn’t matter if you did damage the petals, as they’re only there to attract bees… Personally, I just shake the whole plant gently every day, that should be enough to pollinate.

If you’re just going to eat the fruit, it doesn’t matter, with tomatoes, if they cross with another plant or other variety, the fruit should set just as well. It only matters if you’re planning to save seed, as obviously crosses are different from the parent. They don’t generally cross easily anyway, as the flowers can pollinate before they even open.

This doesn’t hold true for some very old heritage varieties by the way, apparently, but it’s unlikely you have some of them.

You could also collect pollen on a cotton swab or artist’s brush and touch the flowers’ stigmas to pollinate them.* Or since some pollination outdoors is wind-driven, I suppose you could have a rotating fan on a couple hours a day to distribute pollen that way.

*You may need a license to do this in Indiana.

If you have the plant tied to a cane you can just tap it repeatedly to shake the plant. That’s enough to make the flowers self pollinate.

Electric toothbrush works fine and you don’t need to touch the flowers. Just hold it against the stem the flowers are attached to.

I just bought three little patio tomatoes, about 5" high, and they already have blossoms!

In a research lab we used a dead bee impaled on a toothpick as a means of artificial pollination. Wasn’t tomato plants, but the idea should work with them.

How is a dead bee on a toothpick different from a Q-Tip?


:smiley: There’s gotta be a punch line to this.

I don’t know that it matters. But a dead bee on a stick worked just fine to pollinate Arabidopsis thaliana or Brassica rapa. I suppose it would work for tomatoes.

You can even buy dead bees just for this purpose, but I always found enough in light fixtures or windowsills.

That second link says its for brassicas, not tomatos. I don’t see how a dead bee is going to buzz pollinate anything. I also don’t really understand it’s usefulness in general.

Take dead bee on a stick.

Rub dead bee on a stick against the anthers of one flower thus collecting pollen.

Rub dead bee on a stick against the stamen of another flower, thus depositing some of the collected pollen.

Resulting pollinated plant grows its fruit.

Using the dead bee routine is favored in genetics research as you can carefully control which plant fertilizes another. Turning living bees loose might result in crosses you do not want to happen for your research.

Bees can pollinate a wide variety of flowers including most major food crops. No reason it shouldn’t work for tomatoes.

Any old dead bee could have unknown pollen on it. They use specially raised bees and kill them? Isn’t that more work that a paint brush?

I’ve got a kazillion artist brushes, in all sizes. Q-tips too. How are these not as good as dead bees?

Bees have lots of fine hair-like structures to gather pollen.

Artificial fiber paintbrushes may not be as effective, but can probably pick up enough pollen as makes no difference for your purpose. I’d hazard to guess that natural fiber brushes might be better suited for the purpose.

Q-tips? Assuming its cotton and not an artificial fiber, then probably would work fine.

It might be an idea to nip those flowers off, to give them chance to grow up a bit before they start spending their energy on fruit. Bigger plants will produce more in the long run.

Or a Monty Python skit…