Are you ever disappointed with your harvests? Do you ever notice flowers and baby fruits forming only to drop, wither and die? If so, don’t despair! There ARE solutions to help improve pollination and ensure you have an abundant harvest.
You may be happy with your current edible yields, but it’s very likely you can improve your harvest even further. One of the secrets is about give-and-take relationships in your garden.
I work with nature to get the most from my Kitchen Garden. You may have a different climate and growing season, but the principles for a productive garden are basically the same wherever you live. I hope these tips will help boost your harvest.
Pollination Problems = Poor Harvests
Having trouble with fruit ‘setting’ on your favourite fruit/nut trees or edible crops? If so, you may wonder what the possible cause could be. Sometimes flowers or immature tiny fruits just drop off and die. It’s tragic really! I hate seeing this happen.
You need to FIND OUT WHY, before you can do something about it. Here are a few causes:
1. When fruit trees are in flower and are HIT BY FROST, this can have a dramatic impact on your future harvest. Frozen blooms are a disaster! You can’t do much about the weather except protecting your crops. At least this is one preventative solution.
2. Other PLANTS ARE JUST NOT MATURE OR STRONG ENOUGH to support more than a few fruit. This includes fruiting vegetables like squash, pumpkin, cucumber and eggplant and immature fruit trees that haven’t developed their root system. If heavy feeders like these fruit and vegetables are starved of nutrients, moisture or space, these factors can limit how big and healthy they grow … and how many ‘babies’ they can handle. Fruit drop is sometimes nature’s way of aborting what the plant can’t nourish and support.
3. The most common reason for poor fruit set though is a LACK OF POLLINATION.
What is Pollination?
Ok, so if you were taking a nap in Biology classes, here’s a quick recap on how flower sex works.
“Pollination is the movement of male pollen to the female part of the flower (stigma), the first step in successful seed and fruit production by the plant. Self-pollination is when pollen is transferred from the anther to the stigma within a single plant. Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen from one plant to the stigma of another plant. Once the plant has been pollinated, the male contribution fuses with the egg in the ovary, the process known as fertilization. After fertilization, the fruit and seeds develop and mature.” – The University of Arizona
So with flowers, it’s not that different to humans: boy meets girl, they have a cuddle and baby fruit is born! It can get a bit more complicated with some plant varieties that need a little extra help. That’s where the bees and other pollinators come in and magically ‘match make’ between flowers. Nature helping nature!
Common Causes of Poor Pollination
There are many factors that can cause poor pollination including:
- NO BEES OR POLLINATORS: Friendly pollinators like bees may not be visiting your garden. There are many problems plaguing world bee populations including chemical herbicides, viruses and varroa mites attacking hives, so numbers are down.
- INSUFFICIENT PLANTS: Before planting your fruiting crops, find out if more than one plant is needed for cross-pollination to occur. You may only have one of a variety that requires a second plant to actually produce any fruit. Especially with apples! If you’re in an urban area, a neighbour may have a similar tree so this may not be an issue.
- HIT AND MISS TIMING: Seasonal problems can also occur, so even if you have enough plants for cross-pollination, their flowers may not form or open at the same time. Sometimes, one flowers early, the other late but there’s no overlap. So it’s like two ships passing in the night – the magic can’t happen if the timing is out!
- NO FOOD OR ACCOMMODATION: Bees are smart. They know where to find a free feed and set up house. So if you aren’t yet making your yard attractive with habitat and nectar/pollen producing plants, they’re likely visiting your neighbour!
- POOR WEATHER DURING FLOWERING: Bees fly shorter distances when it’s rainy, windy or cold (10°C or 50°F). OK, so they are a little fussy! Do YOU like going outside for long periods in uncomfortable weather? Neither do bees! So bee a little understanding if your climate is less than bee-friendly. That’s why making your yard attractive to bees is so important.
OK, so that may help you with some possible causes for poor pollination. But what can you DO to improve pollination?
4 Steps to Improve Pollination & Your Harvests
STEP 1: ELIMINATE ALL CHEMICALS
This may sound like a real ‘no-brainer’ if you are an organic gardener! But there are hidden dangers many gardeners are not aware of. If you want to improve pollination and your harvests, chemicals of all kinds are a major threat. You may be innocently bringing them into your garden without knowing. How?
Do you buy plants or seeds from nurseries, online or retail outlets? If so, do you check if they are organically grown from chemical-free seed or plant material? If you’re not sure, and you are trying to grow a pollinator-friendly, safe food garden like me, then you may want to start digging deeper.
Many retail suppliers sell ‘bee-friendly’ plants for the home garden. However, rarely are the plants labelled to indicate whether or not they have been grown with chemicals.
“Unless retail plants have a certified organic label, you may risk introducing a plant that has been grown with a systemic pesticide (neonicotinoid) that is toxic to bees.” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener
Click below for helpful safe organic seed resources
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“Unfortunately, pollinator friendly nursery plants sold to unsuspecting consumers carry neither a list of pesticides used, nor do they carry a warning that these pesticides could harm pollinators. Consumers may unwittingly be purchasing bee-attractive plants that have been pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides that may be harming or killing bees and other threatened pollinators essential to food production and ecosystem health.” – FOE US Report ‘Gardeners Beware: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide’ 2013
Click below for bee-friendly garden resources
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“Neonicotinoids bind irreversibly to critical receptors in the central nervous system of insects and cause irreversible effects. The damage is cumulative, and with every exposure more receptors are blocked. In fact, there may not be a safe level of exposure. Neonicotinoids account for worker bees neglecting to provide food for eggs and larvae, and for a breakdown of the bees’ navigational abilities. Bees, the number one insect pollinator on the planet, are dying at an alarming rate. Neonicotinoids are prone to leach from soils and contaminate ground and surface water. Not only are they water soluble and mobile in soil, they are also quite persistent in soil and water.” – Henk A. Tennekes
Pesticides and herbicides are lethal to bees and many other beneficial insects. A bee’s lifespan, navigation, memory and ability to find food is affected by even tiny levels of pesticides. The first goal to enticing pollinators to your garden is to create a healthy environment – for you and them. Try organic solutions first and work with nature to overcome pest and disease problems.
What else can you do to Improve Pollination & Your Harvests?
- Read insecticide product labels carefully. Look for acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam as active ingredients. Avoid using neonicotinoid insecticides altogether.
- If you really need a solution for pests or disease in your garden, buy or make organic products instead.
- Ideally, raise your own plants from certified organic seeds and propagate from known organic gardens or sources.
- Follow the tips on this website for creating a garden that supports a diversity of insects and work with nature to create balance and harmony.
- Watch this video for more tips:
In the next post ‘4 Steps to Improve Pollination & Your Harvests: Part 2’ you’ll find the final 3 steps. I share illustrated instructions on how to hand pollinate your crops, bee-friendly flowers to grow and easy ways to make your garden a bee magnet. Plus a BONUS FREE printable ‘HOW TO HAND POLLINATE FRUIT & VEGETABLES GUIDE‘.
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