Posted on 14 July 2008 by

No Tomatoes On Your Plants? Don\’t Blame the Bees!

By Michelle Fabio

If your tomato plants aren’t forming fruit, you may be inclined to think it’s because you haven’t seen bees or butterflies around to pollinate them.

But don’t blame the bees, according to David Goforth, horticulture and forestry agent with the Cabarrus Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

“Tomatoes are wind pollinated and outdoor tomatoes don’t need pollinators,” he wrote in a recent Master Gardeners Q & A column in the Charlotte Observer.

Instead, advised Goforth, factors that can affect the setting of tomato fruit include shade, high nitrogen levels and inauspicious temperatures. If the temps have been below 50 degrees or over 70 degrees at night, good old Mother Nature is probably to blame for this common tomato problem.

If you live in area that consistently has such warm temperatures, you may want to look into planting so-called heat resistant tomatoes such as the Solar Fire, which was developed by researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The Solar Fire can be planted earlier in the fall than others and the vine produces firm tomatoes great for salads and sandwiches according to Jay Scott, a professor of horticultural sciences at UF’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.

Has this year’s heat adversely affected your tomatoes?

Sources: Lack of Bugs Isn’t What’s Bugging Your Tomatoes
Heat-Tolerant Tomato Readied for California

6 Responses to “No Tomatoes On Your Plants? Don\’t Blame the Bees!”

  1. Ryan Says:

    It has; It’s been hovering around 90 degrees and has rained for 5 days in a row. But somehow my big white pink stripes are still developing fruit. But the celebrity plants have dropped a few dozen.

  2. our friend Ben Says:

    Great reminder, Michelle! It’s easy to forget that tomatoes are wind-pollinated. I try to help my greenhouse tomatoes set fruit by flicking the blossoms with a finger or gently shaking the branches. (There’s good cross-ventilation, so they don’t really need this, but it helps me feel like I’m doing something useful and is a good way to check for whiteflies at the same time!) My outdoor tomatoes are on their own.

  3. michelle Says:

    @ Ryan, sorry to hear about your celebrities, but that’s great about your others. Hopefully the second half of the summer will be kinder to our gardens!

    @ Ben, hey so long as you and your toms are happy, we’re all happy 🙂

  4. Daphne Gould Says:

    Actually this isn’t quite true. Tomatoes are self pollinating, just like beans. Most tomatoes (though there are exceptions) have both the stamen and pistil inside the flower. The pollen just falls down onto the pistil. So the bees are indeed not responsible, but neither is the wind. So most of the time you can save seeds from heirloom tomatoes and have them grow true even if you grow other varieties. Corn is a wind pollinator and it cross breeds like mad.

  5. michelle Says:

    Thanks for the info Daphne 🙂

  6. David Goforth Says:

    Wind pollination is by far the most common way tomatoes are pollinated. When tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, some type of movement other than gravity is required to move the pollen inside the flower. Years ago this was done with handheld air blowers every day. Another method is using an electric toothbrush on each bloom. More recently bumblebees (at a cost of about $4 each) are released in the greenhouse. If gravity would do the job, you could bet farmers wouldn’t go to the trouble.

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