Posted on 30 September 2011 by

Green House Tomatoes: The Pollinators Dilemma

By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

The other day I was doing some research on greenhouse tomatoes and found a technique I found interesting and sad.

Greenhouse tomatoes are fertilized in several different ways.

One way is the way I used to use when I was an Agriculture Education instructor and that was just letting nature into my greenhouses.

In the commercial setting, this consists of releasing bumblebees into the greenhouse environment. These insects are short-lived but can be expensive when a new hive has to be purchased every time the greenhouse is cleaned out and new plants brought in.

Another approach that I have never used is placing the tomato plants on a vibrating table. This simply shakes the plants so that the pollen is distributed but this has to be done for the whole production season.

But for small greenhouse production, the human touch is used. This consists of moving an electric toothbrush over each flower. The same flowers have to be touched for one whole week before pollination will occur and must continue as long as the plants are blooming. How odd I thought this was and how awkward it must be when you are asked what you do for a living. I can just see it now; I pollinate tomatoes with an electric toothbrush. But without the pollinator’s dedication, greenhouse tomatoes would never produce and in doing so we, as a society, would be limited to only fresh tomatoes in the summertime.

But as I said before, when I was a teacher I simply opened the greenhouse doors and let nature in.

As the years have passed since I last walked into a classroom, I have noticed a difference in the environment and the lack of pollinators in the world. It seems every year, the number of pollinators decrease while our demand for food increases. This year alone, I have only seen one bee and this was only a bumblebee. How I wonder what the environment has in store for my children and their food supply. I also wonder if we are all destined to be pollinators of our own crops. Maybe teaching people how to pollinate with electric toothbrushes is a way of reducing the unemployment rate and saving our food supply.

While I understand it is very difficult to undue or repair the damage pesticides have done to our environment, we need to start somewhere. We, as gardeners, regardless of how small or type, need to take a stand and commit to organic gardening. We need to realize that there is no such thing as perfect when one deals with nature and that trying to hold Mother Nature up to this standard will be our downfall.

So I challenge you, as a gardener and a neighbor of all pollinators, to make your space a pesticide-free environment. And maybe just maybe, we can all join together and prevent the sun from finally going down on the last standing pollinator. Hopefully the last pollinator standing will not be us.

Until we blog again, it is better to have pests here today then not tomorrow. So think before you spray your collective neighbors away.

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