The Beginner Gardener: Why Pollination is Vital for Your Vegetable Garden
In the Garden with Jessica. Did you know that most of our food requires pollination? The hardworking bees, butterflies, bats, birds, and other insects make it possible for us to eat a diverse, healthy diet. And the wind helps, too! When I started my vegetable garden last year, it was the first time I learned how different vegetables produce.
Pollinators work their magic by moving pollen from the male part of the plant (anther) to the female part (stigma) of the same species of plant. This results in a fertilized plant that will produce seeds and the fruit surrounding those seeds.
Pollination is beneficial to both the pollinators and the plants—it helps plants reproduce and keeps pollinators fed with pollen and nectar.
Vegetables that need pollinators
Squash, zucchini, and cucumbers (and melons, too) need extra help from pollinators. The male and female flowers grow separately and the only way to produce is through pollination. Last year, I grew cucumbers, melons, and zucchini. Luckily, I had bees visiting the big, beautiful yellow flowers often. They were so fun to watch! Unluckily, I didn’t get much of a harvest due to overwatering and poor soil—see my 2018 “learnings” post here. This year, I’ll be growing cukes, yellow neck squash, and zucchini, so hopefully the bees and other pollinators will be back when those flowers bloom; the garden is doing so much better.
Vegetables that self-pollinate
Some vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas, contain both male and female parts on the same flower so they do not need pollinators to produce. But pollinators can still help by giving them a boost of pollen for larger yields.
Vegetables that don’t require pollination
Root crops, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies, and leafy greens do not require pollination because we eat them before they go to seed. In fact, many lettuce varieties “bolt” in the heat (go to seed) and the leaves turn bitter and inedible.
How to attract pollinators
Grow lots of flowers near or combined with your vegetable garden. Companion planting is a great way to create a harmonious garden environment. Some flowers that attract pollinators include zinnia, geranium, coneflowers, lavender, borage, and wildflower mixes. And try to keep areas of your yard a little wild! To learn more about attracting pollinators, watch this.
What to do if your garden does not attract pollinators
You become the pollinator! It’s easy–just grab a small, soft-bristled paintbrush, dip it into the male flower to gather pollen, then brush the pollen into the middle of the female flower.
Photo: Zucchini blossoms: female on top, male on bottom
There is so much to learn about gardening. I’m so excited to see what beneficial pollinators visit my garden this year – how about you?
Tell us: What do you grow to attract pollinators?