Sex With Plants: Hand Pollinating Your Hydroponic Garden

hand pollinating hydroponic plantsOk I got your attention, now lets get our minds out of the gutter. Most of us use to throw some plants in some dirt and then magically would gather up our veggies some time later. What we do’t often think about (myself included) is that plants are just like most other forms of life in that their are males and females and both are needed to produce offspring i.e. your vegetables.

Types of Plants

In your vegetable garden you’ll find basically 3 types of plants:

male flower

Male Flower

Separate Male and Female: These plants have separate male flowers and female flowers. Most of the time these can be found on the same plant but their are varieties that will produce all female or all male. When outside typically bees will take pollen from the males and deposit on the female. Growing indoors or in a green house you need to play the part of the bee. Squash and cucumbers are good examples of this kind of plant.

Male/Female in same Flower: These are a bit easier to deal with as all the ingredients are in the same flower. The vibration from the bees typically will release the pollen and pollinate the plant. Tomatoes are a perfect example.

No Flowers: These are your non fruit bearing veggies such as lettuce and herbs. They don’t need any pollination.

How to Play Bumble Bee

female flower

Female Flower

When you grow indoors or in a greenhouse with hydroponics you don’t have the luxury of bees to pollinate. These days depending where you are at you may not even have much luck with them outdoors.

With plants that fall into the first group you need to identify the male and female flowers. Easiest way is that the females will have what appears to be a baby of the vegetable behind the flower. There are two ways you can do the pollinating

When the flowers have bloomed open you can pick off a male flower and peal off the petals so only the ‘stamen’ remains (for those with dirty minds yes it looks like the make sex organ). Next just paint the female ‘pistil’ part leaving some pollen behind.

baby squash

Baby Squash Behind Flower=Female

As an alternative you can use a small paint brush or q-tip to gather some pollen from the male and paint onto the female.

For the second group of plants the best way is to take an old electric tooth brush and ‘vibrate’ the flowers right behind them on the stem. Or the old fashion way is to just shake them gently or flick them.

I generally go out into the green house each morning when the plants bloom and do this to any new female flowers I see. Squash has been the easiest, cucumbers not so much. Cucumber male parts are smaller (insert joke here) and harder to paint on the flower. Q-tips and paint brushes are a bit easier but the flowers themselves are smaller as well.

Well take your new found knowledge and practice safe pollination 🙂



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