Pollinating Tomatoes


Introduction: Pollinating Tomatoes

About: Working my dream job in the Telecom industry, so chances are, i'll never have time to respond to comments or messages, nothing personal.

Tomatoes, as well as other members of the Solanaceae require a special kind of pollination to achieve proper fruit set. This form of pollination is known as "buzz pollination". Buzz pollination is accomplished by Bumblebees (Bombus), by gripping the flower with their legs and vibrating their flight muscles, honeybees (Apis) are incapable of doing this. In small gardens, bumblebee populations can be insufficient to properly pollinate tomatoes and related plants. Here's how to buzz pollinate your plants to produce larger fruits.

Step 1: Yes, This Is a One Step Instructable

You will need an electric toothbrush with soft bristles. The electric toothbrush I'm using retails for $5 and after six months is being retired.

To pollinate the flower, turn on the toothbrush and gently and briefly touch it to the petals or stem of the flower, or flower cluster. Do not touch it to the face of the flower. That's all that is required, simply keep the toothbrush in with your garden tools and spend a few seconds each time you visit the garden, the results will be worth it.



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    I'm laughing so hard, I was searching online for how to pollinate my tomatoes because I'm trying to grow them inside. I couldn't find anything. Apparently the times I shook the plant in my attempts are the reason I've gotten a handful! Thanks so much!

    WoW! this is great , now I have a third use for electric toothbrushes.

    1 reply

    I see what you did there...

    What do you mean I'm three years late?

    Wonderful to know. Now I will be able to enjoy fresh tomatoes.

    even though all the posts are old I want to thank you for the article. I will be trying your method on my indoor garden at http://myaeroponics.com. As food costs go up using this method can help to have a self sufficient garden just using a tooth brush. I will be giving it a try..it just takes time to get a mature plant.

    If you did this would you be able to hybridize the tomato plant to grow bigger tomatoes?

    I had wondered if it would be possible to grow tomatoes in a warmed greenhouse all winter, but had been concerned about how they pollenate. Googled it, and came to this fine instructable! Thanks for the great idea. I don't have an electric toothbrush around here, but I've already imagined a way to use one of those cell phone vibrator motors to shake the stalks of my plants.

    Everything I heard in the comments here works just fine, especially with a small personal garden. I'm an organic veggie producer and have "lots" of heirloom tomato plants to pollinate. I used to spend days going through the plants with many different paint brushes and such (to avoid cross-pollinating different varieties) til an old German grower enlightened me. If you want to speed things up, just shake the entire vine gently for a bit- not hard enough to damage it or shake blossoms loose- just a good wiggle. It works like a charm- especially when you have a field full of plants.

    I grew a tomato plant from a store-bought tomato's seed, and it has been growing in my dining room window for going on three summers.  The original plant produced baseball sized tomatoes.  My plant produces grape-to-cherry sized tomatoes.  Any suggestions as to why my tomatoes are not as large as the original tomato?  Thanks!

    3 replies

    The tomato you bought at the store was most likely a hybrid.....designed to be transportable and not for flavor. The seed you planted grew something that was close to one of the parent plants used to create the hybrid at the store.

    If you want to grow the same tomato year after year you need to grow heirlooms and leave the hybrids alone.

    An interesting experiment would be to grow a number of your favorite open polinated varieties in the same general area (one of each) and then collect seed from some of the tomatoes that develop.  In theory, you should get crosses between the varieties.  You can take steps to ensure this happens if you were so inclined.     This is also a good way of growing tomatoes that are suited to your garden if you collect seed from the best plant on your plot and sow those the following year, and then collect the best plant from those.  You do need a couple of varieties close by to provide genetic diversity, but this is how some people have managed to get what are generally called "siberian" tomatoes that ripen in under 60 days, can handle 30 degree cold, and produce flavorful fruit. 

      Thank you for the heads up.  You are right about the lack of flavor in store-bought tomatoes.

      I was not aware that the tomato we ate was a hybrid.  It seemed like a fun experiment to grow a tomato plant from a seed.

      The plant in question recently passed, so I bought a new plant.  It seems to be content in its new location.  It has already reached about 2-1/2 feet and is blooming.

    Why do you retire your toothbrush? You do know that the brush is replacable as well as the battery.?

    2 replies

    The entire toothbrush costs 5 bucks, and I usually have a $2 off coupon, the heads are $6.99 for two. Economically it's simply easier to buy a new brush every 6 months, and retire the brush to any of a thousand other uses.

     When you say retire, I'm assuming you mean that you are retiring from brushing teeth to tomato duty rather than total retirement..

    I also "paintbrush" my pepper and eggplant flowers to increase fruit set ! Bruce 

    If you have your tomatos in wire cages just take a switch (small branch of a tree or bush suitable for a spanking) and whack the cages a few licks and you will have shaken ALL the flowers at once......grandma taught me this one, look grams! no batteries.

    Some tomato plants are not self-pollinating and need other flowers. You can use a small paintbrush to pollinate those flowers.

    I used Q-tip or kid's water paint brush.

    I just tried this with my tomato plants last night. Today I have tomatoes! They're about the size of BB's right now. Mine are growing indoors so there's no bees or wind. Great job. Thanks a lot!