Picture of Pollinating Tomatoes
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

Picture of 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.

pokerella3 years ago
WoW! this is great , now I have a third use for electric toothbrushes.
I see what you did there...

What do you mean I'm three years late?
LoneStarWD3 years ago
Wonderful to know. Now I will be able to enjoy fresh tomatoes.
skelley43 years ago
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.
Super_Nerd4 years ago
If you did this would you be able to hybridize the tomato plant to grow bigger tomatoes?
Xonk614 years ago
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.
zaciiz4 years ago
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.
MyMenagerie5 years ago
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!
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.
aforbes985 years ago
Why do you retire your toothbrush? You do know that the brush is replacable as well as the battery.?
Tool Using Animal (author)  aforbes985 years ago
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..
bruceshny5 years ago
I also "paintbrush" my pepper and eggplant flowers to increase fruit set ! Bruce 
WILL625 years ago

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.

jquiring6 years ago
Some tomato plants are not self-pollinating and need other flowers. You can use a small paintbrush to pollinate those flowers.
cpns726 years ago
I used Q-tip or kid's water paint brush.
EcoMotive6 years ago
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!
vrkelley6 years ago
I tried this today and cannot see the pollen.Do you have to buzz each flower and for how long???
Tool Using Animal (author)  vrkelley6 years ago
you can just buzz the entire flower cluster if you like, and it's just a quick touch, for a second or two.
Tried this again today (on an indoor tomato) and this time a lot of pollen came out. Don't know if the light was hitting just right to see the pollen or not. Thanks again for your reply. -vr
phreddy6 years ago
Tomatos are self polinating and don't need the bees. The wind usually does the job and I suspect visiting insects that don't know about this might have a try, disturbe the flowers and so help. Some experts also use the E tooth brush and some just jiggle the plant. Yeagerxp: your problem may have been temperature. All that rain certainly brings it down and if you grow 'hot area' toms you might have had that trouble. Can I recommend that you try tomatoland.net and look for 'grunt' he is from Canada and might be of help to you.
yeagerxp7 years ago
Too late for this year, with all the rain we got in Toronto this year, I have eight foot tall tomato plants, and very little fruit, no bees came by to pollinate because of rain, so much work for almost nothing, drip irrigation i installed this year, was not used,. I grow yellow tomatoes, not as acidic as red. But next year, I will make a plastic green house and pollinate the plants using this idea. Geez 23 plants and not even 10 pounds of tomatoes
Bernie997 years ago
Hey it makes me laugh, but sounds very plausible. Our tomatoes are doing prety well, but I will try giving them a buzz. it can't hurt!! Cheers! Bernie
fishhead4557 years ago
FLATULATIONS--Dis HomoHabilus has always got some great ideas. I would like to comment further but i must go now to make a tomato sandwich...YUM. (and thanks again).
zachninme7 years ago
So peaceful, so calm... AH LOOK A TOOTHBRUSH! Clever!
LOL! Great ible, TUA! Will this work with other flowering vegetables, I hope?
Tool Using Animal (author)  Labot20017 years ago
Generally it's used with the solanaceae, other flowers can be adequately pollinated by honeybees and solitary bees.
Ah, good! A quick wikisearch let me know that peppers fall under solanaceae.
Mr. Rig It7 years ago
2 step Instructable? I guess it works and it's a great idea. I let the wind pollinate mine. Cool idea!
Tool Using Animal (author)  Mr. Rig It7 years ago
One step, intro doesn't count.
Wow you're good! You're at Jedi Master level :)