Do you maters seem to be getting smaller? Are there fewer of them than there used be? Are they mushy or just plain ugly? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you need a MaterBater Tomato Blossom Pollinator.
Step 1: There's Always More Than One Way to Do It
I realize there are many ways to manually pollinate a mater plant. The most common is to use an electric toothbrush. That is fine and dandy if you want to do it that way. You could also do like the man in the picture. He is using a vibrating solenoid powered by a lantern battery. My little MaterBater would be worn out before I got through doing all the mater plants he has got. However, I only have a few to do so the MaterBater works great. Also, I am one of those people that find great satisfaction in building something myself rather than buying it. If you are like that too, then the MaterBater may be just the thing for you.
Step 2: Why a MaterBater?
You may have a mater problem and not even know it. Are your's getting smaller, softer, fewer and uglier? The problem could be your maters are not getting enough sex. That's right. I said sex. Perhaps a little biology refresher will help. Flowers are the sex organs of plants. In order to be fruitful and multiply, the flower's pollen needs to find its way into the ovary. This is not usually a problem as Mother Nature has her ways and is quite good at what she does. However, sometimes people get in the way and mess stuff up. Maters originated in Peru. Once they were discovered people took a liking to them and hauled them all over the world. That's where the problem started. People took the maters home with them, but they left the bees that pollinated them back in Peru. The result was severe decrease in the yields of maters outside of Peru.
Step 3: Bumble Bees Do It
Bumble bees can and do pollinate maters, however they are not as effective as their cousins in Peru. Professional mater growers all over the world buy and release boxes full of bumble bees in their greenhouses so they don't have to hand pollinate their plants. This is an effective method but bumble bees can be rather expensive. The problems most home gardeners experience with maters and other crops is there just aren't enough bumble bees in the wild to do the job effectively. Scientists estimate the US bumble bee population has decreased 96% during the last 20 years. Maters are in serious trouble because bumblebees are one of the few insects that pollinate plants by sonication. That is the scientific term for the hard vibrating required to pollinate tomatoes. Also, just so you know, bumble bees pollinate coffee too. If that crop fails because bumble bees become extinct, we will really be in deep trouble. I will have to find another place to live. I can only imagine what my wife would be like without her morning coffee. Potatoes, eggplants, and blueberries, just to name a few, also require sonication pollination. A MaterBater will work with all of these plants, but you are going to be in the garden MaterBating for a very long time if all the bumble bees disappear.
Here is a link to more information on the bumble bee problem.
Step 4: What's the Buzz? How It Works...
Most flowers are really easy to pollinate. However maters are not like most flowers. Maters can be pollinated by the wind. Honey bees and other insects can help too. Heck, just brushing up against a mater plant while walking through the garden can do it. However, none of these methods is very effective. If that is all your maters get then you are going to have a small, mushy and ugly crop of maters. To efficiently pollinate a mater blossom you have to get rough with it. You gotta really shake it up. In the diagram below you will see that the sex organs of a mater plant are covered or hidden. Most flower's organs are - shall we say - more exposed. Its really easy to get pollinated when your stuff is hanging out there for all the world to see. In mater flowers it is more difficult to get the pollen from the stamen to the ovary where baby maters are born. That is where the MaterBater comes in. The MaterBater will do it to it.
Step 5: When to Use Your MaterBater
Professional mater growers say the best time to pollinate a mater is between 10 AM and 4:00 PM on sunny days when it is hot and dry.
Try to do it during periods when the night temperatures are between 60° F and 70° F.
Step 6: What Difference Does the MaterBater Make?
The MaterBater can makes a BIG difference in your mater crop. If no pollen makes it into the ovary, you end up with what mater farmers call blossom drop. That means exactly what it says. The blossoms drop off the plant and you get no maters. If only a few pollen gains make their way to the ovary you get small, mushy and sometimes really ugly maters.
For plenty of large, meaty and good looking maters you have got to get lots of pollen into the ovary. When it comes to getting that done the MaterBater is a good way to put it where it needs to go.
Step 7: Are You Ashamed to Be Seen With Your Maters?
Are your maters ugly like these. This is not a pretty sight. Nobody would want to be seen coming out of the garden shed with something this ugly? This is what they call cat-faced maters. One major cause for this condition is too little pollen getting into the ovary. Build a MaterBater and you will be proud to be seen with your maters.
Step 8: Get Yer Stuff Together
Building a MaterBater is pretty simple. There ain't much to it. Here is a list of what you're gonna need:
Parts you will need:
- 3 volt micro vibrating (pager) motor
- Battery holder with a battery clip for two regular batteries. I used "AA" batteries.
- A 9 volt battery clip
- A piece of stiff wire. I used a brass wire but a coat hanger will work too.
- Thin un-insulated wire to fasten the motor to the stiff wire.
- Sugru. This stuff is real handy for a bunch of stuff. I won some in a contest here and decided to give it a try. http://sugru.com/
Epoxy glue will work too.
Tools You Will Need:
- Soldering Iron and solder
- Wire cutters
Step 9: Put It Together
The steps as simple enough for a child to do.
1 - Fasten one end of the stiff wire to the back of the battery holder using Sugru.
2 - Fashion a cup shaped tip from Sugru as shown to the other end of the wire. The inside is sort of cone shaped like the stamen.
3 - Fasten the motor securely to the stiff wire by wrapping it with un-insulated wire and soldering the wire. I did it this way because the
solder would not stick to my motor casing. Your's might solder fine.
4 - Solder the battery clip wires to the motor terminals. It doesn't matter which wire goes to which terminal.
5 - Fasten the wires going from the battery to the motor to the stiff wire using Sugru just to keep them out of the way.
6 - Install the batteries
7 - Snap only one terminal of the battery clip onto the battery holder (either one). Nothing will attach to the other terminal right now.
Now you and I both know there are a lot of different ways a person could go about building one of these things. You could use a lot of different materials too. Epoxy glue could replace the Sugru. A coat hanger could replace the stiff wire. You could even add a switch or bigger battery and motor if you want to. Just use what you got and build it to suit yourself.
Step 10: How the MaterBater Works
The motor vibrates the wire and the wire vibrates the little soft silicone (Sugru) cup on the end of the wire and that vibrates the Mater blossom. The wire acts as a sort of passive amplifier to intensify the motor vibrations. This vibration causes the pollen to fly all over the place insuring that plenty gets into the flower's ovary.
There is no switch on my MaterBater. I fastened one side of the battery clip to one of the battery holder terminals and use my thumb to push the other side of the clip against the other terminal to turn it on. I pull it back to turn it off.
All you have to do is hold the little cup up against the center of the mater blossom and turn her on. A few months later you will get plenty of large, beautiful, meaty maters.
Those are my first two baby maters below. Twins!
Step 11: ENJOY
Time to enjoy a mater sandwich - one of summer's finest pleasures.