by Melody Kendall
I recently visited a fellow Master Gardener and saw his wonderful raised planting beds in his backyard. He had an array of extremely healthy-looking tomato plants all neatly encased in wire cages. As we talked, he picked up a stick about five feet in length with a soft pad on the end encased in duct tape. He gently tapped each tomato cage with the padded end of the stick a couple of times, shaking each plant as we walked. Puzzled, I watched him until he had done all dozen or so plants and I asked him, “what's up with the stick?”
He responded that tapping the tomatoes regularly during the heat of the day has increased his tomato production noticeably. His argument was very compelling.
I was so intrigued I did some of my own research and found quite a few references for this method. It's very simple: to get the best result of most crops there needs to be proper pollination. Most plants have either perfect flowers, meaning they have both male & female components, or imperfect flowers, which means they have only the male or the female components. Tomatoes have a perfect flower, so they are self-pollinating. For good tomato production there must be enough pollen transferred from the male anthers to the female stigma. This usually occurs in nature by wind movement and pollinators. Large scale producers who grow tomatoes in greenhouses introduce pollinators because the air has little or no air movement. They have coped with this in various ways to create movement in the plants with wires attached to each plant that connects to a device that shakes the plants regularly, or by introducing bumblebees. Both have had great success.
In my friend's case, the garden area is very enclosed and the air movement is minimal. His method using the stick fulfills the job of the wind. For those of us with larger planting beds for our tomatoes the lack of air movement might not be a problem, but it would be a fun experiment to shake half of the tomato plants regularly, leaving the rest alone and comparing the results of the fruit production. It would be fun to shake the tomato plants and mystify the neighbors.
If you try this method of tomato fertilization, send your results to the blog's comment section.
South Dakota State University https://extension.sdstate.edu/pollinating-tomatoes-high-tunnels
University of Florida https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs1248
Louisiana State University https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/downloadpdf/journals/hortsci/34/5/article-p846.xml
Organic Gardener Publication: Australian author Penny Woodward (Science degree in Biology and Zoology)
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Photo credits: Pxfuel