Gardening: How To Hand-Pollinate Fruits and Vegetables

A few weeks ago, we were having trouble getting our chili pepper plants to pollinate and bear fruit. The flowers would bloom and seem to flourish. Then a few days later they'd curl up again and fall off, stem and all.

After a bit of research, we thought we'd try hand-pollinating. Here's how!

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Container gardens and balcony gardens are particularly prone to pollination problems because they don't get as much insect-traffic or crosswinds as ground gardens do. Sometimes hand-pollinating is necessary to get things off the ground.

First, determine if your plant is self-pollinating or if it cross-pollinates.

Tomatoes and peppers self-pollinate, meaning each flower contains all the necessary plant parts to make a fruit. But many vine crops like zucchini produce different male and female flowers. The male flower will have pollen-laden stamens and the female flower will usually have what looks like the tiny bud of a vegetable at the base.

A small watercolor or other soft brush is the best tool for the job. As you can see, Q-tips also make a good stand-in!

If your plant is self-pollinating, all you need to do is brush inside each flower, making sure the pollen gets down into the pistil (middle part) of the flower.

If your plant isn't a self-pollinater, brush up some of the pollen from the male flower and transfer it to the pistil on a female flower. You can also pick the male flower and shake pollen right into the female. (Sorry for the...er...graphic nature of that description!)

If your plant doesn't start bearing fruit in a few days, then something else might be going on. Inadequate water, lack of sunlight, and nutrient-deficient soil can also cause plants to conserve energy and not bear fruit.

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Our plant is now in good form and we're looking forward to plenty of chili peppers in a few weeks! Good luck with your own fruits and veggies!

Related: Recipe: Fried Squash Blossoms

(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)

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