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Pollinating Commercially Grown Tomatoes is a Challenge

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Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. Field grown tomatoes can be effectively pollinated by wind but the addition of powerful buzz-pollinating insects, bumble bees and the much-maligned carpenter bees, improves the outcome. When growing tomatoes in greenhouses, the producers can either use mechanical pollination or maintain colonies of bumblebees. Effective mechanical pollination requires workers to vibrate each fruiting cluster with devices, sometimes battery-powered toothbrushes. A University of Pennsylvania study concluded that it took 15 hours of manual labor per day to perform this task. Compare that with the perfect combination of bumblebees and tomatoes. A hive of these strong-chested buzz pollinators not only eliminated the toothbrush approach, but the plants produced more tomatoes, up to a 25% increase. Sounds like a no brainer. The caveat is that growers must practice skillful and careful integrated pest management to avoid harming those confined and hard-working insects.

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Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.