Following is a seemingly simple question, the answer to which is very important to having a successful garden. To answer it properly is not so simple, but it is worth knowing, so I invite you to pay close attention to each element of my response.
Q. I have hundreds of blossoms on my tomato, squash and etc. plants yet very little fruit. I have observed that there are no bees (I have only seen 3 at any one time) around. Is this normal? What can I do to correct this situation?
A. The lack of pollinators is rarely a problem for tomatoes because their blossoms are “perfect”, meaning they contain both male and female parts. Even a gentle breeze or movement of the plant stems will allow pollination to occur.
Squash can be pollinated by hand quite easily, so long as you can find male blossoms. You must take a male blossom – which is the one WITHOUT a small fruit forming behind the flower – strip the petals off, then touch the tip, or stamen, to the pistil, or tip of the female blossom. One male can pollinate several females.
This must be done in the early morning, when both blossoms are fully open, or the female won’t be receptive to pollination.
Next let’s consider the bee situation. Many places in the country are currently experiencing a severe shortage of bees. Diseases to which bees are susceptible have ravaged many thousands of hives, and this is a good part of the reason honey is SO expensive lately.
First off, don’t use pesticides. They will very often kill the beneficial insects along with the problem ones. If you must spray a pesticide do it in the heat of mid-day when there is little or no wind. This is when bees and other pollinators are least active. And use the least toxic product possible that will accomplish your objective.
Attracting pollinators to your garden may be more difficult than just pollinating the squash yourself. Some people even resort to buying a beehive and placing it near their garden.
Many people also plant flowers near their gardens in hopes of attracting bees, etc. For maximum effectiveness you need to plant them in several bunches, rather than single flowers here and there. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
Native plants are said to be much more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also well adapted to local growing conditions and require minimum attention.
Again for maximum effectiveness include several plant species that flower at the same time – to increase the number of bee species attracted to your garden – and plant a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, so that you attract a range of bee species that fly during different times of the growing season.
Another factor that could account for having very little fruit on plants is the temperature. This question was asked during the first week of August, which is usually the hottest time of the year.
Extreme heat is often the cause of plants not being able to set fruit. They do best in temperatures below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and when it’s above 95 there is very little fruit-set.
Also, unless night-time temperatures are at least 15-20 degrees lower than daytime temperatures some plants won’t set fruit.
To mitigate the heat problem consider applying partial shade to your plants during the few hottest hours of the day. This is best done by placing a 25%-35% shade cloth directly above the plants, so that it shades only during the hours from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M.