LEARN AS YOU GROW
Beginning gardeners, take note. Growing your own food has never been more fun or rewarding with tips and tricks from Crystal Broussard. A relatively new gardener herself, Crystal offers valuable advice for those who long to raise their own vegetables and fruits—whether to honor a family tradition or for the simple sake of being more self-sufficient.
By CRYSTAL A. BROUSSARD
This is my third summer with a full-fledged garden. In the past I have set out tomato plants and had small harvests. I never gave much thought as to why until last year, when I learned the critical role that bees play in the garden.
During last summer’s drought, I watered my garden for 30-45 minutes in the morning and another 30-45 minutes in the afternoon. Every time I turned the sprinkler off, I would notice several bees congregating around the dripping sprinkler and buzzing around my garden.
I knew a little about bees because one of my neighbors has hives and harvests honey. He has an in-ground pool and spent thousands of dollars putting in an intricate pond with a fountain so his bees can stay hydrated. Yet the bees were at my sprinkler. I wondered what my yard had that his didn’t.
My curiosity was piqued, so I got on my computer and typed in “How do bees help in the garden?” Of course, the basic benefit is that a bee goes from plant to plant to pollinate. Bees land in pollen, which sticks to them; then they carry that pollen from one bloom to another, which is how pollination occurs. But there’s more. I learned that wildflowers, including dandelion and clover, help attract bees. Not being the most enthusiastic weeder had worked in my favor as well because bees are drawn to weeds.
Through this research, I realized why my tomato plants hadn’t produced much. We needed the right environment for bees. Our neighbors have their yard chemically treated for dandelions and crabgrass, and although we had some flowers growing around our yard, I needed to plant more.
My first task was thinning the irises on one end of my house that were so thick they weren’t blooming to their full potential. I separated the bulbs, planted them in various places around the yard, and shared them with friends and neighbors. I also sprinkled a box of wildflower seeds around the perimeter of the yard and planted gladiolus, alliums, calla lilies, day lilies, surprise lilies, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, all of which are low maintenance bulbs. In addition, I have planted several rose bushes, hydrangeas, peonies, and a bleeding heart. My yard is colorful and fragrant, and all I have to do is dead head and occasionally prune my roses.
Several types of bees are important for gardening, and they are unique in what they are attracted to. Male and female plants require the opposite in order to pollinate and produce fruits or vegetables. That’s why it’s important to have a variety of flowers with bright, attractive coloring as well as a sweet scent to lure the bees.
If you are not fortunate enough to have an abundance of flowers around or a beekeeper down the street, you can pollinate your garden.
Steps for Self-Pollinating
Tools you’ll need:
• small paint brushes
• zipper sealed bags (big enough to hold the paint brushes)
• ink pen
• cotton swabs
• paper bags
Label each bag for each plant (tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, etc.)
For pollinating peppers and cucumbers, use the paint brush to gently stroke the inside of the flower. Be careful not to drop the pollen between flowers.
Tomatoes require a different technique. Make sure it is 60-70 degrees, and pollinate in the morning. Gently flick the flower to loosen the pollen you will see it fall on the ground. The wind will take care of the rest.
Squash have male and female flowers. Males are straight and females are on a round base. Use a cotton swab to get pollen from the male, and then swab the female flower.
Corn is unique in the location of the pollen. It is produced on top of the stalk and flows down into the silks. To retrieve the pollen from corn, place a paper bag over the silks, bend the silks to the upside down position and shake; the stalks have enough give that they won’t snap. After the pollen is deposited in the bag, dip the paint brush in the pollen and redistribute over the tops of the silks.
When you are finished pollinating, put each paint brush in a labeled bag and store in a dry, cool place or refrigerator.
Pollinating is a lot of work, but worth the resulting high yield when bees are scarce. Even though they may seem like a nuisance to some people, we need bees, and bees need humans to protect their environment. Humans and bees can live in harmony if we heed what our mothers told us, “If you leave the bee alone, it will leave you alone.” Happy pollinating!
Crystal A. Broussard lives in Hillview, Kentucky, with her husband and children. She learned her gardening skills from watching her grandparents and by trial and error.