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Member discussion regarding the methods, varieties and merits of growing tomatoes.

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Old December 19, 2013   #1
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Default Which Tomatoes Most Attractive To Bumblebees?

Have you noticed particular cultivars of tomatoes that are highly attractive to pollinators? Which varieties?

Have you tried hand pollinating tomatoes? Were there any plants that easily released clouds of pollen when vibrated? Which varieties?

This summer I noticed two tomato plants that the bumblebees loved. Most any time I'd go into the garden there would be bumblebees hanging on flowers of those two plants. The bees mostly ignored all the other tomato varieties. The attractive cultivars were Jagodka and Nevskiy Red. Both varieties also released lots of pollen when vibrated.

I would like to convert my tomatoes into a promiscuously pollinating population so that I can more easily do mass-selection plant breeding. I have already identified two parents that can contribute to this effort. I'm wondering if there are others?

I specifically asked about bumblebees because there are high populations in my gardens, but if there are tomato varieties that really draw in a different species of pollinator I'd love to hear about those as well.
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Old December 19, 2013   #2
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Hi Joseph,

You have mentioned bumblebees before and it rang a bell so I just looked it up. Carolyn says, in her book:

"The most prolific pollinators are sweat bees, not bumblebees"

Now I have to go and look up sweat bees as that's a new one on me! Maybe you need a hive or two.....

Bumble bees here in NC LOVE the evergreen vine, Jessamine which blooms in the winter. I don't know where on earth you live, but your bumbles might appreciate some of that. if you're in the south It's wild and grows up the pine trees here, emitting the most amazing fragrance. Perhaps you could grow some as a winter treat for them. I have bought it in Lowes garden department.

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Old December 19, 2013   #3
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Labradors2: Thanks for the suggestion. I should explore other pollinators as well, and look into cultivating more bumblebees. I'd cultivate other kinds of bees if I could find any that really like tomatoes.

I have sweat bees that live in holes in a falling-down building near the farm. I watched the tomato flowers a lot this summer. I didn't see sweat bees on a tomato plant. They sure love the sunflowers.
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Old December 19, 2013   #4
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I planted a patch of this last spring and it attracted a lot of bumblebees; but they seem to eschew nearby tomatoes. Also had some blue veronica that bees loved.
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Old December 19, 2013   #5
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I've posted the above here many times but whenever insect pollination of tomato blossoms comes up I do it again.

It's written by Dr. Jeff McCormack who used to own SESE and is The best info I've found re insect pollination/

Sweat bees. aka Halictids, are THE most important pollinators of tomatoes but they are so tiny you don't even know they are doing their thing.

I think Jeff's distances for tomato plants are way too conservative but then he was commercial and had to do what he had to do.

After growing over 3,000 varieties I don 't think I've ever seen bumble bees pollinating but that maydepend on their frequency in different areas. Fact is that most blossoms are already pollinated as the stigma moves upwards, before the blossoms are even open. Honey bees yes, see them a lot and yes, they work the blossoms, but for the protein pollen as an energy source since tomato blossoms have no nectar.

There are a few varieties that have crossed more frequently than others for me, but I don't think that's relevant here, since often in hot weather the stigma exherts, that is, gets above the pollen bearing anthers and thus easier for insect pollinators to X pollinate,

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Old December 19, 2013   #6
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Carolyn: Thanks for the link... I am interested in other flower traits in addition to attractiveness to bees. I examined many tomato flowers under high magnification this summer. I noticed other traits that might lead to higher cross pollination rates: For example extra long styles, or anther cones that are open instead of being tight against the style, etc.... I figure that those traits might also be valuable to me in developing promiscuously pollinating tomatoes. I am interested in increasing cross-pollination rates in tomatoes by any strategy or combination of strategies. I guess another way to phrase my search for germplasm is: "Are there any varieties of tomatoes that are highly susceptible to cross pollination?'

In my garden there are many species of bumblebees that visit tomato flowers. They are about the only pollinator that I see on tomato blossoms. I wouldn't mind cultivating other species of bees/wasps if they could become self-sustaining in my climate.
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Old December 20, 2013   #7
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I can't comment on the bee relationships because although my old herb garden is basically a bumblebee sanctuary and teeming with em, the tomatoes are mostly in the greenhouse.
I did some crosses late this fall, and had trouble getting pollen from several of the desired parents. The ones that produced lots of pollen were noticeable - Indian Stripe, Danko, Black Early and PI 120256 had a free flow of pollen. Al Kuffa also produced a fair bit of pollen, and when it flowered again (late) Zolotye Kupola also produced enough pollen to try crosses.
Plants that weren't good pollen donors at the time were Kimberley, Zolotoe Serdtse, Zolotoy Zapas, Eva Purple Ball, and resisted my efforts to get pollen by any method.

Success rate for cross-pollination is another question. In spite of the copious pollen, only one (of maybe ten tried) using PI 120256 pollen was successful. Indian Stripe pollen came in at better than 50% success, while Danko was 3 for 3, 100%. Al Kuffa pollen was used for one cross only, 2 of 2 flowers crossed were successful 100%. Black Early pollen was used for one cross and that was successful as well. Zolotye Kupola came in at 50% success.

I also thought some plants were not very receptive to crosses as the female parent. It could be due to the time of year or maybe sensitivity to any blossom damage or perceived damage. Zolotoe Serdtse was my best candidate for breeding desired traits, but besides giving not enough pollen it preferentially grew self-pollinated fruit instead of (or before) crossed fruit and rejected many attempted crosses although it was setting and growing fruit at the time. ZS was a heavy setter overall but consistently dropped some from nearly every cluster, so that trait factors in.
PI 120256 also didn't set well as the female parent, and dropped a lot in any case.

If you're interested in seed of any of the parents or crosses for your landrace project send me a PM, I'd be happy to share.
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Old December 19, 2013   #8
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I got a couple of bumblebees every day in my patch. They shake the bugeebers out of the blossoms and look coated in pollen when they leave. They seemed to like Hillbilly and Virginia Sweets at my place.

One time a Preying Mantis nailed one and it was horrendous to witness.
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Old December 19, 2013   #9
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Bumblebees are the dominant pollinating bee in my area. Sweat bees and honey bees are rarely sighted due to their demise. I have spent hours watching the bumblebees and they don't play favorites amongst the tomato blossoms here. They methodically hit all the blossoms that are ready. Bumblebees are my native bee and though they are little brutes, I'm thankful they have survived.
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Old December 19, 2013   #10
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I do not have many Bumblebees using my tomato flowers. However, my hummingbirds use the Brandywines (all varieties). I have found this quite amusing. They seem to prefer those that are the taller plants.
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Old December 23, 2013   #11
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If you want to attract any or all pollinators, why not look at what attracts them? I have always planted basil near my tomatoes or in a pot that I can move where I need it. Same for other pollinator friendly plants like buckwheat or mint. If you want to catch a fish, choose your bait wisely.
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Old December 23, 2013   #12
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In 2011, I planted Blondkopfchen (which produces a zillion blooms) and Tommy Toe near some other tomatoes. The bumblebees routinely worked over the blooms of those two varieties, but none of the nearby tomato varieties.

I liked them both but haven't grown them since.

For the last 2 years, bumblebees didn't seem interested in any of my tomatoes...or my basil either.

I used to live at a house that has a Veronica (Speedwell) by the driveway. Its flower spikes were purple, but during good weather it would look brown from even a short distance because so many bumblebees were crawling all over it.

My greenthumb grandmother always planted Bee Balm (monarda) to attract bees.
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Old December 27, 2013   #13
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Not tomatoes but marigolds and whole garden was buzzing this year because of the bees that these two plants attracted.
God Almighty first planted a garden, and indeed it is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment of the spirit of man, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiwork.
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Old December 29, 2013   #14
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What I understand Joseph is that you want isn't to attract bumblebees to his garden as much as to breed a population of tomatoes that will be either somewhat or mostly non-selfpollinating. Your picking brains for information about what tomatoes have certain traits that may be advantageous.

From what I can tell, although I haven't paid close attention, I suspect that if Bumble bees have other prefered options they will ignore tomatoes. My first thought is that it is more of a timing issue than a variety issue. What I mean is that if your tomatoes are the predominate flower at the time the bees will work them. If the tomatoes aren't then they are less likely to.

I'd also look at currant tomatoes, because everything I've read say they out cross easier.

Last edited by Doug9345; December 30, 2013 at 11:50 AM.
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Old December 29, 2013   #15
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I've got four beehives situated next to my vegetable garden. These are populated by Italian Honey Bees. This type of bee usually hones in on one specific flowering plant at a time for nectar and pollen gathering. I've never seen them focus on the tomatoes. The scout bees will flit from flower to flower on them searching for something that they can report back to the hive about but they never find enough to sound the alarm.

Audios, Tomatoville. Posted my final post and time to move on.

Last edited by Tom A To; December 30, 2013 at 11:35 AM.
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bumblebee , cross pollination , crossing , jagodka , pollinators

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