When it comes to growing vegetables, having insects in the garden is a good thing. While some vegetable plants are self-pollinators and can produce fruit on their own, others need pollinating insects to carry their pollen from plant to plant and produce fruit.
Leafy vegetables like lettuce don’t need bees since they don’t produce fruit. Beans, okra and tomatoes are self-pollinating, so they don’t need any help developing fruit either. However, when it’s very hot (above 90 degrees) and humid the pollen will become sticky, reducing fruit production.
The cucurbit family, cucumber plants and relatives like pumpkin, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and all types of squash and gourds must have pollination by bees and other insects before they produce any fruit.
The cucurbit family produces separate male and female blooms on the same plant. The male blooms appear a few days before female blooms, and during unfavorable conditions, the male bloom will abort before the female bloom can be pollinated. Bloom drop commonly occurs during periods of cool weather, when the temperature dips to 55 degrees at night, and during periods of heavy rainfall. Insects typically don’t pollinate during this type of weather.
Even with perfect weather, gardeners can accidentally disrupt their plant’s pollination with untimely pesticide use. Avoid spraying and dusting insecticides when bees are present, most often in the mornings, and avoid spraying the insecticide on the blooms altogether.
If you notice that many of your vegetable plants are dropping blooms even though they are seeing a lot of bee activity, the problem might be caused by adding too much nitrogen fertilizer too early in the season. Excess nitrogen fertilizer can also cause excess green growth with no flowering at all.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact your local county agent, Brenda Jackson, at Murray County Extension at 706-695-3031 or at email: firstname.lastname@example.org.