Googling to grow tomato plants

When my two tomato plants grew as differently as Schwarzenegger and DeVito in “Twins”, I pondered Why?

Being neither Lois Hole nor  Brian Minter, when my two tomato plants grew as differently as Schwarzenegger and DeVito in “Twins”, I pondered Why?

A height of 24 inches satisfied the cherry tomato plant. It quickly branched out around the base, and within days replaced blossom clusters with clumps of tomatoes.

Beside it, a Mr. Stripey tomato plant shot up like Jack’s beanstalk, growing ever higher, blossomed energetically here and there, but soon the blooms withered. Nary a tomato appeared.

Why the exceptional height? And why no sign of a tomato?

Gardeners suggested hanging a sun catcher or  importing a flowering annual irresistible to bees.

I browsed an end-of-season potting plant display and bought a  purple petunia. Bees ignored it.

I returned to Google. A cursory check identified my Stripey as a beefsteak heirloom tomato known to attain a height of 10 feet! Already it was either wield a hatchet and decapitate the plant or raise the greenhouse roof.

One Google website led to another until I found “How to prune a tomato plant” by pinching off suckers. Poised to pinch, I advanced on my unsuspecting beanstalk.

In another Youtube, tantalizingly titled “Spank Your Tomatoes for Bigger Harvests”, Reaganite71 posed in front of his tomato hedge bragging about his 66 tomatoes on eight plants early into the season. He advises rolling up a newspaper and lightly spanking the stems of tomato plants, their wire cages, or stakes to distribute the pollen of strains that trust their pollination to wind. Use only the flat part of the newspaper roll or you can bruise the stems. He also advises spraying blossoms with apple juice; methane from the juice helps set the blossoms and hasten maturity.

Serendipitously, a day or two after my Google search the New York Times published Carl Zimmer’s review article, “Unravelling the Pollinating Secrets of a Bee’s Buzz”. This article explains why tapping stems with a newspaper or using an electric toothbrush might stimulate tomato production.

Studies are being done by scientists in Scotland, Nevada, and Arizona to determine exactly how bees pollinate plants. It turns out, there’s more to bees’ tactics than inadvertently rubbing their furry bodies on one flower after another while searching for nectar.

Plants like tomatoes, potatoes and cranberries that offer insects pollen rather than nectar as food, hide their pollen in tubes too deep to be accessible by just any insect. Bumblebees clamp their jaws on the tube like an angry pit bull and rev their buzzing like a lawnmower attacking too thick grass shaking the tube hundreds of times a second. If they didn’t hang on tight, they could fling themselves off the blossom. The pollen grains loosened by the bee’s vibrations bounce up and down in the tube until they gain so much energy they blast out of the tube in a cloud.

Pollen grains from the cloud stick in the bee’s fur where they tuck most of the grains in damp clumps on their legs to carry back to the hive as larvae food. But bees lose some pollen grains. These are rubbed off on the next flowers they visit.

Plants that deliberately grow tubes too long for the average insect such as spiders to steal their pollen thus assure wider propagation of their species. Only bumblebees can achieve this 330 Hz vibration level; even honey bees cannot.

Yesterday I ate the first fruit of my labour – three cherry tomatoes. Several more will ripen in a day or so. As for Mr. Stripey, I may have been overzealous,  pruning stems that might have produced more blossoms. But if the plant produces a dozen beefsteak-sized tomatoes, it will be acceptable return for an $8 investment.

Just Posted

Global climate strike makes its stand in Terrace

Approximately 50 people rallied in front of city hall to bring awareness to climate change

Bear shot by police in Stewart neighbourhood, residents say

Gunshots were heard in the dark, alarming and angering neighbours

Skeena Voices | Walking between two parallel roads

Lynn Parker found knowledge a powerful tool for reconciliation

Terrace Community Forests harvests $750k for City of Terrace

Money was given in recognition of National Forest Week

Coast Mountain College opens new health and wellness centre in Terrace

College’s eventual goal is to open up the gym and programming for public use

VIDEO: Grizzly bears fight along northern B.C. highway in rare footage

Cari McGillivray posted the head-turning video, shot near Stewart, B.C., to social media

Police arrest B.C. phone scammer linked to illegal call centres in India

Person arrested in Burnaby here on a work visa, says police

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

Man from Winnipeg who was hiking alone found dead in Banff National Park

RCMP say the man was hiking alone on Mount Temple Thursday

One-in-five British Columbians think they’ll win big while gambling: study

Roughly 58 per cent of British Columbians bought at least one lottery ticket in past year

Takaya, B.C.’s intriguing lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Resident finds loaded shotgun inside a duffle bag in Kelowna alleyway

RCMP seized a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, clothing and other items

Graffiti, calls and Snapchat: RCMP probe string of threats targeting Kamloops schools

There have been nine different threats made to four different schools in the city

Oak Bay father’s testimony at murder trial like plot of ‘bad low-budget movie:’ Crown

Crown alleged Andrew Berry’s ‘entire story of Christmas Day is a lie’

Most Read