UW Extension offers gardening tips
As gardening season approaches, many growers are considering how they can grow an abundance of produce this year. Increasing pollination in the garden is one way to help plants flourish and produce nutritious fruits and vegetables
University of Wyoming (UW) Extension hosted a webinar May 6 on pollination in the garden and how gardeners can donate excess produce.
Which plants to pollinate
Natrona County Horticulture Extension Educator Donna Hoffman notes certain plants benefit more than others from pollination.
“Quite a few vegetable garden plants don’t need pollinators to produce food,” she says.
This includes vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, parsley and dill, Hoffman notes. She also says plants with edible stems don’t require pollinators for the edible portion of the plant.
“Asparagus, celery and onions are typically plants which don’t have pollinators on them,” she adds.
Hoffman mentions some plants are insect pollinated while others are wind pollinated.
“Quite a few vegetables are wind pollinated and don’t require an insect pollinator,” she says. “Most grains are wind pollinated.”
Wind pollinated plants can often be enhanced by hand pollination, Hoffman notes. Tomatoes are a common wind pollinated plant and can also be hand pollinated.
“They often will install something on the supports for tomatoes in green houses to shake plants in order to help with wind pollination,” she says. “If you are out in the garden, it doesn’t hurt to grab a hold of the stems and shake them a bit so the pollen is moved inside the individual flowers and goes from the stamens to the style where it is sticky and receptive to the pollen in order to make more seeds in each of the flowers.”
Bees come to mind when thinking of pollinating insects, but Hoffman says many different insects found in Wyoming are useful pollinators.
“We have a variety of insects visiting gardens and doing a majority of the pollination,” she says. “Bees are the biggest pollinators we have in our flower and vegetable gardens.”
Hoffman recommends planting flowers in the garden for nectar and pollen sources. These sources attract flies, bees, hummingbirds, ants, etc., and the insects pick up the pollen and transfer it between plants.
“Many flowers attract flies,” she adds. “There’re a variety of different flies which will visit quite a few different species of flowers, and as they visit the flowers, the hairs on their bodies collect pollen and transfer it from flower to flower.”
Hoffman says butterflies and moths are also helpful insects when it comes to pollination.
“Butterflies and moths have some hairs on their body, but mostly scales, which pick up pollen they transfer from flower to flower,” she adds.
Hoffman notes one of the reasons pollination works so well is flowers are open for a particular part of the season.
“If one species of flower is all that’s open at a particular time, then that’s where the insects are going to collect the pollen. They’ll take it from flower to flower in a particular species,” she says.
Pollinator or pest?
Hoffman says many times pollinating insects can be a bit of a nuisance for gardeners, but she encourages producers to remember the insects offer more benefits than damage to the garden.
“Butterflies and moths lay eggs which become caterpillars, and the larvae are there consuming some product in the garden,” she says. “Caterpillars are voracious eaters but in order to have beautiful adult pollinators, we need to provide a food source for them in the garden.”
“We may be willing to offer up one or two of our plants so the butterfly and moth have a food source during the growing season,” she adds.
Bringing pollinators into the garden makes gardening more enjoyable for kids and benefits all of the flowers in the garden, she says. She urges gardeners to embrace the pollinating insects instead of trying to get rid of them.
“The more pollinators we bring into the garden, the better it is for pollination to occur with the plants we want pollination to happen on,” Hoffman says.
Grow and give
Gardeners are left with an excess of fruits and vegetables they can’t seem to eat quick enough. This is where the Cen$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) comes into play.
According to their website, “CNP is a cooking and nutrition program serving families and individuals with limited resources in Wyoming. CNP educators live in communities across the state and teach free classes about healthy lifestyles and cooking. We also work with community partners on amazing projects at gardens, food pantries and schools.”
CNP Educator Shannon Tippit offers advice for gardeners planning to donate to local food banks this season. She notes all fresh produce is welcome.
Tippit mentions broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, peppers, potatoes, spinach, summer squash and tomatoes are the most wanted fresh produce items.
More difficult items to get rid of include kale, other leafy greens, parsnips and winter squash. Tippit encourages gardeners to donate any excess produce they might have, even if it’s not in high demand.
“If producers grow the harder to donate items, they can still donate and the educator in their area will give educational information about the specific vegetable or fruit and recipes to go with it,” she says.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.