3 tips for pollinating your plants by hand and increasing your harvest

I had one of those laughable moments a few weeks ago when it was like I was a brand new, inexperienced gardener again, when I had for a second, forgotten everything I have learned over the years.

I was in the greenhouse wondering why I had next to no tomatoes and especially next to nothing on the pepper plants when in previous years I’d had lots. It took a second but then I remembered that maybe I should hand pollinate the plants. Now it’s not as dodgy as it sounds, although Kate does admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable about the whole thing. Like it should be done in the privacy of a darkened room.

Basically if you think about it, the plants in the garden get all sorts of pollinating visitors from bees to butterflies to hoverflies and also gets a bit of wind around the flowers. The greenhouse gets some insects, but not nearly as many as if the plants were outside and it would be a rare day for the greenhouse to get any kind of proper wind inside, so naturally, it takes a bit longer for all the flowers to cross pollinate.

So we can help that along. It’s another one of those simple and quick tasks you can add to your weekly routine and it goes something like this.

Option one: tomatoes

Tomatoes are what’s called self pollinating or self fertile, which means the flowers have both male and female parts and basically pollinate themselves. this works because the tomato flowers hang down (face down) and vibrations from the wind, insects etc make the pollen fall from the stamen (male part) to the pistil (female part) and pollinating the plant.

So to help this happen, you just need to cause some vibrations on the flower, just gently. You can do this by tapping the flowers. Nice and simple, or as is actually quite common, you can actually use an electric toothbrush. Yup you read that correctly, an electric toothbrush. Basically just hold it against the stem just above the flower for a couple of seconds. That’s all it takes, and the vibrations help the pollen to drop.

Option two: peppers and chillies

The flowers on pepper and chilli plants are slightly different. They are open and designed to be pollinated by insects, bees, moths and even ants etc. As the insects crawls around in the flower, they get pollen on them which they then transmit to other flowers as they go exploring. So to mimic this… grab a soft bristled paintbrush or a cotton swap. Start at one point in the greenhouse, make a note of your starting point, and just very gently brush the cotton swab or paint brush over the pollen in the flowers on the plants. Then do the same on another plant to transfer that pollen and pick up some new pollen.

I say to make a note of where you start because you want to do this methodically to make sure you cover every flower on every plant.

Option 3: courgettes

The first time I did this when we were growing courgettes in the greenhouse, and I thought that might be a nice thing to talk to you about because it’s a wee bit different on plants like courgettes. Courgettes have both male and female flowers so you need to make sure you are taking the pollen from the male flower and transferring it to the female flower. Don’t worry it’s easy to tell them apart. The male flowers are basically the flowers on long thin stems. The female flowers are on short, fat stems that look like tiny courgettes.

Give it a try, go have a look at the current state of affairs in your greenhouse and make a note of how much fruit you have on the plants and then go around and give the plants a little bit of help with pollination. Then have another check in a couple of weeks and see if it’s made a difference.

The bounty of the greenhouse and a lesson in keeping a garden journal

We are eating tomatoes and peppers from the greenhouse, along with carrots and courgettes from the beds – hooray! Nothing beats that feeling of making a meal with produce from the garden, bring on the smugness.

However, when I sat down to write this post for you today to tell you about the exciting news, I was about to misinform you (shock horror, Eli say it isn’t true!) I have been so excited to tell you guys about how amazing it is that we have tomatoes and peppers early this year, normally we have to wait till the end of august before we get anything ripe from the greenhouse. I was super excited guys, but alas, I was wrong.

Remember that post last year I gave you guys where I told you all the benefits of keeping a gardening journey? Well here is a prime example.

I was convinced that normally we didn’t see ripe fruit in the greenhouse until late August, absolutely convinced. I have even said this to Kate a few times over the last couple of weeks and she didn’t disagree with me, but for some reason, when I sat down to write this post today I decided to leaf through my journal and look at the dates when I recorded our first ripe tomatoes. I did the same with past blog posts. I’m glad I did, cause you know what, we ALWAYS have ripe tomatoes in July.

Look at these little lovelies

I am so disappointed, not in having ripe tomatoes to eat, cause lets be honest, that’s a joy, but just the excitement of the ripe tomatoes is dismissed slightly, sigh! Ach well, glad I had my journal to check before I posted a big, fat, lie for you guys. See, garden journals are a good thing.

So now I’m sitting here with my coffee enjoying a read through my journal and remembering previous years and seeing how much I have changed and grown as a gardener. It’s actually fun to wallow in the nostalgia.

My very first journal entry

Unsurprisingly, my first journal entries were for tomatoes, but what is fun to look back on are the types of tomatoes we grew in our first year. The focus was very much on how they looked. We grew, Tigerella, Zebra (green stripe) and Chocolate Cherry.

You can see that my notes had mentions of my disappointment that they weren’t very stripy, but what is a useful note is that I recorded that there was only one fruit on the plant for the first few months and it didn’t ripen for ages. This is a really useful note for me in subsequent years, I know what to expect or if things are different the next year I know to look at any changes I made to my habits and processes.

So how have things changed? Well the first couple of years, the journal tells me that we grew fruit and veg based on appearance, we got really excited about stripy green tomatoes and bullseye marked beetroot. Now we are growing things which we know have flavours we like, but we only know this because we experimented and kept records. For instance, that chocolate cherry tomato from year one, I noted it had a good flavour which meant I tried it again. However, here is where the twist in the plot happens. The third year, I couldn’t get seeds for that one, so I tried another cherry that was similar in the dark colour, the Indigo Blue Berry. That is now one of my favourite tomatoes and a staple. The flavour is out of this world guys!

Indigo Rose – turns from green to purple to rose pink (ish)

But again, last year we couldn’t get seeds to grow it, so I tried something similar, Indigo Rose, which wasn’t a cherry tomato. It looked like a larger version, but the flavour was really disappointing.

All of this is recorded in my journal so that each year I can make decisions based on experience.

Going forward

So no surprise that I am still keeping my journal and recording the comings and goings of the garden then, but I am about to move it over to a digital journal. I’m running out of space in my paper journal and I’m finding it frustrating that I can’t easily record photos etc. So after a recommendations from one of our readers (Lisa) I am slowly moving over to a digital notebook where I can quickly and easily add photos, videos and even audio notes. It’s a slow process but I’m having fun.

Season Finale 2018

Well our growing season here at Ar Bruidair is coming to an end, so today was about clearing up, cutting back and harvesting. It’s been a fantastic harvest this year, especially with tomatoes.

We currently have 2 massive bowls of tomatoes, a box of courgettes and a box of carrots on the kitchen counter, not to mention the pile of peppers.

I guess today is going to be about cooking.

See my season finale update on youtube

Winter draws in, the year comes to a close and we are already thinking about spring

carrots and beetrootIt’s getting dark about 4:30pm in the evenings now and it’s definitely chilly.

Our veggies gradually slowed down their growth and have now come to a stop.

It’s time.

As much fun as it is in spring when all the new plants first pop their heads literally “above ground”, we need to accept that to make this happen, we need to clear away the old stuff and get things ready for over wintering and eventually that spring surge. This means a bit of work to empty the beds and greenhouse and a bit of a scrub and polish to scoot away the muck and yuck of the year past.

We’ve planted up strawberries this year which means they have a permanent home in one of the beds so instead of emptying that one, we need to cover it over with a fleece to protect the plants once the frosts really start to bite. Hopefully our new frames over the beds will make this an easier job.

For the other beds, we’ve pulled all the beetroots and carrots that were there as our last harvest before topping the beds up with more soil and manure(for next years nutrients) and digging them over. We wondered if the soil was getting a bit tired this year after the two fantastic previous years so we are going to really focus on boosting it with nutrients before spring.

The greenhouse doesn’t escape either.  I’ve emptied out all the old tomato plants, cleaned the pots and gave the greenhouse a really good clear out and scrub down. I use a sanitising product called star san for this which is a contact sanitiser, meaning that once the greenhouse is cleaned I can spray this all over the frame and glass to kill any nasties leave the greenhouse sparkling ready to house the tomato plants for next year.


So was there anything we grew last year which we wont again?

  • Green beans – last year was our second try at growing green beans. We did have marginal success this year in that we got lots of beans, but they were small and weedy and not very tasty so we are not trying again.\
    It’s just not worth the amount of space and effort for the results.
  • Yellow courgettes – they just can’t be relied upon.
  • Orange carrots – they are the slowest growing and give the smallest yield.
  • Globe carrots – not impressed. Very small and took ages to mature.


Anything new for next year?

  • Not new but we are going to move the peas to their own spot. They were so successful that we feel they have earned it.
  • We are going to try the dwarf/patio versions of some of the tomato plants to try to help with space in the greenhouse.

Apart from that everything will be pretty much as usual. Purple carrots, stripy beetroot and all sorts of tomatoes.

Oh apart from one thing… this year will be the first year that we are going to attempt to grow our own flowers for the garden too, instead of buying them  as plugs from the garden centre… watch out for lots of updates about that.


Oh and before I go, we have to wave hello to one of our readers – Hey Katy!!!!! Hope you guys have a great thanksgiving!!!!!



July already – quick get the potatoes pulled

IMAG2547This year seems to be whizzing by and to be honest, almost without me noticing.

I’m finding this year that the garden and its moods are not quite as obvious as it’s been in previous years possibly because of the very mild winter we had where next to nothing died off and flowers continued to flower right through. This meant we didn’t have the usual spring and instead have been hit with a summer where a lot of the flowers in the garden have already past and although everything is very green, there is not much in the way of colour about.

We’ve found also that this year has been a lot harder going for veggies too, with not nearly the success we’ve had in previous years. Our beetroots are no where need harvesting size yet, our carrots are all leaves and very little, well carrot! The tomatoes as well are green but nowhere near ripe yet. I suspect the lack of definitive winter, spring and summer has affected things. We’ve had a lot of warmth, not as much sunshine as previous years and more rain than previous years.Could this be it?

Our usual champion of the garden – courgettes – have just been rotting on the plants as babies and we haven’t managed yet to eat any.

However it’s not all doom and gloom. This year’s trophy for fabulousness goes to the peas. We have had so many peas that the plants are now almost past and starting to die of, and I never thought I’d say it, but I’m kinda getting sick of peas from the pod. I know that is a sacrilegious thing for a gardener to say but I’ve been eating them in huge handfuls daily (along with help from colleagues at work).

The strawberries too have been incredibly tasty although we found a very amusing trait which may be of interest to those of you thinking about giving strawberries a try next year. DON’T plant them in the bed you used for garlic the previous year. Garlicky strawberries are a bit weird and trust me, a couple of our plants REALLY picked up on the garlic.

Dad helping with the tatties july 19th 2014Potatoes have also been a success, my dad helped me pull a couple of batches yesterday which have really enjoyed all the rain, our salad potatoes ARE HUGE. Like baked potato size. Next weeks potato salad is going to be a stonker (next week is my annual birthday bbq).

So how do things stand, well check back in a few weeks, the weather is meant to be sunny for a bit, so hoping the tomatoes will ripen and the carrots and beetroot will catch up. I promise to keep you posted.

Our first harvest is getting closer

peasThings are getting quite exciting in the garden at the minute with the various veg beds and pots starting to show signs of what’s to come in the first harvest.

The biggest excitement just now is our peas – another newbie for us – having never grown peas before, I’m quite pleased at how easy they have been to grow and how happy they seem in the veg beds. We’re now starting to see the first pods and it’s a daily thing now to check and see if there are any which are edible yet. I can’t wait to try my first peas straight from the pod. Although Kate has said that I’ll be lucky to get any if she spots them first.

But it’s not just the peas which are springing to life, we’ve got a couple of courgettes starting to plump up too, both green and yellow although as usual the yellow ones are a good bit behind the green, they really are not so happy in the Scottish environment.

We usually get a glut of courgettes from two plants but I think I may have put them outside just a little bit too early this year as they do seem like the plants are smaller than usual and things are just a bit delayed. Lesson learned, don’t kick the courgettes out of the green house in March to make way for more tomatoes. Bad Eli.

Speaking of tomatoes, we have a greenhouse full of flowering tomato plants at the minute so it’s a guessing game as to how long it will be before we see our first little tomato forming.  it will be interesting to watch sizes and times for ripening as we have a couple of heritage plants going that produce large fruit so we will be able to watch these and compare them to the cherry tomatoes we always grow and see what happens.tomatoes

There is another piece of excitement at yet another first for us, we have some strawberries on the plants 😀  I am really excited about this and can’t wait for them to ripen. I have visions of eaten homegrown strawberries and drinking homemade champagne for the Wimbledon final.  Fingers crossed that the next two weeks are super sunny!



Last update for you… CUCAMELONS!!!

Yep these little blighters love the greenhouse and are growing at an alarming rate. It feels a bit like the other year when we grow pumpkins and they took over the greenhouse, only these little fellows are smaller but much quicker at putting out tendrils. I had to build them a wee climbing frame as they were wrapped around all my staging shelves, the brush, the lemon tree and a bottle of tomato feed. It’s like day of the triffods in there.