Vegetable Crops That Do Not Need Pollinators

leamon balmNot all edible crops need to be pollinated by bugs. Some don’t need bees, or other pollinators, at all; and some benefit from them but can still produce even if they are not around.

Here’s a list of what’s what:

What veggies need pollinators all the time:
• Cucumbers
• Melons and watermelons
• Berries
• Tree fruits
Melons and cucumbers can be hand-pollinated, but it is a somewhat cumbersome task. In the case of blueberries you also need some cross-pollination. This is easy to do just by planting two different varieties.

What veggies can be pollinated with human help:

• Squashes, both winter and summer types—by hand
• Tomatoes—by hand or wind
• Eggplant—by hand or wind
• Peppers, both Hot and Sweet—by hand or wind
Squashes, with their rather large male and female flowers, are easy enough to hand pollinate. Just remember to get as much pollen on the female plant as you can. The more there is, the better the chances the fruit will develop well.
Wind-pollinated veggies, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, are fertilized by the beating of bees’ and other insects’ wings. You can likewise give the plants a little shake, or hand pollinate using a small paintbrush or cotton swab. In the greenhouse you can help these veggies simply by adding a fan to move the pollen.

What veggies do not need pollinators to produce:

• All leafy greens
• Brassicas: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi
• Below ground root veggies and tubers such as carrots, parsnips, salsify, potatoes, sweet potatoes, horseradish
• Ground level root veggies such as beets, turnips, rutabagas
• Most legumes including peas and beans
• Corn—like other wind pollinated veggies, giving them a little shake helps distribute the pollen.
• Herbs, like the lemon balm pictured
• Celery
• Onions and leeks
These veggies will all grow by themselves when planted from seed.

Exceptions: There are a number of hybrids, some cucumbers and tomatoes for example, that are ‘parthinocarpic’. These varieties do not need to be pollinated and will not produce a viable seed, either. They are good for growing in greenhouses or where the availability of pollinators is limited.

To attract bees to your crops that need them, plant flowers they love. The closer they are to the veggies that need the help, the better your chances of pollination. Sunflowers are a particular favorite, and you can save and roast the seeds as well. We see that as a beautiful win-win.

Gardening Jones is a Pennsylvania master gardener. Learn more at her blog.

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3 thoughts on “Vegetable Crops That Do Not Need Pollinators

  1. Whoops! What I meant to reply was:
    Thank you for your comment and all the information you included. You are certainly right! On our blog we do encourage gardeners to plant pollinator attracting plants. we also discourage the use of pesticides, even organic ones, as they kill the good bugs as well as the harmful ones.
    We all need to do what we can to help the bees!

    But this post wasn’t about that, it was merely an informative post in answer to a question we get a lot.

  2. I certainly understand the issue with not enough pollinators, however growing crops that don’t need pollinators is only half the equation. You have to start with the seeds and all the seeds result not from gardeners growing the plants to eat but from commercial growing of the plants for the SEEDS. In almost every case, pollinators, primarily bees, are needed for better seed production. If pollinators become more scarce, this would definitely affect everyone, gardeners or not!

    Especially in Japan and China, certain crops such as apples and other orchard crops need to be pollinated by hand because there are no bees, or no beekeepers would place their bees in areas that have so much pesticide application. This is a sad state of affairs. Also, readers should know that hand-pollinating does not result all the time in the best shaped fruits or vegetables. Tomatoes grown in greenhouses, for example, that used to be pollinated by workers with vibrating wands are now produced by having nests of bumble bees in the facilities. They do a much better job.

    It might be better to encourage gardeners to do what they can to encourage not only visitation by insect pollinators ( bees, flies, beetles and others but bees are the most important) but also supporting their living in our gardens by planting an assortment of flowers for them to feed on throughout the growing seasons, providing water and even shelter. Not using insecticides is a big part of making gardens safe for pollinators and other beneficial insects that are a huge part in garden health. Encouraging local pollinators is a better endeavor than being too complacent about planting crops that provide the parts we eat without benefit of pollination.

    And, for anyone afraid that encouraging bees to visit will result in stinging, relax! Bees on flowers are not aggressive. They don’t pay any attention – they are too busy collecting nectar or pollen. Male bees can’t sting anyway, and nothing will attract a so-called swarm of bees. That is their reproductive behavior, not feeding. Beekeepers would line up to buy any plant that would attract a swarm! Bees in a garden are a sign that they are finding sources of food for themselves and for provisioning their nests. Isn’t that a good thing?

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