Pollinating Plants in Aeroponic Garden Systems

Pollen Sticking to Bee from Stamens

Reproduction in plants,

as in almost all life systems on earth, uses the same building building blocks and principles to keep their species alive.  Pollination is the process of fertilization to create seeds and fruit.  Flowers in some plants have both male and female functions.  The center of the flower contains the female pistil with the stigma on top and the ovule on the bottom where the seed is formed.  The male stamens produce pollen grains at their ends that resembles powder that sticks readily to insect and animal parts or can be blown airborne to connect to the pistil where it migrates to the ovule.

Parts of a Flower

Indoor aeroponic garden systems and pollinators

have many advantages over outdoor systems such as control of weather extremes, drought, and predators.  By removing these potentially disastrous factors however, pollinators may also be reduced or eliminated.  Pollinators come in different varieties according to the plant shape and function.  Birds, bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and other insects have evolved alongside plants and have developed characteristics that keep both plant and pollinator alive.  Darwin, in 1877, observed an orchid with an 11-inch nectary.  A nectary is a gland usually located at the flower base that contains fluid with sugar, protein, vitamins, and minerals used to attract the pollinator.  Darwin thought that there must be a pollinator with an 11-in tongue that could reach this particular nectary and 50 years later he was proved correct.  A moth with the exact length tongue or proboscis was found (Coleman, L. 2009).

Darwin's orchid and predicted moth

Plants use a variety of techniques

to attract their particular pollinator.  One type of lure is the petal that serves as a landing platform for a certain insect.  For example a snapdragon will open and dust a bee of the correct weight with pollen.  The bee gets the reward of nectar, moves the pollen from it’s body and wings to the next snapdragon, where the pollen is deposited  on the stigma, completing pollination.  Aroma is another lure.  The honeysuckle attracts a certain moth that can smell the pleasant fragrance.  Color is another lure as with the hummingbird, often attracted to red flowers.  Bees are attracted to blue and violet flowers.  Some flowers are light colored to attract night feeding pollinators (Smithsonian, 2010 and Ohio State, 2010)

Fortunately for indoor gardens many plants have evolved additional means of pollinating:

  • Self-pollinating plants have both male and female gametes in each flower such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans and peas.  Don’t be fooled into thinking pollination will happen automatically though.  Some movement is necessary to transfer the pollen from the stamen to the stigma and can be produced by wind, vibration, or hand techniques using a q-tip or a fine paint brush.  Other factors such as temperature, light, nutrients, and humidity also affect the ability of pollen to fertilize the plant (Holly Kennell, 1995).
  • Cross-pollinating plants have male and female flowers which are different.  The male flower, with a straight stem produces pollen needed to fertilize the female flower.  Female flowers have a protrusion under the flower which is the beginning of the fruit.  Apple trees are examples (Gaus, A. and Larson, H. 2009) as well as melons, squash, and most cucumbers.
  • Leaf and root crops are easy to grow because you can eat the leaf containing nutrients without waiting for the flower and pollination process unless you are saving seed.  Leafy greens, spinach, cabbage, herbs, beets, carrots, and radish are all examples.

You can be successful

in producing fruit and vegetables in your aeroponic indoor garden by understanding the process of pollination, regulating the correct temperature, light, and humidity, and adding nutrients to grow healthy plants to feed your family.

References

Coleman, Loren, 2009.  Accessed 17 January 2011 from http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/darwins-xanthopa/

Gaus, A. and Larson, H. 2009.  Accessed 16 January 2011 from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07002.html

Kennell, Holl 1995.  Accessed 23 December 2010 from http://gardening.wsu.edu/library/vege016/vege016.htm

Ohio State, 2010.   Accessed 26 November 2010 from http://www.hcs.ohio-state.edu/hcs300/angio3.htm

Smithsonian Education, 2010.  Accessed 26 November 2010 from http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/partners_in_pollination/index.html

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