Human Pollinators and Their Handy Toothbrushes

The birds, bees, and bats are great, but this one goes out to the human pollinators!

I remember the day I learned how to be a human pollinator and pollinate flowers with a toothbrush. It was a hot, June day and I was eager to learn anything that could help me grow my corn. My gardening teacher, Mrs. Kipper, showed me how to use a toothbrush to transfer pollen from one flower to another. She said it was the best way to pollinate corn to get them to produce fruit. “In a field, they get all the wind they need, but in a small school garden like this, they need a little help,” she told me.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw my corn start to grow after using Mrs. Kipper’s method. I was so excited that I ran home and told my mom about human pollinators. She was amazed at how well it worked, and we both laughed about how silly I must have looked running around with a toothbrush in my hand! From there, I definitely took it a little too far. I remember going into the garden and picking out some small flowers (probably just young). Then, I’d take my toothbrush and start brushing the pollen onto the pistils of the flowers. It was actually really fun, and I felt like a real gardener!

I probably killed a lot of flowers brushing them so much, and I’m sure the bees were wildly confused, but ever since then, I’ve been hooked on hand-pollinating flowers, especially my cucumbers and squash. Whenever I see a flower in need of help, I reach for my trusty toothbrush!

Today’s piece, “My SpongeBob Garden Tool” by Linda Lareau is another funny story about a fellow toothbrush-loving human pollinator!

More Joy in the Garden

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that turn the joy of gardening into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope this story does for you as well. Enjoy!

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My SpongeBob Garden Tool

By Linda Lareau of Canton, CT.

How did my $4.99 Walmart SpongeBob electric toothbrush become my new favorite garden tool?

It happened last year when we moved and I started a vegetable garden in the backyard. The plot had good soil, plenty of sun, and my vegetable starts were healthy and strong.

The plants grew and flowered. But they didn’t form any fruits—no tomatoes, no eggplants, no peppers! Only flowers, lots of flowers! I did some research and decided that maybe I had a pollinator problem. True, I hadn’t seen any bees in my garden. What to do?

I watched a YouTube video about using an electric toothbrush to handpollinate tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Reluctantly, I bought a SpongeBob toothbrush at Walmart, thinking this was going to be a tedious task.

Well, it is not—it’s fun! All you have to do is turn on the tooth-brush—no toothpaste needed—touch the flower stem, and the vibrating brush gives the blossom a shake. Sometimes you can even see the pollen puff! Since tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are self-pollinating, that’s all they need to be fertilized.

So every morning, I strolled through my vegetable garden and, like a fairy godmother, touched my SpongeBob wand on all the flower stems as I passed by. What happened next was amazing. Every flower on every plant bore fruit. The tomato plants got so heavy my husband had to drive 12-foot rebar poles in the ground to support the cages. Now this is the kind of problem I want to have!

I’m putting in a small flower garden this fall to encourage bees and other pollinators next year. But I also plan to use SpongeBob again myself. It’s just too much fun!

By Linda Lareau of Canton, CT., published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #106. Illustrated by Linda Cook Devona

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Did this remind you of a similar story in the garden that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear it. 


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