12 - 2008

Don’t give up on squash for lack of pollinators

Take a look at your garden. If you’re growing members of the squash family, are the fruit growing? (That link will give you more information about the squash family — but in short, it includes winter squash, summer squash, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins.)

If not, you might need to hand pollinate.

Look closely at the vines. You’ll see flowers, right?

Look again. Some of the flowers grow on a long stem. These are the male flowers. They show up first, chivalrously opening the door to summer growth for the ladies.

A few days or weeks after the fellows arrive, the female flowers start to grow. These are distinguished by a small fruit that grows on the stem between the main vine and the flower. It looks just like what it will become — a butternut, or a cucumber, or a pumpkin — but small and green.

If your female flowers open, wither, and then the fruit turns yellow and falls off, your flowers aren’t being pollinated.

But don’t shrug in despair — you can pollinate the blossoms yourself.

This Web page provides a detailed overview of how to pollinate by hand to ensure the seeds remain pure (for instance, that pumpkin pollen doesn’t get into your butternut flower).

If all you want is for some fruit to grow this year, you can simplify the process.

  • Work early in the morning, before 10 a.m.
  • Choose a male flower with a nice juicy stamen. Pick a fresh flower that isn’t drying up in the middle. If the blossom is yellow and firm, you’re in good shape.
  • Carefully pluck the flower off the stem. Tear away the petals, leaving the center intact.
  • Brush the stamen over the pistil (center part, even more juicy) of a female flower. One male flower will be enough for several female flowers.
  • Toss the flower in the compost and cross your fingers.

The whole process will just take a few moments, and with luck, you’ll assure yourself of a good healthy crop.

If your flowers are falling off the vine but bees are present, it’s possible it’s just too hot or your plants are otherwise stressed.

Hand pollination is critical for plants being grown under row cover, too — insects can’t get to their blooms.

Good luck. Go forth and pollinate.

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