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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

We have harvested just two squashes off our 12-foot long healthy vine this year and I noticed during the season that there were quite a few tiny squashes that just withered and fell off. That the same thing happened with quite a few of our zucchini as shown on left and I wondered if it was because huge healthy leaves obliterated any sight of the flowers so they were out of view of pollinating insects.  I had heard about helping the female blossoms get fertilized by actually acting like the birds and bees and helping pollinate the blossoms so I looked it up. What I learned was so useful and interesting, this blog practically wrote itself. 

You probably learned about the parts of a flower in school but the picture on the left is for those who may like a refresher. The drawing shows a ‘perfect flower’ that has both stamens and pistils in one flower. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and peas have these complete flowers and can fertilize themselves easily by just being shaken in a slight breeze - or to be sure, you can give them a little shake as you pass by.  However, I’ve learned that there are some families of plants like squashes, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin and all sorts of melons that have 'incomplete flowers' that depend on the birds and the bees for carrying pollen from one blossom to another . 

The picture left shows male and female blossoms growing on the same squash vine.  You can easily tell them apart because the female flowers have an obvious baby fruit behind the flower and the males don’t.  If you look inside the open blossoms, you'll see that both have either just a single stamen or in the case of females, a pistil.

The picture on the right shows the petals being pulled off the male flower in preparation for fertilizing the female.  If you have a Q-tip in your pocket you could be more refined and brush some of the pollen off the single stamen and apply it to the sticky pistil of the female blossom...

 but the fastest and most successful technique is to rub the pistil with the stamen itself as shown on the left.  

The best time to do the job is first thing in the morning when the flowers are just opening. 

You must agree, gardening can sometimes be pretty exciting.  Rie

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rie, Not sure if you are still doing this blog. But I thank you for showing the best way to pollinate squash. The bees are so scarce these days, I have not even seen any in my garden yet this year.