Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sex in your garden - hybrids and hand pollinating

I love scallop squash, so I planted lots in my garden. These seedlings were also the strongest contenders of this year's attempt at a crop.

Timing is everything

Unlike strawberries, you don't get fruit from every squash blossom. Squash blossoms have sex. I mean, there are male flowers and female flowers, and unless a bee loves all your flowers very very much, the tiny yellow squash at the base of the female flowers will stay tiny, and then turn into rotten brown squashies.

And we have some bees, but not enough anymore. I've had this happen so often that I've taken over the fertility process. Because I love scallop squash. A tiny weed leaf can transfer pollen where it will do the most good, or you can take off the whole flower and get really intimate with the bits.

You also need male and female flowers open at the same time. Gardeners worldwide complain about the ten female squashes on their plant waiting for just one man, watch them shrivel up, and then despair when the male flowers show up for the party, alas, too late. This can happen even when you have multiple plants. I came back from my holiday to a few giant gourds plus many ladies-in-waiting.

All in the Family

Tips for this problem range from visiting garden shops to beg for pollen donors from their plants to freezing  the male flowers (tried this, totally didn't work for me).

But I also have a pumpkin plant with a lot of love to share. And they're related. So, in desperation for my poor lonely lady flowers, I tried my hand at low-tech hybridisation. And a few of them worked. It was pretty cool how the little yellow squashes suddenly grew patches of green.

This was the best one.
They didn't all work. Some turned green, then just withered and died anyway. I picked this one this morning - it had clearly been pollinated but wasn't growing right. Better a couple of bites than no veg at all.

And, just for a giggle, here's the resident garden alien.

"Take me to your steamer!"
Seriously folks...

If anyone knows how to alter the soil to produce a balanced population of squash blossoms, write in right away.

Also, the pumpkin plant, although highly virile, is plagued by those tiny brown bouncy moths and their innumerable babies. So I have no pumpkins growing. How do I discourage these otherwise harmless moths?

Happy gardening!

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