The Birds and the Bees in our neighborhood are dysfunctional. They have a grand old time with our trumpet vine, but completely ignore our squash. Poor, neglected squash. This kind of behavior is not good for its delicate self-esteem. Last summer our squash grew like crazy, flowered like crazy, but bore no fruit.
What’s the problem?
The problem was it wasn’t getting any action. These flowers need pollination in order to grow little babies. This year I was not willing to put up with plants that aren’t fulfilling their reproductive duties. Seems kind of degrading when you think of it that way, eh?
You know how they say: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?
Well, call me Empress Honeybee because I’m the new queen of this polliNation. So, come along with me, and I’ll show you how to pollinate squash by hand.
Step 1: Identify the Male and Female Flowers
The Male Squash Flower:
A male flower has a stamen in the center, which looks, well, distinctly male. The male flower also lacks the miniature baby fruit behind the bulb.
The Female Squash Flower:
The center of a female flower has a stigma, which comparatively looks distinctly female. On the stem right behind the female flower bulb is a miniature version of the squash that is to be.
Step 2: Collect Pollen from male flower, apply to female flower
So class, now that we know the difference between the male and female parts of the plant, are we ready for some reproduction? Who isn’t?! There are many ways to accomplish this act. If you’re more on the modest side, you can grab a Q-tip, rub it on the stamen, coating it with pollen, then rub the pollen onto the stigma.
If you’re more like me, and aren’t embarrassed by a bit of graphic plant procreation, you can do it my way. Carefully snap off the male flower from the stem. Fold back the flower petals so the stamen is easily accessible. Look around suspiciously to make sure your neighbors aren’t watching this embarrassing act. Bring the male flower over to the female flower and gently rub the stamen on the stigma, transferring the pollen.
If you have several female flowers to pollinate, go ahead and use that same male flower for all of them. Be sure to scold it for being such a floozy. If you see that more female flowers will be opening soon and you only have one male flower, you can put it in a ziplock bag in the fridge for a few days and it will still do its job. And just as quickly as it started, it’s all over. Your female is properly fertilized and you can let nature take its course. By tomorrow the flower will be closed up, and the magic inside will start to happen.
After a few days the flower will die and fall off, leaving only the swelling squash on the stem.
You have now survived your first reproductive experience with a plant. You can go back to your normal life and never tell anyone what happened in your backyard. Want to learn more about gardening? Check out some of my favorite books on the subject!
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