How to Hand Pollinate Plants

Bee

 

This is our friend the bee.

You may know him by the name Busy.

If it weren’t for our friend Busy Bee,

Life would come to a screeching halt.

Busy Bee pollinates all of the plants on earth.

That’s his job.

And this time of year … he’s working overtime.

  Squash Plant

 

Walking around my front yard I took a look at my monstrous Acorn Squash, which I’d pretty much written off entirely.  I planted 4 acorn squash, all in the same spot.  One by one I lost them to Vine Borers.  I managed to keep them alive through the drought, cucumber beetle and squash bug infestations, but with the Vine Borer I’d met my match.

There’s no getting rid of this thing once you have it.  It’s initials should be VD, not VB.

After a couple of surgeries that involved slicing the stems of my Acorn squash plants and probing around inside to find the grubby, gross venereal disease like bugs, I managed to save one plant.  But I figured the bugs would get it in the end.

 

Squash Flowers

So when I saw the plant was not only still alive but growing all kinds of new, little acorn squash I decided I’d do everything in my power to keep these things alive.

There are 2 kinds of flowers on a squash plant.    A female flower.  And a male flower.  In order to produce fruit the male flower has to impregnate the female flower with its “pollen”.  See?  My venereal disease reference really wasn’t all that far off.

Female Squash Flower …

has a thicker stem and a little bulge right behind the flower, which will, if pollinated, become the mature squash.

Squash

 

Male Squash Flower …

has a thinner, longer stem with no bulge at the base of the flower.

Male Squash Flower

My squash plant has many female flowers but only a couple of male flowers.  This reduces the chances of the bees pollinating the plant properly.  Also, there are so many things of interest to bees this time of year they may pass by my squash plants entirely.  I mean, squash are nice, but holy crap, LOOK at that hibiscus over there!  It’s dancing and swaying in the breeze.  Winking it’s huge magenta petals.  What bee could resist that?

So … I decided to take things into my own hands and hand pollinate.  That’s right.   I was going to artificially inseminate my Acorn Squash.

When a bee pollinates your plant he flies into the male flowers, bumbles around a bit and ends up getting pollen on himself.  He then flies into a female flower where some of that male pollen falls in and fertilizes the female flower.

As with all fertilized females, within a short period of time … she starts to swell.

You’re beginning to have a better understanding of why they call it “the birds and the bees” aren’t you?

 This method can be used with any plants that have separate male and female flowers.  Anything in the cucurbit family.

There are 3 ways you can hand pollinate your plants, but they’re all based on the same premise.  Getting the pollen from the male flower into the female flower.  

You can either use a Q Tip, a small artists brush, or the actual male anthers (that’s the stamen looking thing in the centre of the male flower)

Male Squash Flower 2

 

Just rub the Q Tip, or artists brush around the centre of the male flower and the anthers.

Transferring Pollen

 

The pollen will stick to the Q Tip or brush. 

Pollen On Q- Tip

 

Then just brush the  female flower’s “stigma” with the pollen.

If you have one to spare, you can also just pull off a male flower and use it to rub against the female instead of using a Q Tip or brush.

Hand Pollinating

 

Provided all goes well and there are no complications, you’ll be rewarded with the birth of an acorn squash, butternut squash, zucchini, or whatever other cucurbit type vegetable you use this method with.

There are  no natural childbirths in the squash family.  They’re all C-sections and require some cutting …

 

Behind the Scenes … Wondering exactly how I rigged up my iPhone to get THAT video shot?

See how I did it here.


28 Comments

  1. Tanya W says:

    Karen, I am never disappointed with you!

  2. Johonna says:

    I think I need a cigarette…. ~ Johonna

  3. Tigersmom says:

    I remember you mentioning your zucchini plant being obscenely profilic and the photos of these blossoms reminded me of something.

    I once had squash blossoms that had been dipped in a tempura batter and deep fried. They were amazing with a flavor like popcorn, but with a much more wonderful texture.

    I wonder if the same thing couldn’t be done with some of the zucchini blossoms, thus averting the need for dumping, I mean sneaking, bushels of excess zucchini onto the porches of neighbors and friends.

    I, unfortunately, do not have a recipe, but that’s the sort of thing we turn to you for now, isn’t it? ; ) Just a thought.

  4. Meg says:

    This is the best explanation ever on how to get this done! I had to do this with all my squash and zucs this year… I think the bees were busy with other things.

  5. Mary Werner says:

    Whew, I need a cigarette! Then when I thought it was ok to let my granddaughter in – you posted the VaJJ cam shot. Who needs XXX films when we have you!

  6. Ann says:

    Ah, squash vine borers, cucumber beetles and squash bugs. All the same pests we enjoy much further south. I have started to grow everything under covers. I found some greenhouse screening that you can buy by the foot and I built PVC covers for my raised beds. So of course, I have to hand pollinate. But I find that uncovered, bees flock to my curcurbits. They even buzz at the covered crops, like they are angry they can’t get to them.

    BTW-I planted loufa gourds this year for the first time. I have many large ones on the vines now, just waiting to mature enough to become great bath scrubbers. But what I love is that they seem to be ignored by most of the pests and they flower like nothing else in the curcurbit family. Every morning they are covered with bright sunny yellow flowers by the tons. But they do need a long warm growing season to mature those prickly scratchy insides.

    • Karen says:

      Ann – They do. I’ve never been able to grow them complete to that point. Close .. but not complete. I start them indoors and they don’t seem to like transplanting very well. They seem to go into a little bit of shock and don’t establish for almost a month! Direct seeding outdoors under a cloche or something might be the way to go. ~ karen!

  7. cred says:

    Lovely acorn squash! How satisfying after all that worked against you.
    And your female to male flower ratio is typical of cucurbits, just as in many parts of the world, woman outnumber the men. And as you may expect, those fewer men are happy to stick their stamens about, you know, in the service of womankind.

  8. Linda says:

    Awesome job Karen…as always!

  9. I had no idea!! This is the best post ever. Even though like yourself my Acorn Squash got owned by Squash Borers. It was replaced with lettuce which is much happier.

  10. Jennifer says:

    It’s like you read my mind, I was thinking about this the other day with my pumpkin plants I’ve kept them alive, but no pumpkins, seriously you have no idea how much effort I have invested in this pumpkin plant. Alright off to balcony to knock up a pumpkin! (I’ve even planted it in a container so that I can bring it inside to get a darn pumpkin out of the plant!)

  11. Terry Sears says:

    I have never looked at growing squash that way. I always found it easier and more convenient to get them at the grocery store. But that is just as much fun now is it.

  12. Lori says:

    I like your style, lady. I never know what I’m going to get when I visit your blog. 🙂

  13. Carole McGinnis says:

    I have always wondered how to do this. I will really use this nfo. Great post. I want more “babies” too.

  14. Brenda j says:

    Well done Karen!
    My gardens have been over-run with the stupid little red beetley-doo-dad-things from hell. Not sure what their purpose is, but they multiply to beat the band…so today in frustration, I sprayed them with sun-tan oil. They didn’t like it at all.
    I only got one lovely yellow tomato and a small purple tomato from my seeds. I can support a family of NONE. whaaaa.

  15. Sarah A. says:

    Ha! We did the same with our pumpkin. In fact, The Boyfriend was probably a little TOO in to it. So, now every time he goes out to the garden I tell him to take protection ;). It worked though, we’ve got two beautiful pumpkins!

  16. Spokangela says:

    A lady I used to work with and I were just reminiscing yesterday about our long gardening discussions about wind gardens, corn salad (have you ever grown that? a delicious leafy green) and how she had helped her corn fertilize itself.

    I am going to head outside now to play fertility doc with my zuchinni!

  17. Trish says:

    Well, now, I just feel dirty…vegetable porn, who knew?!

  18. Trish says:

    P.S. when I’m ready to explain ‘the birds and the bees’ to my daughter, I’m pulling up this post as a tutorial.

  19. Hilarious. I think you might need a mature rating for this post. And for the iphone hoo hammock.

  20. Kathe says:

    Love the pictures! I tell Mr. B I am going out to tickle my cucumbers…leave ’em guessing 🙂

  21. Shauna says:

    Oh maybe that VB bug is what got my squash. All was going quite well, then we went away for a couple of days and my Mom forgot to water and everything just went caput. I thought we would easily be able to come back from it, but the squash just got all soft and weird and died. Is that what that bug does to them? What does this bug look like. I’ll google it.

    • Karen says:

      Shauna – The Squash Vine Borer looks like a really large grub or maggot. You’ll know if you had them on your plant because where the vine meets the soil there will be a hole. (that’s where it bores into) When you feel the base of the vine with your fingers it will squish together because the vine borer has eaten everything inside it. You’ll feel all the way up the vine, a foot or even two or three, and it will be hollow. ~ karen!

  22. Lisa says:

    I had to do this with my zucchini. Just popped the male flower off and rubbed it all over the ladies. Remember (prob not) how I had grand plans to grow them vertically – yeah – that didn’t work. Lost 2 of my plants to I have no idea what. It’s like the bottom of the plant (stem) just rotted away. Due to some critter I’m sure. I have 1 still going for now so I just layed it down and praying it will still produce. Have to come up w/ a new game plan next year. Got a few huge fruits but not near what I wanted.

  23. Melissa L says:

    I keep a small paintbrush stationed in my garden – sent a picture to a friend and called it “my new sex toy”… she was baffled – haha.

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