Hand Pollinating Squash

by: Sara on 03/07/2018

Bees are called "nature's sparkplugs" because without them, many plants can't start to produce a crop. But wild bees are scarcer now, and few people keep domestic honeybees in populated areas anymore. Bees are also less active in cool weather, so flowers go unpollinated when it is cool and rainy. People need to know how to hand pollinate flowers. Learn how in today's blog post excerpted from Backyard Bounty: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest by master gardener Linda Gilkeson.

We can’t rely on bees to pollinate flowers, both because their numbers are lower than they used to be and because they don’t fly in the spells of cool weather that are common on the coast. The most important plants to routinely hand pollinate are the squash family. To make sure of a crop, hand pollinate your squash, pumpkins, melons, and gourds.

Here’s how:

unnumbered fig A for Hand Pollinating squash

Male squash flower

1. First, find an open female flower: they have a miniature squash attached below the flower.

 2. Then find an open male flower: they have a straight stem with no miniature fruit below the flower, and you can also see pollen, like bright yellow dust, on the center structure of the flower.  

3. Pick the male flower, peel back the petals, and dab some of the pollen onto the center structure of all the open female flowers. You can dust several female flowers with the pollen from one male flower.  

Squash flowers only last for a day in the summer, so pollinate in the morning, before the blossoms wilt later in the day.

There is, however, one complication to keep in mind: Three different species of squash are grown in this region, and pollen from one species won’t pollinate flowers of a different

unnumbered fig B for Hand Pollinating squash

Transferring the pollen to the female flower. Note the small squash below the female flower.

species.  As long as you stay within the species group, you can use pollen from one variety to fertilize the flowers of another variety. The species is usually listed on the seed packet or in the variety description, but if you don’t know which group your squash or pumpkins belong to, just stick to transferring pollen from male flowers to female flowers within plants from the same variety.

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