Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Squash in Squalor

{Originally Posted 08/05/08}

I can't get my summer squash to come to full fruition! This is my second year trying and although the plants look healthy with lush growth the actual squashes get about 2-3 inches long before they just fall off the plant. I am thinking the reason is lack of pollination. The plants produce grand full flowers yet still no squash for my veggie dishes!

(This squash nub is about to fall off due to lack of pollination)

My garden needs more BEES! Just one hop to and from a male to female flower will not do the trick. No, I need beeS, plural. Alas, there are options!

1) The most obvious thing one might do is to simply become a home beekeeper, right? Although I have heard of people having their own bee-boxes right here in San Francisco, I don't think my yard would be a good candidate. The garden is surrounded by homes and apartments and I don't know exactly how the neighbors would feel knowing there are hundreds, maybe thousands of bees concentrated outside their windows. But gosh how I would love to keep me some bees!
The bee population has been in serious decline and thus my fickle pickles n' squash! So to help with the revitalization of these busy little creatures would really warm my cockles. Plus, my plants would worship me in gratitude. By helping them, they will produce the fullest of fruit...and of course the bees would lend me their honey...well, maybe not lend, more like defend the hive in a frenetic buzzing frenzy. But we, the bees and I, would make a deal. After all "Lend me some sugar; I AM your neighbor!"

2) Another thing to do is to simply plant flowers near your pollination-challenged veggies. I have been studying up on a wonderful practice called Companion Gardening. The basic idea is that some plants enjoy a symbiotic relationship with others. For example, a well known one is that Basil is said to deter Tomato pests. Some plants produce nutrients, releasing them into the soil for a plant that thrives on those nutrients. Now with my impotent squash issue, I would simply plant bee-loving flowers in the vicinity of my plants. As a general rule, the best flowers are those that are wide and can act as a landing pad for our busy friends. A good choice might be Cosmos as they are light and airy; they wouldn't fill a lot of space giving your squash or other favorite vegetables ample room to thrive.

3) The third thing? Manual Pollination. That's right, you actually have to get down in there and rub your plants' genitalia together! Well...not quite. Sorry boys, female squash plants don't actually care if you touch them. They just want your good man pollen. So one technique I read about was to use a cotton swab to gently transfer pollen from the anther on the smaller male flower to the female flower. You will know which is which as the female flower is the one that has what looks like the starting nub of a squash. So just swab your pollen on and PRESTO!, YOU are now the great POLLINATOR! All the mighty power of the bee!

There you have it! Whether you want to start your own home apiary, plant pretty flowers, or just get a rise and an ego boost by rubbing on some plant genitalia, you now have the power! I just use squash as an expample; this of course will work for many other plants whose male and female parts are totally separate flowers.

Now excuse me, I have a hot date with a couple blossoms.