Squash are some of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. Given sun, water, good soil, and space, you can reap a bounty of summer or winter squashes. Some zucchini can be harvested in under two months, which makes them a great choice for almost any home garden.
When growing squash, the most disappointing part for me is watching one of them develop, then suddenly shrivel and die. In our garden, we focus on making every inch count, so if a plant isn't producing, we do what we can to help it along. In the case of our squash, it's by doing hand pollination. Not only does this help insure each squash will develop, but it also helps reduce the possibility that our squashes might cross with another in the area. (We had a strange pumpkin/delicata mix last year!)
Hand pollinating is easy. All you need is one male flower, a female flower, and a way to get the pollen from the male to the female. At the end, I've got a tip! Let's get started. First, how to identify what you've got.
You'll need a male flower -- here's one on our acorn squash this year. No matter what kind of squash you've got, the male flowers will pretty much look like this inside - a single pointy part called the stamen. Usually squash plants make many of these, so there is never a shortage of pollen. The pollen is that powdery stuff on the stamen.
find a female flower. These usually form after a few male flowers have opened, and often are only open in the morning. Looking into the female flower, you'll notice it looks very different. Instead of a pointy thing, there is a structure called the stigma. Also, these have a fruit forming behind them (the male flowers just have a stem).
transfer the pollen. The easiest way is to pick the male flower, pull back the flower petals, and using the stamen like a brush, gently brush it across the stigma on the female flower. I'm not comfortable picking the male flowers from my large squash, but if you're confident you'll have enough male flowers (especially with cucumbers, which have TONS of flowers) go for it.
Personally I like to use either a cotton swab or this paint brush from my art supplies. Cotton swabs are great because they are white, you can be sure you've got the pollen on them. It's easy to use a new one for each type of squash, so you don't have to worry about cross pollinating (unless you really want to!). My white paint brush (it's actually a fabric dye brush.. .but I had it and it washes easily so I'm using it) works well too -- it's easy to see that I've picked up the pollen and moved it to the female. Just brush it across the male stamen -- check you've got a bunch of pollen, then gently brush on to the female stigma. Congratulations, you've pollinated your flower!
My hand pollination tip: once you've pollinated a flower, mark it somehow. We make a little mark at the base of the fruit so we know which have been pollinated. In this picture below, you can see one of the squash stems is marked, and the other isn't -- that one still needs to be pollinated.
If you have tips you'd like to share, or are looking for more tips, check out Works for Me Wednesday at We Are That Family.