Hand Pollinating Cucurbits
(Cucurbits are a family of vegetables including melon, pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini, gourd, watermelon, luffa and squash)
If you find that your Cucurbits are not setting fruit and the flowers are simply falling off the plant, you might have a pollination problem. But don’t stress, there’s an easy solution and that’s hand pollination. Here’s all you need to know about what you can do to get your veggies pollinated and setting fruit.
There’s a Male and Female Flower. Who knew!?
All plants in the Cucurbit family have individual male and female flowers and when pollinated, the female is the one that will ultimately produce the fruit. In order for this to happen, the pollen is moved from the male flower to the female flower by pollinators like bees, ants and moths. So if your Cucurbits aren’t setting fruit, you can pollinate them yourself quite easily.
Which is Which?
Determining the male and female flowers is the first step in hand pollination. (see photo below)
The Female Flower
The Female flower is the flower that holds the fruit beneath it. Look for the flower whos stigma(the stigma is located in the center of the flower) is complex and wide. Beneath the flower you will see the beginnings of the fruit/vegetable. It will look like a swelling of the flower stem immediately below the flower.
The Male Flower
The male flower is very basic and has no swelling directly under the flower. It’s a basic stem and flower.
Above: Male flower on the left, female flower on the right.
Timing is everything
Most vegetable flowers come out quite late at night, so if you’re not a night owl, it’s a good idea to get outside around the time of the sunrise to pollinate your veggies. The reason for doing it so early is that the flowers will quickly close up as the sun starts to beat down. This early time of the day is when bees are most active and you’re about to do your best Bee impersonation, so timing is important.
Gather your Tools
To be the bee that does the do and creates the fruit, grab yourself a paintbrush or cotton bud, because in this process that’s all you need. I told you this was simple!
Get your Buzz on
Now that you have your tool ready and the sun is still sleeping, it’s time to get outside and get your best busy bee buzz on. Once you’ve determined the male and female flowers, go to the male flower and gently brush the stamen(the stamen in located in the center of the male flower and is the part of the flower that produces pollen) from the base up so that the pollen falls onto your brush/cotton bud. Then look for the closest Female flower and gently paint the pollen to her stigma. Alternatively you can pluck the male flower, gently take the petals off, then touch the Stamen from the male plant to the Stigma of the female flower, being sure to transfer plenty of pollen to her. And that’s it! You’re done! The flowers are now pollinated and fruit should soon begin to develop!
Note: If the Male flower opens before the female flower, you can pick the male flower, put it in a vase of water and store it in the fridge until the female opens and you’re able to pollinate her.