Edibles

Hand Pollination for Squash, Cucumbers, and Watermelon

Hand Pollination for Squash, Cucumbers, and Watermelon

One-third of the food produced in the US depends on bees for pollination, and your garden is no exception. Cucumbers, squash, melons, and watermelons (all in the cucurbit family) are dependant on bees for pollination. And, as we've all heard, bees are becoming scarcer. There are, however, a few ways to deal with this scarcity. You can purchase cucurbits that were developed to produce seedless fruits in the absence of male pollen (parthenocarpic varieties), for example ’English Telegraph Improved’ Cucumber. You can also try to attract bees to your garden by sowing pollinator-friendly flowers like borage or alyssum right in your vegetable garden. Or, if those options don't work, you can take action yourself and hand-pollinate.

What to Look For

If your garden has insufficient pollination, you'll notice that the flowers wither and fall without producing a fruit, or fruit may start to form, but turn yellow, be misshapen, or shrivel. Poor or partial pollination can occur when European honey bees visited flowers in a scattered pattern; native bees tend to be more focused, pollinating more methodically.

How to Hand-Pollinate

Cucurbits have both male and female flowers on the same plant, and each looks different. Female flowers have a miniature fruit at the base of the flower, and a shorter stem compared to the male flower. Male flowers have a longer stem and typically appear first in the season, theoretically to attract pollinators.

Once you identify which flower is male and which is female, you can hand-pollinate. Pull the petals back or off of the male flower, exposing the pollen on the stamens. Using a paintbrush or a cotton swab, gently, but thoroughly, wipe the pollen and then place it onto the central female flower part, known as a pistil. You can also just cut off the male flower and use it as a paintbrush to pollinate several female flowers.

Continue to pollinate throughout the growing season, as flowers will keep appearing. And after hand-pollinating, there isn't much more to do than sit back and watch your fruit grow!

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