How to Hand Pollinate Pumpkins and Squash

The pumpkin patches are romping away thanks to a jumbled up bag of weather, one day it’s dry and sunny then cooler with rain the next, great for the garden but not so great for pollinators relying on drier conditions to fly, such as bees. The vines are producing plenty of big buttery-yellow flowers now which are so pretty, I noticed the timing of the female flowers opening clashed with wet mornings, hardly any pollinators were flying. Female flowers only last for a day or so before wilting and shrivelling up so I decided to hand pollinate my pumpkins and squashes to be sure of some success. Hand pollination is really simple but first you need to know the differences between male and female flowers.

A male flower has a very long stem and doesn’t have a small fruit directly behind it.

Male pumpkin/winter squash flower, notice the long stem and no swelling or small fruit directly behind.

The inside looks like this, a single stamen:

Male pumpkin/squash flower

A female flower has a very short stem with a small swelling behind it, this is a baby pumpkin or squash waiting to be pollinated.

Female pumpkin/squash flower, short stem and visible small fruit directly behind the flower.

The inside of the flower looks like this, a group of stamens called a stigma.

Female pumpkin/squash flower

The first flowers to appear in the pumpkin patch will be males, don’t be alarmed if you see them wilting and dropping off the vines, this is perfectly normal. A couple of weeks later the first female flowers begin to open, if males are open at the time then pollination is possible. However, more often than not the first wave of female flowers fail to pollinate and you will see the small rotting fruit drop off the plants. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal too. Hand pollinating may help in this situation but only if male flowers are ready, which is probably not the case. As the male to female flower ratios even out a little more you’ll find the next lot of baby pumpkins/squash more successful. This is the same for summer squash and courgettes.

How to hand pollinate pumpkins and squash:

Find a male flower and pick it, then carefully remove the petals to the base of the stem to reveal the stamen. Doing this makes it much easier for the pollination process and prevents too much damage being done to the female flower petals.

Take this section of the male flower to a newly opened female flower (usually in the morning) and rub the male stamen all over the female stigma to distribute the pollen.

You can cover the stigma to protect it by closing the flower and securing with a piece of string or band, to be honest I never bother to do this if I’m pollinating just for food production, further below in the post I explain why you should for seed saving purposes. The small fruit behind the female flower should continue growing and swelling after the flower has wilted and dropped off, which takes just a few days. If the fruit doesn’t get any bigger and turns yellow/brown it means pollination wasn’t successful, it will eventually rot and drop off. Give it another go if this should happen, or simply leave it to the bees to do the job.

Here are some pumpkins and winter squash that were hand pollinated in the last couple of weeks:

Baby Rouge Vif D’ Etampes pumpkin
Young Crown Prince winter squash

I hope this post was useful, it’s not usually necessary to hand pollinate as bees and other insects do a fantastic job, but with soggy summers it can help. Hand pollinating is also very useful for seed saving heirloom/open pollinated varieties that you wish to keep pure to save buying seed again, be aware that F1 hybrids (first generation) produce seeds which do not breed true but will produce food perfectly fine to eat, just perhaps not what you expected visually! Should you wish to save your own seed and be absolutely sure to keep a variety pure, go out to the garden in the evening and look for a female and male flower that will be ready to open the following morning, the flowers should feel firm and starting to go yellow. Seal the flowers with masking tape or rubber bands to prevent them from opening, this way bees cannot get inside and mix the pollen around before you get to them. Simply remove the tape or bands the following morning then seal the female flower shut again after hand pollinating to prevent insects getting inside which could cause cross pollination, otherwise the seeds collected from that pumpkin may not be pure or true to type. Make a note or mark the hand pollinated pumpkin/squash and collect the seed from the mature fruit towards the end of the year.

Happy pumpkin growing!

May-Hem

Being a gardener I welcome rain but it hasn’t stopped since my last blog post, it’s very soggy now with no sign of letting up and the forecast through to next week is more heavy downpours and gale force winds thrown in for good measure, slugs are just loving it and I can’t keep up with the weeding, especially at the allotment. I was a bit behind with seed sowing due to holding off because of the weather, but you know you’ve caught up when the squash and pumpkins are germinating. I’ve just finished sowing sweetcorn into pots in the conservatory where it’s warm and toasty, but I’ll hold off with beans for another week or so as I plan to sow them direct.

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In the vegetable garden there’s plenty of life and lush growth, it’s just a constant battle to keep it all safe from pests. The first sowing of peas are just beginning to flower now and the next batches are catching up in growth but I’ve had to be very creative with protecting them from pigeons who are determined to get them before we do, the usual twiggy deterrents just haven’t cut it this year.

protecting peas from pigeons

To prevent the lower leaves being stripped and clumps being pulled through the twigs, I’m using single sheets of fleece loosely wrapped around the pea sticks and tied with a knot, it all looks a bit of a faff but it seems to be working plus the fleece does help to accelerate growth. Next year I may have to use some sort of net frame and grow all the peas in one bed to keep them protected, I prefer to dot them around the garden on the ends of raised beds to save growing space but I may have to change the way we grow them.

 

protecting peas from pigeons

protecting peas from pigeons

Carrot and parsnip seedlings are up and still tucked up inside the tunnel cloches during the day to protect them from being smashed to bits by heavy downpours, at night we put panels on the ends of the cloches to keep slugs and snails out otherwise we’d lose the lot, the end panels are just off cuts of roofing sheets held in place with a short cane.

carrot seedlings

parsnip seedlings

Beets are growing but very slowly compared to other years, I wasn’t particularly happy with the first sowing of beets as I’ve said previously, they seemed very weak for some reason. The next batch are much better and hardening off ready to go outside but I’ll hold off until the weather settles down a bit. Onions were planted out last week, much later than last year, this will be the second year growing onions from seed and hopefully they’ll be just as good as last years crop.

potato leaves

Second early potatoes ‘Charlotte’ are looking strong and maincrop ‘King Edward’ are just poking through. Strawberries are looking fantastic this year, the growth is so lush. Clearly loving the extra water!

strawberry flowers

seedlings

The greenhouse is filling up but little bit behind in growth or I have sown later than I usually would, but hopefully it will all be ok and catch up. There’s little point putting too much out at the moment, it’s already a 5* restaurant out there for slugs!

Hopefully next month will be more settled. Fingers crossed.