June 18, 2010

Be the Bee


Squash, melons and cukes only flower in the morning,
and the bees are sleeping in.

One day at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market, we overheard a man lamenting over his zucchini. He'd planted 2 the prior year and was simply overrun, so this year he'd planted just one, figuring it would provide plenty of fruit for he and his partner. But now he seemed to have the opposite problem; his one zucchini wasn't producing anything.

"Be the bee," we advised. "What?" he replied. Sheesh... we wish people were as enthusiastic about bees as they are about growing their own veg. They go hand-in-hand, people. But I digress.

Even with our own colony of bees, I still have to be the bee when it comes to our squash, melons and cukes. Since there's just the two of us (people), we only plant one of each. When they finally start to flower, the first few are always male. I think this is because the plant has evolved to attract and alert pollinators to their polleny-goodness. This way when the female (fruit producing) flowers follow a few days later, the pollinators will already be around to fertilize them. Problem is, by the time the first female flower opens, those early male flowers are shriveled up.

If you have two plants, their flowering is usually staggered so one plant's males will be available for the other plant's females, and both plants get fertilized very efficiently from the very beginning. That's how you get your huge crop. With just one plant, however, I have to be the bee to maximize my crop. Aside from the fact that they're sleeping in, one lone plant is not very attractive to a colony of bees. So I use a small paintbrush to transfer the pollen from the male to female flowers. It's easy to tell which is which. The female flower is attached to a miniature fruit. The male simply rises from a stem. I usually harvest the first few, and keep them in the fridge until the female flowers open. It's only in the beginning that I have to do this. As the plant matures, more and more male and female flowers will be open simultaneously, and the bees (or bumbles or even those damn yellowjackets) will do the pollinating for me.

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