A pictorial guide to hand pollinating

I’ve been working on this post for almost two weeks now and in my efforts to simplify, I’ve inadvertently found myself making a research paper out of it. Gardening is something I’ve become increasingly passionate about and while I’m totally up for all this input, I’m not sure anyone who reads it will be. But here’s hoping I can reach some gardening nerds, whether this info is new, or way old news.

This year is our third having a garden, and while we have the stalkers (I.e.
Deer, gophers) at a comfortable distance, fertilization is something I’m still working on. While expanding on and diversifying our small crop, I’ve learned quite a bundle about the anatomy and sexual reproduction of plants. It really isn’t just as simple as watering the seeds and pulling the weeds. Certain conditions and creatures must be present for your crop to be successful and with the decline of the bee population in recent years, this is becoming more difficult. Fertilization doesn’t just refer to pollination either. Before any of that, you have to start with good soil, but I’m going to spare soil prep for another time and give you the opportunity to opt out. Poopy dirt may not be something you’re really in to hearing about. My life pretty much consists of hands that are literally wrist deep in it with all the kids in diapers, potty training, and the digging in the garden that I do. But I digress, so back to it.

First, the flower is the sex organ of the plant and to make the whole thing really simple, let’s reduce it to either

perfect,

or

imperfect

flowers. Perfect, or hermaphrodite flowers make up the majority of flowering plants and contain both sex organs. Because of this, these plants are capable of self-pollination. Tomatoes and peppers are examples of plants with perfect flowers. Plants with imperfect flowers fall into two categories. Those that contain both male and female flowers on the same plant are monoecious (think squash, melons). In the other, dioecious, the plants produce only flowers with male or female organs (think kiwis, cannabis).

Because we’re going to see how to assist in open pollination, or fertilizing imperfect flowers, let’s keep those as our focus. Open pollinated plants are those that rely on birds, bees, wind, insects (and gardeners) to pollinate. They develop both male and female flowers and must “mate” in order to fertilize. The window for this process can be very small, as the flowers on some are only open for a short period, so it’s best to get out in the morning when the sun is rising and the flowers blooming and get to work. You can tell with some plants which flowers will open the following morning because they will begin to yellow. If growing different types of the same fruit or veg, there may be some cross pollination that occurs if the bees are working their way around the garden. There are ways to minimize this, but if you’re not saving your seeds you don’t have to worry about it, as it would be next years plants that would be hybridized, with corn being the exception.

It is important to know that pollination is not the only factor in successful fruiting. Many times, even with your hard work, the plants will still abort their fruit. While it can be discouraging, it is almost always something that can be corrected and it’s a great way to get hands on with nature. It will also give you mad respect for the people who grow your food! These variables include but are probably not limited to inconsistent watering, improper nutrition, excessive heat, blossom end rot and excessive nitrogen. Because the sole purpose is to reproduce, if the fruit is not going to produce seeds, the plant will abort it rather than wasting it’s energy growing sterile fruit.

Below is an example of a squash that I hand pollinated that did not take. The blossom end is beginning to yellow and the fruit was shriveling instead of swelling, so I picked and ate it right after this picture was taken.
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What happens after pollination is a pretty interesting process as well, and if you’re curious, bobklips is an informative place to find out what this is. Because while Bob’s brain is on botany, mine is mostly on food.

Now there are several different parts to the flower anatomy, but in the spirit of keeping things simple, well just focus on what we need to make ourselves some plant porn. I chose my tromboncino squash as the example as they have large flowers, thus larger anatomy. This is my first year growing them and they are a vigorous and beautiful plant. They are an Italian heirloom that can grow to lengths of over three feet! The fruit can be harvested early and eaten as a summer squash, or you can choose let them mature and they will develop into something similar to a butternut.

This is the actual squash I used in my guide, one week after pollination. It was delicious and this meal took twenty minutes from garden to table!
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But you’re here for something else, so here we go!

The male flower of the plant is attached to a long stem.

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The female flower will have a fruit or bulge of some kind attached just below the flower.

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Inside the male flower you can see the anther, pollen and the ants at work..

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Inside the female, you can see the stigma..
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Peel away the petals of the male flower to expose the anther, or pollen producing part of the stamen..
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Now it’s as easy as “painting” the pollen onto the stigma..

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And here you can see the pollen on the stigma. It’s that easy!
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Now it’s just a wait and see.. If the fruit begins to swell, not shrivel, over the course of the next day or so, then you have successfully assisted in the sexual reproduction of your soon to be meal! So get up, get out and get hands on with nature, people!

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The bee hotel pops built has vacancies!

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#plantforpollinators
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#seedsaving
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Mocha kahlua cupcakes

Over the last week or so I’ve been working on a post about hand pollination in the garden and since it has become a investigative study rather than a quick and simple guide, I decided I better drop a small post and recipe for continuity. Not that I even have more than a single consistent reader (thanks dad 💚), but I could use the practice. After all, I haven’t stopped feeding the family and taking crappy pictures of it with my phone…

Tucker texted me last week with a request for a dessert for his boss’s birthday. He knows I’m always looking for a reason to mix pounds of processed sugars and butterfat together in the name of “research,” so I happily obliged. When he first started at the golf course, his boss gave him a bottle of kahlua, for reasons I’m still not clear about, and it has since been sitting in the bottom of the fridge door. I am not a fan. I mean, not even the fact that it is coffee flavored and 40 proof can get me to like this stuff. So I decided I would make something out of that nasty swill and start feeding it back to him, in small amounts if I must, over the course of the life of this bottle of liquor. I wanted it to be easy and fast, as it was a last minute request and I needed to get it there by mid afternoon. I have this one bowl chocolate cake recipe I use in times like these, easy enough, and a pretty simple buttercream I like to use, so I got to it.

Baking is actually my second love in the kitchen, because first I am a cook. I love food, especially vegetables. I would take a bowl of caramelized Brussels sprouts and cauliflower over a fruit salad any day. But I also love to eat Paula Deen amounts of butter and sugar. I am fully aware that baking is a science, but it does not stop me from experimenting. But, while

science

and

experiment

go together well, respectively, in a sentence, it is no indication that it will also do so in a cake. Which is why I think I got chewy cupcakes. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of coffee, so I substituted 1/4 cup for kahlua because I’m trying to get that stuff out of my house. I’m not sure how alcohol affects the texture of a cake, but they were a little different than I remember. They were not at all bad, except for the aroma of aforementioned liquor, just slightly more springy. It could also have to do with preparation, the temperature of the ingredients, or something else entirely that I’m not aware of, but kahlua was the variable in this experiment, so I’m assuming that’s what it was.

There was a bit of a panic for a moment while making the buttercream, which happens especially with meringue Frostings. When I added the kahlua, the whole thing broke. Alas, having the attitude that this was not an option, as I was getting dangerously close to being out of butter and used two sticks for this frosting, I was able to bring it back with a little extra powdered sugar and cornstarch. The cornstarch I added for stability and because the frosting was sweet enough already. If you’ve ever checked the ingredients in powdered sugar, cornstarch is the other one. It is also used to thicken sauces and gravies and being the rule breaker I am when it comes to baking, I attempted it without research or any knowledge of what the outcome would be. It worked! I put it in the fridge for about 15 minutes, paddled it until it reincorporated, added the extra ingredients and whipped that shit until it it was nice and smooth.

If I’m being honest, I’m really unsure where I found this recipe, but it was adapted and saved from somewhere on the internet. This was before I ever knew I would need a reference, but Martha Stewart is probably the one I need to credit. I know I’ve made hers before and this recipe is almost exactly the same, cut in half.

3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup Sour milk (1 tbsp lemon Juice and remainder milk)
1/2 cup cooled coffee
1/4 cup kahlua
3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla

One bowl chocolate cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare cupcake tin with liners. This made about 18.

Add cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined.
Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, kahlua, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Fill liners 2/3 full and bake until set and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Kahlua and coffee buttercream
Be sure to start with room temperature ingredients..
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup butter
2 oz cream cheese
3 Tbsp kahlua
1 Tbsp instant espresso
2 tablespoons whipping cream

Directions
Place instant coffee, cream and kahlua in a small bowl and stir. Set aside to allow espresso to dissolve.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium speed until fluffy, about three minutes, then add cream cheese and beat until evenly distributed. Scrape down the bowl. Begin adding powdered sugar in 1 cup increments, beating until fully incorporated and scraping down the bowl in between additions.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly stream in cream/espresso/kahlua mixture. Raise speed to medium and continue to beat for 2 minutes more. If necessary, add more cream until desired consistency is reached.

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Brown sugar, you’re so easy..

In need of some brown sugar? Do you have white sugar in the pantry and keep molasses around for the occasional cookie or grilling sauce? Then you have brown sugar. It’s just that it’s currently in a deconstructed state. Brown sugar is so simple to make that you’ll never have to buy it again. If it’s something you use regularly, it’s worth getting a jar of molasses to have on hand, because that stuff will last for a long ass time. I needed some tonight for my apple crumble, so I made 2 cups, used what I needed and stuck the rest in a jar with a tight fitting lid. So here ya go.. You’re welcome.

For light brown sugar..

1 tablespoon of molasses to every cup of sugar

For dark brown sugar..

2 tablespoons for every cup of sugar

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Put the sugar and molasses in the bowl of your mixer, or a mixing bowl if you’re using a hand mixer. You can also do it by hand, it will just take a little extra time. It’s going to take a few minutes and a couple scrapes of the bowl with a spatula, but you’ll know when it has come together. I used the whip attachment on medium speed and scraped the bowl twice, and it took about five minutes. And that’s it! Use it or store it.
It’s really up to you or your recipe how dark you want to go. I use the different shades interchangeably if it’s what I have. If you stick around you’ll find that’s how so many of my recipes will be. I just adapt to what I’ve got. I moved in with my dad at thirteen, which was a few years after my parents divorced and my brother and sister soon followed. I took over much of the cooking duties for us and haven’t left the kitchen in 20 years…

To dad’s 29th unbirthday..

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We’ve never really been a family to celebrate holidays or milestones traditionally, it’s almost always about getting together to mash something into our faces. We still wish each other a happy or merry whatever, but we tend keep the celebrations and decorations to a minimum. Of course when we were children it was different, and now that our parents children have kids of their own, it sort of renews that innocence and fascination. Although we all live within about a 6 mile radius, we keep it homebody status on the regular, so when one of these does come around, we make an attempt to actually leave our houses. Birthdays cause a special disinclination for us grown-ups, because anything that draws attention to a single one of us is just humiliating. I hated speech class for this reason. I would get all sweaty and studdery, saying um every other word through a mouth full of cotton. But if you accidentally forget our birthday, we really won’t mind.

But alas, I may have found a loophole. Having three kids (in four years) has renewed the aforementioned desire to make someone feel special on their annual day of birth, or the day immediate preceding or following that day. Hence today’s unbirthday, birthday celebration. And because my father wishes to remain youthfully suspended in the last year of his twenties (which would now make me four years older than him), then the title of today’s celebration is almost as long as the title of the cake he requested to celebrate this unbirthday. So dad, happy twenty ninth anniversary of your twenty ninth birthday!

Now that I have thoroughly and properly confused you, a cake recipe..

I adapted this recipe from a few different sources and tweaked them for what I had on hand. There is a ton of coconut in this recipe, but it’s not as overpowering as you may be led to believe. The frosting is eggless because I only had 4 eggs and having doubled the recipe, I would be using them all for the cake. The chickens and I take turns not being able to keep up with each other’s production. The caramel can be easily adapted to suit a vegan lifestyle and could not have been easier. The buttercream, despite having an intimidating name, was also a piece of cake. Pun intended.

Coconut Milk Chocolate Cake with Eggless Coconut Pecan Frosting and Coconut Milk Fleur de Sel Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream
(Or German chocolate cake)

Start by making the caramel

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Coconut Milk Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce
Adapted from
Full measure of happiness

1 can light coconut milk (14 oz)
1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 t fleur de sel (or coarse salt)
1 T butter (optional for vegans)
1 t vanilla extract

This was so simple, combine first three ingredients, bring to a simmer and bubble for about 15 to 20 minutes until thickened. You’ll know when it’s ready because it will change texture and pull away from the pan. Remove from heat and let it rest a couple minutes, otherwise the addition of the last two ingredients will bubble up violently. Once rested, whisk in the rest of the stuff and jar it up. You can keep this in the fridge until you are ready to use, then microwave or bring up slowly in a hot water bath. It made a little less than a pint.

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Chocolate and Coconut Milk Cake
Adapted from
In the little red house

2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water
6 TBS butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter two 9″ cake rounds and place a parchment round in each. Butter the top of the paper as well.

Place chocolate chips and cocoa in a heatproof bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk continually until smooth, it doesn’t take long. Leave on the counter to cool.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until combined. Crack eggs into a separate bowl (in case of shell fragments) and add one at a time, while mixer is running, until pale and thick.

Now whisk together chocolate concoction and coconut milk and stream into the butter and sugar while beating at medium speed.

Lower speed and add dry ingredients in 3 additions until combined.

Pour batter into pan, and bake in middle of oven until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes.

You should always cool a cake completely before frosting, but this cake is so tender that I would recommend chilling before attempting to frost it. I didn’t need it until the next day, so I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap after cooling and cleared a spot front and center in the fridge. I even left the parchment on it for the night.

Eggless Coconut Pecan Frosting
Adapted from
Itsy bitsy foodies
**you can omit this step by doubling your caramel recipe and reserving 1&1/2 cups to stir coconut and pecans into. It is a very similar process but was a total afterthought for me that could have saved me the time washing dishes. I am quite lazy.

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¾ cup evaporated milk
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter, cut into 8 pieces
1⅓ cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine the first three ingredients in a pan over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer, stirring it occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut and pecans.
Let the frosting cool before using, or refrigerate. Make sure to bring up to room temperature before spreading, or you risk tearing your cake.

Coconut Milk Fleur de Sel Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream
This one was all me

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1- 8 oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
1&1/2 – 2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup caramel sauce

Cream together butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add caramel sauce and beat to combine, scraping down sides if the bowl as needed. Add powdered sugar to desired sweetness in increments, stopping to scrape the bowl. Once combined, use or refrigerate. Be sure to bring refrigerated frosting to room temperature and beat again to bring it all back together before use.

Assembly was essentially stack, plop, spread, repeat, using an offset spatula.
Place your first round upside down in the center of your plate. Add the coconut pecan frosting and spread flat. Place second layer right side up and add buttercream. Spread smooth with your spatula, pushing out from the center, but not allowing frosting to hang over the edge. Use your spatula or a bench scraper to straighten up the edges. I left the sides bare to show the multiple layers and Frostings, and used a Wilton 1m tip to pipe swirls. I then added chocolate sprinkles and used a squeeze bottle with a small tip to make the zig zags in the caramel sauce.

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Patient little hands 🙂

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