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
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.
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.
But you’re here for something else, so here we go!
The male flower of the plant is attached to a long stem.
The female flower will have a fruit or bulge of some kind attached just below the flower.
Inside the male flower you can see the anther, pollen and the ants at work..
Now it’s as easy as “painting” the pollen onto the stigma..
And here you can see the pollen on the stigma. It’s that easy!
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!
The bee hotel pops built has vacancies!