Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pumpkin Mating Season

Memorial Day was a good day for my garden.  It was the day I decided that Brad hadn't drowned after all, the asparagus put out two ferns almost thick enough to eat, and I found my first pumpkin blossom.

Most squash plants put out a slew of male flowers first, then get around to the female ones eventually.  At the first hint of yellow-orange, I started scouring the plants for female buds.  Those are the ones with little edema-like ovaries at the base that are waiting to be pollinated.

If you live in an area without many bees, or you had to use pesticide/fungicide to keep pests from devouring your plants, or you don't think the bees are doing their job, you can pollinate female squash blossoms by hand.  This has to be done in the morning, usually before 9am, as that's when the flowers are open.  My first female flower bloomed on the 4th, and I was so excited!  Pluck a male flower and do a little plant husbandry with the stamen and target pistil.  It is perfectly safe to pollinate with a flower from the same plant.  If you planted more than one variety of pumpkin, it's a better idea to do it by hand to make sure you get the right kind to grow and not some bizarre new hybrid.

Within a few days, you should see the baby pumpkins start to grow.  Once you have four or five on a vine, you can start plucking the male flowers and using them in recipes.  Too many fruits on a vine will result in small pumpkins.  Once you can tell which baby pumpkins are the healthiest, trim it down to two or three per vine, fertilize the soil as necessary, and keep them from sitting in damp soil by propping them up.  For that, you can either tie them up with a knee-high stocking (for smaller varieties) or set them on an upside-down plastic tub (like a margarine tub) that has air holes punched in it.

I can't believe this is happening so soon.  Even if the pumpkins take two months to mature, I'm going to be picking them in August.  I'll use this as a learning experience for next year and force myself to wait two more months before planting.  Meanwhile, I'll get to have fresh pumpkins before anyone else!

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