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Birds and bees in Costa Rica garden

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Published on Friday, July 28, 2023

By Victoria Torley

Oh, that great feeling of expectation when you go to the garden and find teeny little cucumbers growing at the base of a yellow flower! 

Look further and you can see squash the size of a green pea under a flower. Ah, pollination – these plants can both have a problem with it.

The first flowers for squash are male. They grow close to the base of the plant but the flowers are easily told apart if you look closely. 

The female flower has stigmas – multiple sections in the center of the bloom – while the male has a single anther at the center of the bloom. Female flowers also have a small fruit between the blossom and stem, a fruit that will only mature if the pollen from the anther fertilizes the stigma. Basic squash sex.

But let’s suppose that you keep your plants in a greenhouse of some sort and there aren’t a lot of pollinators in there. Pollination is good for squash but bad for orchids and you have both, so you keep pollinators away. Still, if there is no pollination, that immature squash won’t develop and you will have to watch that tiny vegetable rot away.

Ditto for the cucumber with a plus – well-pollinated cucumbers grow larger and have fewer twisted shapes. Who knew?

So – either the bees haven’t been busy in your garden or you just want to insure that the veggies produce well. You decide to hand-pollinate your squash. This is actually quite easy and can be done in a variety of ways.

First, start in the morning when the blossoms are open. Locate that male flower and collect the pollen. Collection is best done with a small paint brush, although you can use a Q-tip. 

The brush is preferred because the pollen transfers to the stigma more easily. Tickle the anther with the brush and then tickle the stigma of each flower. Go back and collect more pollen on the way. 

If you have a male flower that is on its last legs, you can also peel back the petals, discard them, and use the anther to transfer pollen directly to the female flowers. 

Repeat this process over several mornings as your plants grow and produce more flowers. This is also the method used when you want to try and produce a new variety of vegetables.

Hand pollination techniques are the same for every type of plant. Find the anther, and use its pollen to fertilize the stigma of the female flower. In the end, you will have a better, larger crop from any type of plant.

Plant of the week. This is my lovely zucchini. When the male blossoms have finished blooming, they fall off leaving these white bases that are sometimes mistaken for the remains of a lizard’s meal. Not so! Just the normal life cycle of the plant.

Find more amazing stories about gardening in Costa Rica on 
the AM Costa Rica Garden website. Regarding questions on this article, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached by emailing victoriatorley1@gmail.com.

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