Posts Tagged ‘Squash’

Or we might have titled this post “Why Bees Are So Important.”

In January the press reported that scientists had noticed a significant decline in bumblebee populations in the U.S. — first it was the honeybees that were disappearing and now it’s bumblebees too. Scientists are not sure why just yet, but one thing they can agree on is that this is not good news because bumblebees pollinate about 15% of all crops in the field — blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, squash and watermelon; and in the hothouse — tomatoes, strawberries and peppers.

And it’s not just the many different variety of bees (honeybees, bumbles, carpenter bees, mason bees, metallic sweat bees, leaf-cutter bees, ground-nesting bees, and various localized native bees) that pollinate flowers. There are many other creatures that do this work like ants, beetles, moths, flies, birds, butterflies, wasps, bats, and even a few mammals that transport pollen as they make their rounds.

Which is kind of the long way round to the question of problems with fruit set in squash, melons and cucumbers. Several people have asked why the flowers on squash and cucumber plants have been falling off. There are several reasons.

The first thing you should know is you might not have a problem. Squash, melons and cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family and they all have a unique flowering habit. Each plant bears male and female blossoms. The female blossom has a miniature fruit (ovary) at the base of the flower. Male blossoms don’t have this swelling. The male flower’s only job is to provide pollen to fertilize the ovary in the female flower and they depend on bees to do this. If the pollen isn’t transported from male to female flower fruit set will never happen.

Early flowers tend to be mostly male and these will fall off with no sign of fruit set. Not to worry, this is normal. On certain hybrid varieties of summer squash the early flowers are mostly females that don’t get fertilized and they will drop as well.

When the plants start producing both male and female flowers at the same time things should start clicking — unless there are no bees around. Cucurbits have sticky pollen and need bees to transport it from male to female flower. If your garden doesn’t have enough bees to pollinate the female flowers you will not get fruit.

In the absence of bees the only option is to hand pollinate. Get a small artist brush and pick up the yellow pollen that you will find inside the male flowers. Take the pollen-coated brush and paint it onto the stigma in the female flower. It is important to do this to only flowers that have just opened as they are only receptive for a single day.

It would be so much easier to have bees do the work! Without them crops will fail, plants won’t thrive, and we will be hard pressed to find solutions to this growing problem.

How can you help? Rule number one is to NEVER use pesticides in your garden. No matter how careful you are you will almost always kill at least a few bees. Rule number two is to create a garden that will sustain bees and all the creatures that help us grow food and the other plants we love. You can find tips on creating bee-friendly gardens in this post and by clicking some of the links on our resources page.

One last note, though we always recommend lots of mulch for your garden beds be sure to leave a few small areas bare for ground-nesting bees. Mulching is thought to be one of main reasons that this type of bee population is diminishing.

Save the bees!


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Mary Beth: This was my project last weekend for my raised vegetable beds.

I got this idea from the Sunset web site and it worked amazingly well. Ray and I modified the design a bit based on how I made the beds which are on a slope and are very irregularly shaped. When I made them I used rocks for the sides of the beds instead of lumber, but it actually turned out to be a perfect way to protect my crops.

Ray used 2 foot pieces of rebar for the stakes. We hammered the bars into the ground along the long sides of the tomato and squash beds and slipped the PVC pipe on each opposite pair creating a half hoop. Then I covered the hoops with plastic.

The plants seem to be responding well. I think the plastic covers over the squash and tomatoes are keeping them warm at night when our mountain temps get down to the low 50’s. Cool nights will slow them down, but by using hoops to retain the warmth it should extend the season so I can have veggies well into October and maybe even November.

I also put hoops on my cool-weather plant beds, but I covered these with netting to protect those crops from the birds.

This is one of those “Why did I take so long to do this?!”  projects.

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Mary Beth: Ray and I were under the weather on Labor Day weekend, so I decided  to make a nutritious soup using all the wonderful vegetables in my garden. As I was picking the ingredients for the soup, I was thinking about the article I read on the Garden Rant blog where the author mentions the occasional bug she may unknowingly serve her family. It made me chuckle, but it made me buck up too — if I don’t eat that kale that looks like it was blasted by buckshot, then what’s the sense of having an organic garden?! So I grabbed a handful of that too. I had to triple wash it and really rub those leaves to get rid of the bugs. I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, I got through it and the soup was delicious. And maybe, just maybe, the missed bug or two were actually the medicine we needed to get better!

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Garden Vegetable Soup with Barley (bugs optional!)

  • 1 bunch kale, with stems, roughly chopped  (I started throwing the entire kale leaves, stems and all, in the soup when I read my niece Kristin’s blog. She has a great blog on nutrition and food. You can read about the benefits and healing properties of food at foodbykristin.)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, with stems, roughly chopped
  • 2 large beets with their greens, beets cubed, greens, with stems, chopped
  • 1 medium Trombetta squash, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 2 large yellow tomatoes, cubed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • handful of basil, roughly chopped
  • 3 small onions, chopped
  • lots of garlic, smashed
  • oregano, sage, parsley, sage, tarragon, rosemary — whatever you have on hand
  • Barley about 1/4 cup, or more
  • filtered water
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil until tender. Throw in rest of veggies and saute until tender. Add basil, sea salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir. Add water, about 4 – 5 cups, and barley. Bring to a boil. Add the fresh herbs. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

I don’t worry about too much about measuring ingredients for the soup. I just add whatever is ripe in the garden, season with lots of fresh herbs, add salt and pepper and add enough water to make plenty of broth. Whatever ingredients I use, it always makes a thick delicious broth and it’s really good for you. Just don’t look too closely… no, seriously I got them all!


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