Friday, May 20, 2011

Zucchinis - Hand-Pollination and Harvest

We planted maaany zucchinis, because we really like them. People have been telling me, I overdid it (apparently the public opinion is to have about 4 plants per family) and that we may end up having way more zucchini than we can eat but so far with about twenty plants I cannot see this becoming a problem.

I am still in awe about nature: You plant a seed and less than 100 days later you can start harvesting fruit; zucchini in this case. Pretty amazing!

We have three different beds of them and some are doing amazingly, while others are doing OK. The bed in the front truely is doing extremely well, with large plants and many blossoms and already several pieces of fruit on them. Roberto and I constantly check on this one zuce-bed and get excited like little children about the tremendous beauty and growth.

I have noticed that there are two different kinds of flowers: Some are simply beautiful yellow flowers on stems while others already have formed a fruit at what appears to be the pretty thick stem.

As a newbee to just about anything gardening and homesteading, I did not know what this was about, so I researched.

Reading up about it, I found in Carla Emery's "Encyclopedia of Country Living" (BTW: A great resource to have for anything homesteading!) that all members of the gourd family (zucchini, melon,squash, pumpkins) have both, female and male flowers on one plant. Typically more male than female ones and that the ones with just the flower are the male flowers, which are also the ones that can be eaten as flowers without depriving oneself from fruit development.

While the female flowers will most likely produce fruit by itself, the fruit may be small, misformed or no fruit at all and pollination may become necessary.

Unfortunately not everyone has bees to do the job, so you may end up hand-pollinating these guys. Here are a few things to consider when doing this:

Make sure than you do not cross-pollinate from one plant to the other since some gourds are not compatible. This is in particular important if you have - like us - planted several varieties of gourds and they are closer than 500 ft of each other. Instead, try to use the male flower for the female blossom on that particular plant.

To hand-pollinate, find a male blossom (thin stem with upright flower and no fruit set at end of blossom) that has loads of pollen. Check with your finger. When it dusts off easily, cut the flower and gently touch the female blossom with it.

Yeah, quite the chore...

About harvesting: Some of the fruit on my zucchinis is already pretty large.

The right time to harvest is when they are about 6-8 inches (20cm) in length. Do not let them grow larger since then the rind will get harder and the seeds start forming more, making them rather inedible.

Also, you need to keep harvesting to ensure that the plant keeps producing more fruit.

Only when you do not want any more zucchini, allow a couple of fruits to remain at the plant for seed saving and also to slow the plant's fruit production down.

To harvest the edible flowers, harvest the male blossoms (allow the females to produce the fruit) early in the morning before they start closing up. You may place them with their bases in water, and store in the fridge until you're ready to use.

However, I believe it may be best to harvest these flowers when you are ready to use them.  That way they are perfectly fresh and yumm-o.

Wanna know more about these yummies; read up here:
 "Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

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