Gardener armed with makeup brush fights to save squash

Erin Schanen


If it’s Saturday morning, you’ll find me in the vegetable garden. That’s when I do all the little jobs that just don’t get done during the daily garden walk-throughs when I harvest what we might need for dinner that night and do a quick once-over of the general state of things. For a couple of uninterrupted hours on Saturdays, I fertilize, prune and generally coddle my vegetables.

Weilding an old makeup brush, as I did last weekend, falls distinctly under the coddling category. It was with some delight that I found a female flower as I surveyed the raised bed where I grow squash. Female flowers—identified by the small fruit at their base as compared to male flowers, which have just a straight stem—have been few and far between so far this summer. Fruit is developed only on pollinated female flowers. The immature fruit on unpollinated flowers just withers away.

Picking up a bit of pollen from a male flower (any squash variety will do) on the tip of the brush and depositing it on the female flower’s stigma does the bee’s work (just in case they are slacking off).

I don’t always provide this concierge pollination service in my garden, but I’m trying to make up for some major vegetable garden shortcomings this year. Most of my crops are suffering from a severe case of flower gardeneritis. It turns out that there isn’t unlimited time in spring and I probably should have been paying closer attention to planting vegetables garden when I was busy creating a huge new ornamental garden or planting the many containers around the house. The problem with vegetables is that there’s a short window for planting.

Almost everything other than the tomatoes, onions and potatoes was planted later than it should have been because in the midst of planting thousands (no lie) of flowers, I just never got to it. This explains why I’m just starting to see female flowers on my squash. There are typically a couple weeks when they first start flowering during which you mostly see only male flowers. While many area gardeners may already be reaching zucchini burnout, I’m just looking for female flowers, and it will be awhile before I see a zucchini.     

Despite my delayed planting, the vegetable garden is not a total loss. The first new potatoes were outstanding and the garlic crop looks promising. The peas, beets and most of the kale, on the other hand, were taken out by rabbits who’ve taken to digging under the fence, a situation I should have anticipated and prevented when we built it.

I’ve found a temporary solution to that problem, and I’m planning and planting now for fall crops. Until then, you will find me out there in the mornings when the flowers are open, makeup brush in hand, making sure I at least get some squash out of the garden this year.


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