|Photo Hudson Farmers Market|
Firstly I will tell you I am not just a Colorado Master Gardener. I am also a Permaculturist. I practice many Indigenous and ancient gardening techniques that you may or may not have heard of. I do this because I find it makes sense for me as an organic gardener and Permaculturist. It creates balance in my garden and life.
So, lets look at our problem through this lense…
Problem = My squash is not producing.
I have fertile well draining soil.
I have it planted in full sun.
I am fertilizing with an organic 5-10-5 fertilizer.
I know squash are not self-pollinating. I need flowers & the pollen in them to cross to get any fruit.
I have lots of flowers. I STOPHow do you tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms? It’s really pretty easy. Female squash blossoms usually grow close to the center of the plant. Check the base of the flower where the blossom meets the stem. Female squash blossoms have a small swollen embryonic fruit at their base, which will grow into a squash if the flower gets pollinated. Male squash blossoms are showier and they tend to hang out on long skinny stalks all along the plant. There are a lot more male squash blossoms than female and they begin blooming earlier.
I STOP. Now that I know I have the right partners that I need to get squash, now I need to get the pollen to exchange.
I STOP. I sit down, take a cleansing breath and really observe my squash for 15 minutes… Do I see bees or other pollinators? Nope, not a one. Here’s how pollination works. (Yes, were going to have a birds & bees talk...) The male flower opens and the bees get busy collecting pollen to take back to their hives. While they’re busily harvesting, pollen from the male flower sticks to their hairy little legs. The bees then will buzz on over to the female flower where a little of the collected pollen falls off and fertilizes the female flower. Time passes and the little base of the female flower grows into a squash. The male flower has done his job and is now pretty much useless. (By-the-way, Male squash blossoms are delicious stuffed, sauted or deep fried so be sure not to waste this delicacy.)
Solution = I need to mimic Nature’s design. That means pollinators.
Now I could manually go around with a paintbrush and try to hand pollinate all of my female flowers to increase my yield. Do I really want to do that? Sounds like too much work on top of all the other work in my garden & life. I would rather have a healthy garden environment that works the way Mother Nature designed it.
So how am I going to attract those busy pollinators to my squash blossoms?
I am going to give them more nectar and pollen choices.
My favorite “solution” for squash pollination is the beautiful annual flower Cleome; Cleome serrulata aka Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. This is a Native annual wildflower. Now using another plant to fix my problem is part of the Permaculture system called polyculture. (Polyculture is using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. It includes multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting, beneficial weeds, and alley cropping. It is the raising at the same time and place of more than one species of plants.)
|Three Sisters Garden|
You may have heard of one of the most popular polyculture techniques called “The Three Sisters Garden.” The Three Sisters are Corn (Maize), Beans (Pole varieties) & Squash. These “Sisters” when planted together benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the human body needs to make proteins and niacin, but beans contain both and therefore maize and beans together provide a balanced diet.
Native Americans throughout North America are known for growing variations of Three Sisters gardens. The milpas of Mesoamerica are farms or gardens that employ companion planting on a larger scale.The Anasazi are known for adopting this garden design in a drier environment. The Tewa and other Southwestern United States tribes often included a "fourth sister" known as "Rocky Mountain bee plant" (Cleome serrulata), which attracts bees to help pollinate the beans and squash.
Cleome was such a successful pollinator attractor by the Indigenous people of the Southwest that Archeologists use it as an indicator species of undiscovered sites! Almost everywhere they find it growing, they find a settlement.
That is a definite pattern of success that I choose to mimic.
If you are having trouble with production & yield in your fruits & vegetables try these steps: Problem? Stop, Observe, Identify Patterns & Impacts, Analyze = Solution
Which also equals truly happy gardening!