pumpkin sex: the ins and outs of pollination

the pumpkin patch

the pumpkin patch

As you know if you’ve read my earlier posts – we had a bit of a mishap in the pumpkin department.  In a crisis of garden faith we planted an extra set of pumpkins, thinking that our initial transplants wouldn’t make it.  How wrong we were.  However, as with most gardening “mistakes”, this one has been a happy accident.  Our ridiculously prolific pumpkin patch is one of our favorite parts of the garden.  We may not be able to get into the backyard soon, but it seems like a minor inconvenience in the face of such glorious abundance.

As our patch grew and flowers started to form, we quickly noticed that something was wrong with our would-be pumpkins.  The little balls, rather than swelling into a teenage pumpkin were simply shriveling up and falling off.  They looked like this poor pathetic soul:

shriveled up would-be pumpkin

shriveled up would-be pumpkin

The bees in our yard just weren’t getting the job done. A sad fact is that many of our pollinators are in danger of extinction. The vast majority of our food supply relies on pollinators to reproduce and bear fruit. Our indiscriminate use of pesticides, climate change and overwork has pushed our honey bees in particular to the brink of collapse.  CCD, colony collapse disorder has rocked the honey bee world in recent years and as of yet, no one seems to know for sure what is causing it.  A great book on this topic is “Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis” by Rowan Jacobsen.

If the bees can’t get the job done for us, we’d have to do it ourselves. And so, each morning, my fiance with a coffee in one hand and a Q-Tip in the other, will grin and announce – I’m goin outside to have sex!

And so, you ask, What does pumpkin sex entail??

It’s pretty simple really.  I have no idea how it works, but based on my recollections from Biology 12, we’ve had success.

Pumpkins, unlike tomatoes for example, are not “self-pollinating”. The flower of a tomato has both male and female parts.  A hermaphrodite of sorts, it has everything it needs to get the job done. Pumpkins, on the other hand, produce both male and female flowers. Which means, they need a matchmaker.  Normally that would be the bees, but in our garden, it’s my fiance with a Q-Tip. The first, and really only thing, you need to learn to successfully mate your pumpkins is to learn to tell the boys from the girls. And all you need to do that is, well, look under their skirts!

A female pumpkin flower, at the base of the bloom has an ova. Its a little ball, a mini pumpkin to be. The males do not. What they do have, is a rather phallic stamen, coated in pollen. All you need to do is brush your Q-Tip on the stamen, pick up some pollen, and rub it into the female flower. And ta-da! You will have successfully participated in the pumpkin version of the birds and the bees. Literally!

Here’s some photos of the male and female flowers to help you sort them out:

female pumpkin flower: note the round ova at the base of the bloom

female pumpkin flower: note the round ova at the base of the bloom

if you can't see the underside, look for the sexy, rather feminine looking stigma in the middle

if you can't see the underside, look for the sexy, rather feminine looking stigma in the middle

male pumpkin flower - note the lack of ova at the stem

male pumpkin flower - note the lack of ova at the stem

male pumpkin flower - notice the stamen in the center

male pumpkin flower - notice the stamen in the center

All of your hard work will be duly rewarded.  Our friends children will not have to go to the farm to pick out their jack-o-lantern pumpkins this year, and there will more than enough pumpkin pie come fall!

happily pollinated pumpkins! success!

happily pollinated pumpkins! success!

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