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Reader's Questions - Zucchini/Squash

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Question:  Is it too late in the year to plant some zucchini in the ground? I live in Wichita Kansas, & the heat this last few weeks has killed my plants. I always get really nice plants & lots of blooms but no squash. What am I doing wrong? I would like to get some zucchini to grow before winter hits.
Answer:  Your first frost date in Wichita is around October 15, and as I write this on the first weekend of August, it appears that you have time to get a bumper crop of zucchini before the first frost if you hurry.  Just be sure to plant a variety that matures in somewhere around 50 days or less.  Zucchini requires pollination from bees to produce fruit, and if you are not getting any fruit, you likely have a pollination problem.  We are having a bee crisis in this country at this time and nobody knows the true extent of the problem, but if it continues we are all going to have to know how to hand pollinate in order to get plants like zucchini to produce at all.  Zucchini has both male and female flowers.  The male flowers appear first and can be differentiated from the females because they are on a slender stalk.  The females will have a baby zucchini between the flower and the stem they are carried on.  Blossoms are only fertile in the morning so pollination has to occur then.  To hand pollinate, take a male flower and strip the outside petals off, revealing the stamen (thin stem that holds a bulb-like part that holds the pollen).  When the female flower is naturally open in the morning, rub the stamen inside the female flower (you can use a Q-tip or small paint brush if you prefer).  Then stand back and wait.  Properly pollinated zucchini is a big, fast producer and you should have no problem getting as much zucchini as you can possibly use before October 15. 

Question:  Why are my pumpkin and Zucchini blooms dying and falling off, producing no fruit?
Answer:  We have had a bee problem in this country for the last few years, and it appears there are not enough bees left to go around.  Both pumpkin and zucchini depend on pollinators to produce fruit, and yours are not getting pollinated.  As such, you will have to do the bee's work until their populations increase.  Look closely at both your zucchini and pumpkin flowers.  The female flowers have baby zucchinis or pumpkins between flower and stem.  The males don't. You will have to either pull a male flower, strip all the petals off, and then rub the middle part (stamen) into an open female flower or just use a Q-tip by swirling it around in the middle of the male flower and then transferring the pollen by swirling it around in the female flower, getting as much into the center part as possible. The flowers are only open in the early morning so you will have to get out there and get this done early in the day.  I'm getting a lot of questions on this very subject this year, and this should be a wake-up call to all of us to start using organic gardening practices rather than strong non-organic pesticides for every problem in the garden.  I have had to hand pollinate my own squash this year and I can testify that it works every time, as I am now harvesting a bumper crop of squash. 



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