The great zupumpkin!

In one of my first small gardens, I planted a pumpkin plant and a zucchini plant next to each other.  I didn’t save any of their seeds, but the next year, when I spotted a pumpkin plant coming up from the compost, I let it grow.  It started out looking like a bit like an elongated pumpkin or some sort of squash.  Then it ripened to the above specimen, which was christened the zupumpkin.

Cross-pollination

Cross-pollination occurs when an insect or the wind carries pollen from one variety of plant to another.  The resulting seed, when planted, sprouts a hybrid of its parents.  Since zucchini and pumpkins are both varieties of the same species, they can create the zupumkin (or zumption or pumcchini–your choice) but a cucumber and squash can’t procreate because they’re different species.

Cross-pollination does not affect the current year’s crop, but rather the next year–with one exception: corn.  If the pollen from the tassels of one variety of corn are blown into the silks from another variety, the cob that develops is a hybrid.

Self-pollinating plants

Vegetables like beans, peas, peanuts, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes are self-pollinating. Their seeds will produce plants like the parent, but insects will occasionally cross them, so if you want to be absolutely certain that your seeds will grow true to type, plant each variety at least 10 feet apart.

Insect- and wind-pollinated plants

Vegetables that are pollinated by insects or wind need to be separated by variety, and grown a distance apart (the distance varies with each type of plant).   To ensure that your seeds grow true to type, grow one variety of each type, or separate the different varieties.

Vegetables that willingly cross-breed

The following plants or plant families are prone to cross-pollination.  If you are planting them with the intention of keeping their seeds, keep varieties well separated.

  • Beets and Swiss chard
  • Cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and broccoli
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Honeydew, cantaloupe, and other melons, excluding watermelons
  • Peppers (hot and sweet)
  • Squash (some varieties)
  • Zucchini and pumpkins

Pollen nation: More than just the land of honey

Pollination is the process by which the pollen grains from the male part of a flower (the anther) are transferred to the female part of a flower (the stigma). Plants may self-pollinate (the pollen grains fall directly onto the stigma of the same flower) or cross-pollinate (the grains from one plant from fall onto the stigma of another flower).
Plants such as corn rely on the wind to perform cross-pollination. Here, the wind blows the pollen from the tassels at the tops of the cornstalks onto the silks at the tops of the cobs. If you plant corn, you’ll want to do so in blocks rather than a single row, because wind rarely blows straight down.
80% of flowering plants, though, rely on animals to make their pollen deliveries for them. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and even bats (in tropical countries) are integral to pollination. Monkeys, lemurs, possums, rodents and lizards have also been known to pollinate some plants. Bees, though, are the most common cross-pollinators.

Busy as a bee

When a bee lands on a flower, its feet slip into the groove that holds the flower’s pollen sacs in place, and it lifts them up and carries them away. When it lands on another flower, it deposits some of the pollen, thus completing the process of pollination. While the bee is feeding on its nectar, it is ensuring pollination occurs and a fruit or vegetable is born–and so it is feeding us as well!
As you can imagine, if we didn’t have bees, we’d have a lot less to eat! Here are some of the plants that bees pollinate: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_….
Unfortunately, bee populates are dwindling. There has been a lot of scientific research into their declining numbers; among the reasons considered are neonicotinoids, invasive parasites, climate change, decline in their diets, and cell phone radiation. One species was added to the endangered species list last month: https://www.scientificamerican.com/….

Helping bees help us

There are a few things we can do to make our gardens friendly to pollinators such as bees:
  • Don’t purchase entomopathogenic nematodes. They are used as biological insect control, but in addition to killing “pests”, they kill large numbers of bees: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ar…. Read the label when you buy plants, because some plants have been treated with these nematodes and thus are carriers.
  • Plant flowers that bees love: http://fafard.com/terrific-flowers-…
  • Build a bee house or a bee bath: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you….
  • We know that dandelions are considered unsightly, but they are the first spring meal for bees. Consider leaving them in the ground for our insect friends.

Fun facts

A honeybee can fly 15 mph. Its wings beat 200 times per second!