What I Learned Today – Cross Pollination

In 2017 I bought some spaghetti squash seeds and enjoyed a bounteous crop of spaghetti squash. Delicious. I saved some seeds. Last year, I decided to forego the pleasure – they were water hogs, looked ugly come August and took up a lot of space. I gave my seeds to a neighbour who was cultivating a large veg plot. They were successful and he gave us some of the squash. Delicious! I saved some seeds.

I thought I’d try again this year so in they went, up they sprouted and, before you knew it, much of the kitchen garden was nothing but huge squash leaves (poor tomatoes!). I was happy to see female flowers appear, happy to see ants and bees pollinating them with the male flowers also appearing, and then, puzzlement.

What was I growing? The fruit didn’t look like the spaghetti squash I’d grown before, nor like anything else I had grown. Instead, there were things that looked like huge, fat, bright orange zucchini, something that looked like a green pumpkin and then, finally, a few gourds that resembled spaghetti squash. All on vines grown from seeds from the middle of one squash! ARGH!!!

I showed these strange things to a friend – the great gardener and organic farmer Lorraine Schmidt, from Thyme Again Gardens here in The County. She reminded me (we had, after all, gone to university together…) that some squash, even though they appear different, are actually varieties of the same species, Cucurbita pepo, and can, thus, cross pollinate. i.e. pumpkins and spaghetti squash can ‘mate’ and produce …all sorts of things!

And I thought back to my neighbour’s large, wonderful, veg plot. He was also growing pumpkins in the same area. Lorraine told me she separates her C. pepo‘s by several large fields to avoid such cross pollination.

Here are some pictures of this unintended cross pollination experiment:

It was all promises, promises at first, with loads of male and female flowers everywhere!
These were the first two fruit Huh??? Too fat for zucchini, too orange for spaghetti squash, too oval for pumpkins… I’ve plucked them, not wanting to waste precious water on fruit that may be inedible…they’re sitting on the back porch now (there’s a nice picture of them at the bottom of yesterday’s blog post…), as I get up the courage to bring them into the kitchen…
Here’s the second type of fruit produced – started out all green but as it’s grown it’s turning orange… It’s a bit bigger than a volleyball right now.
Finally, success! One of the half dozen seeds I sprouted has produced fruit that actually looks like a spaghetti squash! I’ll wait for it to turn yellow, traditionally the sign that it’s ripe, before harvesting.

If you’d like to read more of the technical, sciency stuff about cross pollination, here’s a great article from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. It’s a bit old but, hopefully, not outdated.

5 Comments

  1. Well, yeah. They do that.
    At least it is a way to try new things. I found that acorn squash is pretty true to type, but it might have been the only squash of that species that we grew. For the others, I do not mind getting something odd, even if it is of no use. However, if I want to be efficient, or am limited on space, I would purchase seed.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It rubs me the wrong way to purchase seed, but it is necessary if I want to grow certain things that hybridize in the same garden (especially since I do not now which ones will do it). When I was in town, I did not bother saving seeds of many vegetables. There were other gardens just a short distance away.

        Liked by 1 person

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