Posting hiatus may be put down to sheer indecisiveness and lack of industry. Hoping to resume better than normal service, and will start with my first, hopefully successful pollination* of a squash flower.
I finally found foot-space on the bed which contains Marina di Chioggia and Olive squashes, and looked about for likely victims to pollinate. Really, I am anxious to produce seed from the Olive, as I can buy Marina di Chioggia quite easily. However as it is the nicest squash I’m personally acquainted with, I was happy to give it a go when I found that only this variety had with a matching pair of nearly-ready-to-open flowers, (with the distinctive yellow colour showing at the top and the flowers starting to change shape).
In the past I’ve been advised even by keen food gardeners not to bother saving squash seed – the cucurbits seem to be extremely tarty and will breed with anything they can share pollen with. However they are relatively conservative in that they don’t seem to like to breed with other species – eg, Real Seeds recommends its West Indian Gherkins for those growing hybrid cucumbers because as a different species you won’t get bitter fertilised cucumbers if you grow them in the same greenhouse – http://www.realseeds.co.uk/cucumbers.html).
Even more encouragingly, a lot of seed saving guidelines recommend squashes as a good starting point for hand pollination, because the flowers are large, the pollen plentiful, and male and female easily identifiable even from a very early stage. And with winter squash, you will allow the fruit to fully ripen for eating, so you won’t lose any of your crop as you might with courgettes.
So I’ve been looking for a chance to put in to practice the guidelines from http://www.realseeds.co.uk/wintersquash.html and from Sue Stickland’s Back Garden Seed Saving. I don’t have access to perforated plastic bread bags as we make all our own bread, but I do have a lot of unusable wool leftovers, some of it in a rather fetching shade of red. I gently but securely tied up each flower at the tip to prevent it opening the next day – the red wool makes it easier to spot the flowers. This morning I checked on them and untied the male flower, where I was fairly sure I could see pollen, but I tied it back up again until the sun had hit the bed and I thought both flowers might be more amenable to my matchmaking. As I only had one of each flower I cut the male flower off, stripped the petals and used the whole stamen to rub pollen on to the stigma – there’s a very good picture of this on the Real Seed’s squash page referred to above. Once finished I tied the female flower back up again to prevent any insects bringing other pollen to it and competing with my “work”!
Now, I’m not at all sure this is going to work. The flowers may have been too young? I was forced to use a male and female from the same plant for now which isn’t ideal, although Sue Stickland says it is acceptable at a push. Having to tie up the female flower strikes me as not such a good idea as wrapping it with a more airy perforated bag, for example (it’s just struck me that old tights might be a good alternative). And there are probably other things I’ve not thought of yet. But I’m feeling rather pleased with myself just for trying, it hasn’t done any harm to try, and if it does fail at least I will be able to learn from it for my next exploit when, I hope, I get a chance to try the technique out on the Olive squash (where even the unfertilised “embryo” fruit are whoppers!).
(*Why is pollination spelled with an i and not an e as in pollen?)
I haven’t been entirely lazy all the time I’ve not been posting and have a pile of photos to help with getting back up to date, so hope to add a bit more soon. In the meantime, the most relevant picture I could find – the first flower on our Nano Verde di Milano courgettes, from early June which we’ve been eating for about a month now.