Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First Fruits!

I'm getting way behind on keeping up with this blog! So here are highlights of what has happened in the squash patch since the 14th.
Most importantly, I harvested our first squash fruits on August 21. They included three yellow Butterstick zucchini, and one Papaya Pear. Those first squash went into - but of course, Ratatouille! The photo shows 4 of the eggplants that went into the dish: The round lime green eggplant is "Italian White", the white eggplant is "Snowy", and the long, Japanese style lavender eggplant are "Orient Charm". All were picked that day.

Here are a series of photos of the little Butterstick ovary that I've been following in the squash patch. The earliest photo shows the ovary and bud on Aug. 15. We're following the larger bud, but notice that there are several other, smaller ovaries and buds developing that will be ready to bloom soon after the first.

The second photo was taken on Aug. 17, the day after flower bloom. Notice that the ovaries have all been expanding. The third photo was taken on Aug. 21, the day that I harvested the fruit. It was 6 inches long, and 4 inches in diameter when harvested.

In the days between the first bloom and the first harvest, John noticed the first honeybee visiting the flowers on August 16. Click on the photo to see the two honeybees taking nectar at the base of this pistillate flower. Are they leaving pollen on the stigma? It doesn't look like there is any pollen on their hind legs, where honeybees collect pollen.

For the first few days of bloom, the only flowers that opened were female flowers. There was no pollen in the squash patch. I think that the honeybees must have been bringing in some squash pollen from elsewhere, because some fruits developed and started to grow before male flowers started blooming. However, quite a few of the first fruits have not been growing, and the ovary starts to rot on the plant if I don't pick it. I noticed the first male flowers on Sunday, August 19. Now that the male flowers have started blooming, the fruits are getting pollinated and have been growing.

In case you are not sure how to distinguish male (staminate) from female (pistillate) flowers in squash, here are two photos. The male flower is raised on a long stalk without an ovary, whereas the pistillate flower has a zucchini ovary behind the petals.

The earliest varieties to set fruit have been Butterstick, Floridor and Papaya Pear, all yellow varieties, as well as some 8-ball, a round green zucchini. The patty pan types started blooming and setting fruit a few days later. I think I harvested the first sunburst (yellow patty pan) on August 25, and starship a day later. Peter Pan, a light green patty pan type, has not yet developed fruits big enough to pick, though I expect one to be ready by the end of the day today (Aug. 29). There are still a few hills of squash that haven't started blooming. I'll have to check to see if the first flowers on those plants are also pistillate.

I expect to bring squash to the Nampa Farmers' Market this week. This afternoon (Aug. 28) I harvested about 7 pounds of squash. If it's Saturday through Tuesday, I'm planning to leave the Butterstick and green zucchini on the vine to grow large. After Tuesday, I'll pick these varieties at a mini size. I hope that will give me a good mix of large and small zucchini to sell at market. Last year I harvested some hills daily, and others every 2 to 3 days. I found that there was a market for the large zucchini, although the small ones sold better. This year I hope to get a mixture of large and small zucchini from each hill, which I hope will be more productive and efficient than using different harvest criteria for different hills.

The patty pan and round zucchini types I'll harvest small all week. Last yearI found that large patty pan types just don't sell very well. We'll probably eat the small squash that I harvest between Saturday and Tuesday, because they are not likely to be suitable for sale the following Saturday. If there are too many for John and me, I'll bring them to the Parma Senior Center. Glenda, the senior center cook does a fantastic job of making meals for the seniors in town, and she appreciates any fresh veggies that I bring.

The canopy is closing through much of the squash patch. As the plants get larger, I develop a pattern of moving through the patch so I can check each hill and harvest the fruits that have reached my target size. It helps where there are a few gaps in the canopy so I can set down my harvest basket.

This morning I noticed that the plants that have been blooming the longest have lots of staminate flowers now - much more than pistillate flowers.

So far, no squash bugs in sight.

Saturday (August 25) John and I joined Jerry (pictured left), my partner and supplier for orchard bee nests, and his girlfriend Janet, at Bug Day at the Idaho Botanical Garden. 1200 people come to this event for kids (300 - 400 families) that has been running for 7 years or so. Jerry ran the baby bee nursery, always a big hit with kids. He opened leafcutting bee cocoons and orchard bee cocoons non-stop from 9am until 3pm. Some of the kids get very absorbed in opening cocoons and pulling out larvae with small forcepts, and their parents can't get them to move on. I think it has something to do with developing their motor skills.

John and Janet manned our Binderboard booth and explained our nesting materials. Janet's grandson Jeffrey stamped the maps that kids were bringing around to earn their certificates of bugology.

I showed the visitors a poster from the Pollinator Partnership with images of animal pollinators and their plants. All of the kids who stopped to view the poster were able to identify the pollinators, which was very gratifying. But when I asked why it is important for the plant to have pollinators, the best answer that most kids gave me was that pollinators helped the plant to grow, or to grow bigger. Only one or two kids, and not many more adults, made the connection between flowers and fruits with seeds inside: the baby plant. When I asked kids what fruits they eat that have seeds inside, they started to get the idea. Apples and watermelon were named most often. Tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers took a bit more prodding. It occurred to me that the connection between flowers and fruits is not all that obvious. It takes time for the fruit to develop, and the flower is unrecognizable by the time the fruit is recognizable. Those of us who study pollination, and who are trying to make the public aware of the importance of pollinators, need to encourage people to look closely at plants with flowers and fruits, and to appreciate the transformation that takes place as a result of pollination as the flower wilts and the pistil expands. It's relatively easy to observe in squash plants.

Time in the squash patch over the last two weeks:

About 1hr, 15 minutes hours hoeing the weeds.
1 hr, 45 minutes harvesting squash (about 20 minutes a day) since 8/25.
Total man-hours spent on the squash patch to date (not including the time to photograph it and write this blog!): 14 hours, 10 minutes.

No comments: