When Bees Don’t ‘Do It’ – Summer Gardening

My client’s big event wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, which means…..

Summertime GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Summer, summer, summertime.

I actually have two big, yearly client events that I provide content support for, one of which is usually at the end of May or June. And after it wraps up, things slow waaaayyyy down.

I mean, I have a few recurring assignments/projects, but nothing like the crush of deadlines I have during the first half of the year (or the last quarter of the year).

In the early days of my freelancing, I used to freak out about this summer slowdown. Now, I take it in stride and use it as an opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues over lunch or drinks, attend networking events or conferences, update my portfolios and do all of the many, many other non-glamorous, administrative stuff that comes with running your own business.

This year’s other big thing: forcing plants to have sex.

I like big melons and I cannot lie.

We planted our contained bed garden in our backyard in mid-April. We planted green beans, carrots, jalapenos, cubanelles, a variety of herbs, and one squash plant and one mini watermelon plant.

So far, the carrots and green beans have been coming in like gangbusters, as have the herbs, but the squash and the watermelon need….a little help.

Apparently, gourds and the like only grow if they are pollinated, and well, we don’t have a whole lot of bees in our urban, concrete backyard landscape. Or any pollinating insects, really. (In fact, bee colonies in Virginia are dying at a faster rate than in the rest of the country.)

We’d actually run into this problem a few years back when we planted a zucchini. We got just one giant zucchini out of it the whole summer. During a late-summer trip to Austin, I was complaining about my lack of a green thumb to a nice older lady who clued me in to the problem: we needed to hand pollinate our gourds.

I was stumped: Is this true and if so, how do I even “do it?” Do I need to play some Barry White to get my vegetables in the mood for sexy time (Answer: Nope). Do I just stick my finger in every flower and swirl it around? (Answer: Nope). I had no idea on how this pollen transfer business was supposed to be accomplished.

So, when we went to plant our garden this year, I was a bit hesitant about trying squash again. And, to be completely honest, I didn’t even realize that the same pollinating problem could plague the mini watermelon. I didn’t really think of watermelon as a gourd. It’s a melon, right?

I may not know anything about gardening, but I do know where to go to learn everything about just about anything in this day and age: YouTube.

One short video tutorial from Scrappy Patch has made me an expert on hand pollinating. So now, during my summer slowdown from work, I’m adding plant sex facilitator to my skills set. Every morning, I rush out to our backyard to see if the squash or watermelon have any open blooms that I can cross pollinate.  

To be honest, it’s been pretty frustrating. Most mornings, there will be just one squash blossom open. Or, more often, there will be more than one blossom open but they’re all males, which, for these purposes, won’t work. I truly wish we could grow the first big rainbow-gay squash or melon, but alas, it appears we need a female bloom as well.

Damn. Mexico beat me to it.

The other tricky thing is that, at least in the case of the squash, the blossoms only bloom like, one or two days, so I’ve got to jump on that short window of opportunity. So far, I’ve only had one day where there was both a male bloom and a female bloom, so fingers crossed, we’ll be the proud parents of a squash in a couple of weeks.

And, we’ll keep trying. I see a couple of potential female blossoms just starting to bud. Plus, I’ve got the whole summer to obsess over plant sex.

Terrifying.
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Hey Poe, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Like crazy, that’s how. Like a bullfrog’s throat during mating season.

It’s actually kind of crazy and very intimidating.  Here’s what things currently look like.

today 2

That’s our tomato tree. It’s not really a plant anymore. It’s a tree. I think I saw a bird building a nest in it and some woodpeckers chipping away at it’s bark. It was actually on it’s side when my fellow farmer-for-life XFE got home today. The weight of the thing is far to heavy and wild for the meager metal tomato cage we bought to contain it. It was actually leaning over onto the zucchini plant on it’s left. But don’t feel too bad for the zucchini plant.

today

That’s the other side of the zucchini plant. If you squint and look very, very closely, you’ll see a poor basil plant straining to escape the zucchini’s suffocating leaves.

For a little perspective, let’s look back to late April when we finished our backyard and planted stuff.

little plants

Look at that tiny little tomato tree! And that tiny green speck in the middle? That would be the zucchini. It was, literally, two tiny leaves. I was afraid it was going to die. I thought it might drown. I went out and talked to it every evening, urging my little zucchini underdog to grow big and strong. Oh how naive I was. Just look at how small it was compared to the basil just to the left! Today:

poor basil

Shit is taking over and us couple of city folk are in no way prepared.  Seriously. We’re afraid of our zucchini plant. It’s kinda aggressive.

zuchinni

And there are blossoms.

zuke blossoms

Don’t even get me started on the two peppers we planted.

pepper race

In the Great Pepper Olympics of 2013, the Cubans (cubanos on the left) are smoking the Mexicans (jalapenos on the right).

memorial day

Here’s how things looked over Memorial Day, which, let’s remember, was about 2 weeks ago.

memorial day 2

Another view. I mean, it’s not like we’ve never grown anything….we’ve grown tomatoes before, along with assorted herbs and a few peppers, but this year’s early crop results are not like any we’ve ever seen. It’s doubly frustrating because we don’t have any veggies big enough to eat…..yet. But if size is any indication, we’re going to be smothered in zucchini, buried in tomatoes, and strangled by mint.

Let’s get back to the tomatoes though.

tomato tree

Crazy fertile backyard. If XFE and I disappear, someone check under the zucchini plant.