Seed Saving: How to Save Squash Seeds
(Page 3 of 9)
If I grow SL–H as my only pepo, and my garden is sufficiently isolated from all others, there are still some potential problems. If there is one off-type plant in the lot, its pollen can end up in the seeds of lots of fruits. And you often can’t tell an off-type plant until it’s too late, after the fruits have matured, for example. That off-type might not even be the right variety. It could be a volunteer from prior years, or could have been planted by a squirrel. When I do field-scale seed saving, I plant only where there have been no squash planted recently, and I plant seeds into exact positions so as to be able to identify the gardening contributions of squirrels. (Squirrels often bury excess seeds. Gardeners often leave cull squash and pumpkins out, to the delight of squirrels. Squirrels prefer to bury seeds where it is easy to dig—gardens and compost piles. One winter I fed the squirrels sunflower seeds and cull ‘Sweet Meat’ squash. That spring every garden and compost pile in the neighborhood sprouted volunteer sunflowers and SM squash. I no longer feed squirrels.) Finally, while I can evaluate and select fruits on the best plants in the patch for seed saving, most have been pollinated by pollen from many different plants, and some of the pollen parents might be the worst in the patch. Selection based upon just the female parent is useful, but isn’t as effective as selection based upon both parents.
Most squash-loving gardeners don’t want to be limited to just three varieties, one of each species. We want a glorious cornucopia of colors, sizes, shapes, and flavors. In addition, many gardeners have neighbors who also grow squash. And most gardeners don’t need seed from a field of one variety; they just need enough seed for personal use. So most gardeners forget about isolation distances for squash and instead resort to hand-pollinating. We tape certain squash buds and flowers closed to cut the promiscuous bees out of the equation, and we perform pollination services ourselves in a more continent and controlled fashion. If we hand-pollinate, we can both grow and seed save on as many different varieties as we want of each species. The hand-pollination approach has the advantage that, if there is an off type in our patch that we don’t recognize until after the fruits have matured, it is no disaster. We just refrain from seed saving from the fruits on that plant. We also consult our records and eliminate any hand-pollinated fruits that involved pollen from the off-type parent. We get much more powerful selection when we can select for both the best male and female parents.
Hand-Pollinating Squash and Pumpkins
Squash and pumpkin plants have separate male and female flowers on each plant. Any female flower can be fertilized by pollen from its own male flowers as well as from the male flowers from all other varieties that are of the same species. You can tell the female flowers or flower buds because they have a baby squash on the stem under the flower.
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