Learn to Hand Pollinate

Anyone who’s ever grown squash or related vegetables has felt the agony of defeat when a female flower failed to get pollinated, resulting in a tiny fruit that dies away rather than maturing. This happens more often than it should, especially in these days of declining bee populations. Well, while bees tend to be handy little pollinators, you don’t have to leave pollination to Mother Nature. You can do it yourself, if you’ve got a deft enough hand.

First, find the pollen. Unless you want to steal it from the bees themselves (not a good idea), look for a yellowish or greenish powder on the ends of anthers, the male stalks that stick out of the centers of the flowers. Then use a sterile cotton swap to gently wipe some of the pollen off the anthers. Next, move to another plant of the same type, and tap the pollen gently onto another flower’s stigma (a slightly shorter, fleshier stalk near the anthers). Make sure that a significant amount of pollen sticks to the stigma. Moving to another plant this way ensures genetic diversity, which should help make the resulting fruit healthier.

Keep repeating this process until all the flowers are pollinated, and then step back and wait for the fruit to emerge. It takes a little effort, but it’ll be worth it in the end.