I was thinking of a range of different titles for this particular post – but then I thought of the disappointment that any number of 13 year boys would feel when they pulled up a site about gardening rather than what they intended to produce from their Google enquiry, so I decided on a sceintificish rather than salacious name. Actually I do find that showing kids how to hand pollinate a pumpkin is quite a good way of explaining sex, or human reproduction without the ummming and errring I usually resort to when attempting to explain how babies are made.
500m2 in Sydney did a lovely piece on this a few weeks ago and while I tread very similar ground here I had the photos so I thought I would write on the topic anyway. Besides I see no problem with cluttering up the internet with pumpkin related posts.
Why hand pollinate?
If you can see pumpkins forming on your plants but they are never reaching sizes greater than a golf or tennis ball (how large non-pollinated ones get depends on the variety) then one possibility is that they are not being pollinated. Bees are great pollinators but if you are lacking bees or they are off fertilising elsewhere hand pollination is a great backup plan.
How to hand pollinate?
It is best to do this is the morning as the female flowers tend to close in the afternoon.
To hand pollinate you will need a male and a female flower. Male flowers have long stalks and the female ones are the ones that you can see baby fruits forming behind.
Cut a male flower off the plant with a decent bit of stalk attatched. You need to make sure the pollen is ready – to test if you very gently touch the stamen of the flower and pollen comes off on your hand then it is ready.
Remove the petals from the flower. Try not to tip the flower upside down as you want to retain as much pollen as possible.
Place the stamen of the male flower inside the female flower touching as much of the stigma as possible. You want to make sure all the different bits of the stigma get pollinated.
Cross your fingers and wait for pumpkins to form.
Note: If you are saving seed make sure you hand pollinate with a flower from the same kind of pumpkin (or indeed the same plant), if you are not worried about saving seeds you can use any male flower.