If your cucurbits are showing signs of lack of pollination, you might have to take matters into your own hand. Using a small artist's paintbrush, all you have to do is transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower. Simple, right?
Well, which is the male flower and which is the female?
The easiest way to tell the difference in flowers is to look at the base. Female flowers will have an ovary at the base that will resemble the finished product, a tiny cucumber, melon or squash. Male flowers are typically smaller and only have a stem at the base. If you look inside the flower, you will also notice that the male flower will have multiple pollen-producing stamens, while the female has only one large pistil in the center.
I've also had complaints about corn not being pollinated this year, and I think that rain is to blame there as well. My most recent case had corn ears that didn't even produce silks. Corn, much like our squash, has separate male and female flowers on one plant. The tassel at the top is the pollen-producing male flower and the female flowers are the ears, with each silk attached to one ovule (egg cell) that will turn into one kernel.
My theory in this case is that the soil moisture damaged the root hairs, and the plant couldn't produce long enough silks to make it out of the ear (it takes a lot of water to produce silks). There is also an issue of pollen. When the tassels are overly wet, they will not release pollen, and constant rain can wash the pollen out of the air and ruin chances of pollination.
Once pollination occurs, it is important that conditions remain conducive to fruit development. Cloudy days reduce the amount of sun that plants receive and reduce sugar production through photosynthesis. Sugar drives the ripening process; so without it, fruit ripening slows and gardeners have to exercise patience. Cool temperatures at night can also slow down plant growth processes, further slowing garden production and frustrating gardeners.
So, if the rain and the doom and the gloom have you fretting over your garden fare, keep in mind there's always next year and things will get better. Of course, I've been telling people that for the past four years, and it hasn't happened yet. It seems like wacky weather and garden maladies are the new norm. Just keep calm and garden on.
John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.por...@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVUgardenguru.