Thursday, August 6, 2009

Squash

This is the time of year when gardeners scramble to give away their zucchini and other squash.  Barbara Kingsolver humorously describes this as the time of year you roll up your car windows and lock your doors lest a neighbor should abandon piles of squash in your passenger seat or on your kitchen table while you are out (see Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver).

But there is more to your average squash plant than meets the eye. Squash have male and female blossoms on the same plant (monoecious). The male blossom is borne on a slender stalk. The female blossom has the swollen embryonic fruit attached at its base. The blossoms of both sexes are open and fertile only during the morning hours of one day. During this time pollen must be transferred by bees or by a person using an artists paint brush or Q-Tip, the female blossom will close without being fertilized, the squash will not enlarge and in a few days it will drop from the plant to the ground. The male blossom may open a second day, but the pollen will no longer be fertile and the blossom will close, wilt and drop from the plant that day or the next. There are many more male blossoms than female blossoms on a squash plant. There may be 3 to 4 male blossoms opening for several days to a week before the first female blossoms open.  Because the male flowers never "fruit" they are an excellent choice for stuffing and then frying or broiling when you want to maximize your yield of this summer vegetable.  The female flowers work too however and if you're trying to shrink your yield, this might be the way to go. If you're game, try this great recipe I pulled from the web.

Of course, the Open Garden Project welcomes your excess squash at all of our exchanges.  No need to sneak into the house around the corner to "share the wealth" in Marin.  Simply show up at one of our weekend exchanges to share with willing neighbors.  Or contact us and we'll take your overflow to a local agency that serves meals to those not fortunate enough to have easy access to healthy local food.

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