Waterloupes and Pucumbers
By Suzanne Cox
The time has finally arrived! It is time to see just how well those pigs worked all year long. As you can see, when we moved the pigs off the garden area it was completely devoid of any weed vegetation. Go pigs!
Several weeks ago, Andrew got our smallest garden and what we call Garden #1 (shown above) worked up. We set out in a whirlwind to plant before the pending thunderstorms arrived. We finished under the cover of darkness, with only a shop light hung from a pole to light our way. In our haste, I didn’t have time to sit and plan out exactly what I wanted to plant where in our four gardens this year. Last year, I spent several days with a sketch pad, ruler, and pencils mapping out where each different veggie would go. This year, with the baby and bizarre weather creating an almost impossible gardening situation for us, we are doing good just to get things in the ground!
So, in that first planting we filled up our smallest garden which we call the melon patch. Last year, we had it full of watermelon. This year it is home to shallots, garlic, horseradish, cabbage, Kennebec potatoes and red, yellow, and white onions. We then moved into Garden #1 where we planted red Pontiac potatoes. Shortly after getting these rows done, it began to rain and didn’t stop for three days!
Two weeks later, we put in a few rows of purple bush beans, sweet corn, sweet pie pumpkins, four varieties of tomatoes, three kinds of bell peppers, green bush beans, cayenne pepper, banana pepper, pickling cucumbers, and zucchini squash. This pretty much filled up that garden, with only one corner left to plant some watermelon which we saved for today since it is warmer.
This past week we found ourselves with a long stretch of pretty weather. Andrew has just recently moved Boss, Bacon, and Ellie Mae off of Garden #2 and into the woods where they will be living until garden season is over. He then took Daisy Duke out of Garden #3 and moved her in with Boss and Ellie Mae, putting Bacon in a section by herself while we wait for her to furrow. So now we had two vacant gardens, and no plan!
I pulled out all of my remaining seeds and set to work. Since we did not plan out all of our gardens before we began as we usually do, there was an issue of making sure different varieties were far enough apart to not cross. In the past, I have pretty much grown only one kind of corn, bean, and squash. With the exception of squash and zucchini, which I always put at opposite ends of the garden. We usually only grow pickling cucumbers, and ever so often try some cantaloupe. So cross pollination hasn’t really been an issue for us before. I have heard all the “old timers” talk about the year they grew those pumpkins to close to the watermelon, or when the squash tasted like pumpkin and the cucumber fruit grew colored and misshapen. Since neither of us were really sure what would cross and what wouldn’t, it was time to do a little research.
The first thing I learned was the rumors of waterloupes and pucumbers is false. It is not possible for watermelon to cross with cantaloupes, or pumpkins with cucumbers. And even if they did, you would not notice it. Or at least not this year. Instead, you would see a difference in the fruit produced from the vines grown from cross pollinated seeds from the previous year. This is true regardless of the plant type. Beans, melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, they all can be cross-pollinated to produce a modified crop next season. The only vegetable that does not hold true to this is corn, if corn is cross-pollinated then it can produce crossed ears of corn the same year. Meaning, if you have a white corn that crosses with a yellow corn, you may have ears with a mixture of both white and yellow kernels in the same season.
So if you do not plan on saving seeds from your garden to use next year, breath a sigh of relief! You have no worries of cross pollination. However, if you are like us and want to save your garden seeds to use next year then here are a few pointers to ensure you can do so safely.
Know your names! Does KPCOFGS sound familiar? Think back to high school science and you may remember King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti, an acronym used to remember Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family Genus, and Species. Many common vegetables share the same genus. Zucchini, squash and patty pans are all members of the Cucurbita genus, as are butternut squash and most pumpkins. However, zucchini, yellow squash, and patty pans are in a different species than butternut squash and most pumpkins. Therefore, a zucchini can not cross with a butternut squash, and a howden pumpkin can not cross with a patty pan. However, a zucchini and a yellow squash can cross since they are both members of the same species.
Now going back to the little old women talking about their bitter cucumbers… while their cucumbers may have been bitter, it was not a result of any cross with a squash or pumpkin. All slicing and pickling cucumbers are classified as Cucumis sativus. Squash is a Cucurbita pepo and pumpkins (depending on variety) fall under Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita moschata. They are simply not compatible!
Here is a little cheat sheet to help clarify what exactly will, and will NOT cross:
1. Cucurbita pepo Straight and Crook neck squash,zucchini, patty pans, and sugar pumpkins
2. Cucurbita moschata Most other pumpkins, butternut squash
3. Cucumis sativus All slicing and all pickling cucumbers
4. Cucumis melo All muskmelons, canteloupe, honeydew melons
5. Citrullus lanatis All watermelons
Any two vegetables on the same line will cross, if they aren’t they won’t! Take caution to check the genus and species of your pumpkins though, as the fall into two different groups depending on variety.
Beans are another easily crossed, and widely misunderstood vegetable. There are many different types and colors of beans ranging from the most common green beans and limas to more exotic types such as purple bush beans and speckled runners. Again, we can look at the genus and species of each type of bean and tell whither or not they will cross pollinate.
1. Phaseolus vulgaris Kidney beans, green beans, black beans, cranberry beans, pinto beans
2. Phaseolus lunatus Lima beans and butter beans
3. Phaseolus Coccineus Scarlet Runner beans
Other garden vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers can also cross with other varieties, however there is no 100% sure way of keeping them from crossing with other varieties planted nearby. There are several ways though of reducing your risk of cross pollination.
1. Plant plants of different varieties at a minimum distance of 25 foot apart. Spacing at 50 foot is recommended. Planting varieties at 25 foot or more apart reduces the chance of cross pollination to around 5%.
2. Stagger your planting schedule so no two varieties of the same species will be flowering and fruiting at the same time.
3. Plant barrier plants that have pollen between rows of tomatoes to lessen the chance of bees flying directly from one tomato to another.
4. Use physical barriers (such as bagging) to enclose flowers completely. This will require hand fertilization.
If you are determined to save seed from a precious family heirloom that is not crossed, you may want to simply grow one variety this year. Remember that cross pollination is possible (however unlikely) if any other plants of the same species are grown within a ½ mile radius!
Armed with our new found knowledge of plant species and pollination, we now have three of our gardens planted! We have watermelon, pickling cucumbers, and zucchini spread out in our first garden. Garden #2 contains patty pan squash, yellow squash, canteloupes and slicing cucumbers in various locations. Garden #1 has green bush beans and purple pole beans while Garden #2 has runner beans, Dixie speckled butter peas, and speckled lima beans. Mixed among those varieties are a wide assortment of other garden veggies. Look for further updates as gardening season progresses.
Good luck with your own garden!
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