In a Pickle Over Cukes?

By Eve Pranis

We've hared from a number of teachers who have experienced "cucumber confusion" in their indoor gardens. "The plants were growingbeautifully," remarked one fifth grader teacher. The students were caring for them and patiently awaiting the arrival of flowers so we could pollinate them ourselves. But we only found male flowers."

Cucumbers are one of the few plants you'll raise in the indoor garden that will require your help with pollination. To avoid cucumber confusion, it's helpful to understand a few things about the sex lives of cucumber plants. Cucumbers have imperfect flowers -- that is, each flower is either a male or a female. Typically, a cucumber plant will produce both types of flowers. In nature, pollinators such as bees are required to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers for fertilization and fruit production to occur. In the classroom, you and your students play pollinators.

Many garden varieties of cucumbers grown indoors will develop a lot of male flowers early in their growth. These appear n clusters where the leaves join the stems. on short stalks. Female flowers tend to appear in later stages of the cucumber's life. You'll recognize them as female flowers because of the mini-cucumber joining the flower to the stem. Invite your students to use hand lenses to carefully observe, count and distinguish between male and female flowers.

Since successful pollination can only occur when make and female flowers are around at the same time. you have a couple of alternatives. One is to simply nurture your plants, keep them healthy, and be patient. You're bound to get a female flower or two while make flowers are still available. The other alternative is to plant cucumber plants a month apart so male and female flowers will likely be around at the same time.

One of the secrets to successfully pollinating cucumbers is to transfer pollen when both male and female flowers are mature and ready for pollination. The male flower should be fully open with the velvety, bright yellow cushion, formed by the anthers, showing. The style of the female flower, where mature, should have turned from a bight green disc in the center of the flower, to a larger, bright yellow convoluted surface.

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