How to Molest Your Zucchini


Summer squashes such as Zucchini are some of my favorite vegetables to grow in a home garden. You may notice that no matter how well you take care of them, the damn plants won’t produce any fruit. Well, part of this problem is that there are a lot less bees out there to perform the pollination of these plants, and so the plants just grow large with no fruit growing on them. So you have to give Mother Nature a helping hand. Cue the porno music.

Exhibit A, the female Zucchini flower. See how it has all that squiggly stuff inside? Those are the pistils, which are the female reproductive organs. Note that at the base of the flower, there is a baby Zucchini attached. If it doesn’t get fertilized, the fruit gets aborted.

Another raunchy female flower closeup.

Exhibit B, the male flower which has a single stamen and it is covered in pollen. They are usually higher on the plant and are on a thin stalk. The females are lower, as they have to produce fruit, and are attached to the base of the plant. You’ll want to take a cotton swab and swab out as much pollen out of the male flower as you can.

Swab closeup.

You’ll want to do this early in the morning when the flowers are actually open. Rub the pollen-coated swab all over the female pistils in order to pollinate them. Try to get pollen from as many male plants as you can. I suppose you could also cross pollinate between different kinds of squashes but then you might get some bizarre results.

Zucchini growing.

26 Responses to How to Molest Your Zucchini

  1. Venkat says:

    Very cool. I have had great success with thai chillies, and now doing a run of pimientos de padron (?) from Northern Spain. Squash sounds pretty fun.

  2. wonders says:

    Wow I didnt know you had to do that in order for Zucchinis to grow big.

  3. ngooddaddy says:

    Where was the NSFW tag on this one?

    We always had plenty of bees at our house in NJ I guess. Never had a problem getting the squashes to grow. We had too many in fact.

  4. amy lou says:

    awesome…i love plant porn!

  5. nogooddaddy: That used to be the case as well. But the bee shortage has become a bit of a national crisis, there’s been a lot of articles about it.

  6. Rachel Perlow says:

    GG – I usually only find 1 female flower out of all four zucchini plants in our garden. This morning there were actually 2! I tend to go out there to check (and water) between 6:30 – 7:30 AM, whenever the dogs wake me.

    For once, I did the photography, thanks for the compliment.

  7. rockyroadoflove says:

    Thanks for the clear instructions and the great photos. Do bumblebees count? We still have lots of bumblebees. Now I’m trying to talk the tomatoes into ripening. We gave up last night and had fried green tomatoes with hot Dijon mustard. So good!

  8. [...] Any trouble getting your squash flowers to turn into fruit? I do. If so: How to Molest Your Zucchini Off The Broiler __________________ Less is not more. More is more and more is [...]

  9. Martha says:

    How funny that I stumble across you (I saw a photo on tastespotting.com) and these great instructions today! I’ve had many blossoms on my squash patch, and have been greedily checking them and plotting what to do with my bumper crop. Then I started to notice most of the blossoms were just shriveling up and not looking like they’re going to produce a squash. I took a closer peek yesterday and only one really seems to have a fruit. I googled a bunch, but came up short.

    Thank you for a very relative and informative post!! I’ll be out with my q-tip at the crack of dawn (well, not literally here in Stockholm, dawn is still 3am) tomorrow to try and help things along!

  10. Jon says:

    I think this proves the point that TONS of light is the key to great photographs. That and waiting for the auto-focus to finish adjusting!

    Also the camera Jason is currently using (a Canon Power Shot G7) is a real ass-kicker in macro mode. I used it to get stuff for him during the last Big Apple BBQ and the 1st of July Hot Dog tastings while he interviewed people (he can’t take pictures of himself, ya know) and noticed that real quick.

    Also, its digital, so like me, I have to assume Rachel actually took about 50 times the number of photographs we’re seeing. How did people ever survive the age of film cameras [shudder]?

    Great job, Rachel and Jason. Interesting idea for an article too.

  11. [...] How to Molest Your Zucchini Summer squashes such as Zucchini are some of my favorite vegetables to grow in a home garden. You may notice that no […] [...]

  12. Martha says:

    Hi again, I’ve just been out to my garden to help the pollination and only one blossom was open, a male–so, I’ll have to be patient and keep checking when I have my morning coffee. I’m guessing that only the females produce squash? This leads me to wonder if one should harvest the male blossoms for stuffing and eating? Any thoughts?

    Thanks again!

  13. You can certainly harvest the males, after you’ve used them to pollinate.

  14. Rachel Perlow says:

    You need to remove the stamen when cooking anyway, according to what I’ve read.

  15. abarclay12 says:

    Great pictures. I was intrigued by your title because my neighbor has been molesting his zucchinis for years. I’ve been growing tomatoes, and I don’t want him to abuse them.

  16. Steve says:

    How do you feel about molesting zucchini, Melissa?

    Personally, I was always a spinach kind of guy.

  17. Seppel Simon says:

    Don’t know this for sure, but don’t think cross pollination of different sqaush, gourds, melons (cucurbits) will result in strange fruit on the plant being fertilized. I think the cross pollination only has an effect on the fruit of the next generation produced by the seeds of this generation. Anyone know the answer to this?

  18. It can definitely happen by cross pollination, at least in the Cucumber and Melon family.

    http://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2006/07/09/attack-of-the-killer-cuculoupes/

  19. [...] you’ve molested your zucchinis properly, chances are that around this time of the summer you’re starting to experience something of a [...]

  20. Kay says:

    Thanks. I was bemoaning the fact that we have only harvested one zucchini plant. After seeing the pictures of the male and female plants and reading your article, I went out this a.m., cotton swab in hand, and played pollinator bee. Nature is so fun!

  21. [...] Get a Qtip and transfer pollen from male to female. Early in the am when the flowers are open. THIS ARTICLE will explain it all with fabulous fotos __________________ Less is not more. More is more and more is [...]

  22. [...] each individual has only male flowers or only female flowers. For others, each individual plant has some flowers with male parts and some with female parts. The most common arrangement in your garden is for every plant to have both male and female parts [...]

  23. Theresa says:

    Wow, Absolutely LOVED this article, I’m 43 and when I was a kid my mom always grew the most awesome zucchini’s with no problem, she never new about the molestation of the plant and I didn’t know about it until coming across this article and wow, totally awesome, my question is though, I only have one zucchini plant and I now have flower buds, do I have to molest them everyday or just one time, please let me know and thanks so much

  24. Rachel Perlow says:

    Theresa – I think you have to fertilize each female flower. That might be every day, at the height of the season. Sorry for the late answer.

  25. MizC says:

    Thanks for the great pictures and instructions. I can see the male flowers that are now withering and think there might be some females coming in a few days based on the looks of the larger stems. Can I collect the pollen from the males NOW and save it to pollinate the females flowers when they open? I am concerned that there won’t be male flowers open at the same time. AND with a lack of bees I think I am the pollinator. Thanks.

  26. Brian says:

    Many thanks for the article and photos.

    I live in Santiago, Chile, and my garden is so well covered by sun netting that bees can’t get in!

    I’m off out into the veggie plot now to have a look around.

    (website bookmarked as well)

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