Summer is a great time of the year. Our flowers are blooming and our gardens are growing. However, sometimes we have disappointments in the garden such as when our vegetable crops don’t produce viable fruits for us to eat. There are many reasons for that, but most of them we cannot help with. Just be patient and they will work themselves out.
Zucchini, squash, and cucumbers have been known to produce fruits that develop into only a small fruit that then falls off the plant. The reason for this is due to poor pollination. The plants in the cucurbit family have separate male and female flowers. This time of the year, only the male plants are present in the plants. To have a fully pollinated fruit that will develop to maturity, the plant needs the female flower to provide the fruit itself, but it needs to be pollinated by the male flower. A female flower is easily identified because you will see a small forming fruit behind the flower. Often times, people see the flowers on the plant and then get discouraged because a fruit doesn’t form, but both types of flowers are necessary to get fruits.
Poor pollination can also be caused due to lack of pollinators. Bees and other insects are necessary in cucurbits to ensure that the pollen is moved from the male flowers to the female flowers. Some years the weather isn’t desirable to the pollinators or we have a low number of pollinators present, which will lead to poor pollination causing the small fruits to drop off before fully developing. This year it has been quite rainy which leads to less pollination because bees don’t like to fly in the rain. Be careful when spraying for squash bugs and squash vine borers to help reduce injury to pollinating insects.
Blossom end rot is another reason that small fruits may not fully develop and then fall of your plants. Blossom end rot is an environmental problem that affects many of the plants in our garden including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and watermelons. This is actually a calcium deficiency within our plants. Calcium is often found in adequate quantities in Nebraska soils, however, it cannot be moved throughout the soil and into the plant without even moisture. So, the problem isn’t due to lack of calcium, it is due to uneven moisture in the soils. In Nebraska, especially in the beginning stages of plant development, moisture is typically uneven due to heavy rains in between dry spells. Using calcium on your plants will not help this issue. Give the plants time and they should begin to develop normal fruits with no blossom end rot on them later in the season. Typically, we only see blossom end rot for the first couple of harvests in a season. You can still eat the fruits that develop with blossom end rot, you would just need to cut the rotten portion of the fruit off.
Squash bugs and squash vine borer are coming to take over our gardens soon. This is the time of year to watch out for these problematic, common insects found affecting our cucumbers, zucchini, and the other cucurbits. Pay attention to your garden to help prevent damage. You can scout for the eggs of the squash bug. You will notice a group of tiny, copper colored eggs gathered near the intersection of the veins on the underside of the leaves. Remove and destroy the eggs as you find them to reduce the population. For squash vine borer, wrap the base of the plant in aluminum foil to stop the females from laying the eggs on your plant. You can use insecticides for both of these, just be careful to do it in the evening when the bees aren’t flying and don’t spray the flowers with insecticides to help with pollination.