bee polinating squash blossom (149178 bytes)

Sweet Success with Honey Bees

By John Pohly, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

Did you know that cucumber plants that produce only small, almost round fruit or "C"-shaped cucumbers instead of big slicers, likely bore flowers that weren't pollinated?

Cucumbers produce male flowers and female flowers on the same plant. Pollen is transferred from the male flower to the female largely by honeybees. The bees must make from eight to ten visits, first to the male flower and then to the female flower for satisfactory fruit set. With 40 to 50 visits, the number of seeds and weight of fruit increases.

Squash and pumpkins, in the same family as cucumbers, require similar pollination by bees. Bees visit squash flowers from 6 a.m. to noon with the most activity from 8 to 9 a.m. Don't set a sprinkler in the garden at that time or you will keep the bees away with a resulting poor crop.

Muskmelons, including cantaloupes, also are part of the cucumber family. If they have fewer than 400 seeds, they usually are so small as to be classified as culls. The muskmelon flower is open for only one day and requires a honeybee visit about every 15 minutes for maximum fruit set. At least one viable pollen grain must be deposited on the stigma and fertilize an ovule to form just one seed.

Most fruit trees also require honeybee pollination. The more pollination and seeds an apple has, the larger the apple fruit. Honeybees truly are the gardener's friend. Their hard work costs nothing, but without it many plants would not grow.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010