Allotment: The sex lives of marrows

To be honest, I haven’t spent much time considering the sex lives of vegetables. Well you don’t, and the wonders of the natural world rarely crop up when you’re clicking Tesco online.

I do remember, when I was six, my Uncle Dennis doing something to his tomatoes with a rabbit’s tail but, back then, 90% of what adults did was strange, so I filed it under “weird” and forgot about it.

I mention this now because the time has come to pollinate my giant marrow.

My lack of knowledge on all things cucurbit caused me to call giant veg supremo Dave Cole (who gave me the seedling, along with the promise it should yield a 56lb fruit).

For the record, my marrow now trails some 3ft with several yellow blooms.

“What should I do with all these flowers?” I asked him.

“Are they on long pointy stems?” I told him “yes”.

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“Then they’re male. Have you got a flower with a little marrow under it?”

“Yes,” I screeched, spying an embryonic marrow for the first time.

“Well, when that flower opens, stick one of the males in it.”

“In it?”

“Yes, and you’re lucky to have a female – mine are all male.”

News that my botched efforts had so far outstripped one of Suffolk’s finest vegetable growers halted me in my tracks.

So much so that I was unable to quiz him further.

Besides which, Dave said: “I can’t talk now. I’ve got a polytunnel full of Brownies.” (Dave helps his local Felixstowe pack grow vegetables.)

Back home I considered the implications of marrow pollination by hand.

Google told me: “The female flowers are distinguished by the swelling below the bloom. Male flowers have a prominent central core, bearing yellow pollen. To hand pollinate, remove the petals from a male flower; push the core into the centre of the female flower.” went even further. “Gently swab the stigma (internal parts) of the female flower with the pollen-laden stamen.

“Now gently rub the stigma (internal parts) of a newly-opened female flower with the stamen, ensuring that as much pollen gets on to the female flower as possible.”

“It all sounds a bit rude,” I told my Co-Allotmenteer who, since the arrival of his Galaxy 3S, has barely spoken.

“Actually,” he told me, “failure of marrows to form fruits is a common complaint, especially in a dull, damp summer.”

Turned out he’d been boning up again.

“Well, you’re doing the swabbing,” I told him. Given the scope of his new smartphone, there may even be an app.