Thursday, May 6, 2010

Little Babies

There are little babies showing up all over the garden.  I could be talking about insects, because they certainly are making plenty of hungry offspring right now, but I really mean baby veggies.  The powerhouse crops of late spring are starting to produce their fruits.

We enjoy watching the plants grow from seeds to seedlings, through their 'childhood', and into fully mature, blooming plants.  Then we get to watch the little babies emerging out of those flowers which were fertilized.  The past week or two we have been delighted to see the first tiny tomatoes, squash, and snap beans appearing on the plants.

Here are some photos (for a closer look, click on a photo to display it in a larger window):

The tomato in front has a shriveled blossom hanging from its end

A tiny snap bean still holding on to the remains of a blossom

This pattypan squash is so new, its blossom hasn't opened yet

An Eight Ball squash

Zucchini, Jr.

Botanically speaking, the fruits are not plant 'babies'.  Seeds are truly the babies.  Fruits are the ovaries which produce the seeds.  I think that is most apparent on squash and zucchini plants.  In the zucchini photo above, the young fruit is part of a female blossom; there is an immature male blossom immediately to the right (green, on the end of a slender stalk).  The young fruit/ovary will continue to grow while its blossom is open, but if the blossom is not fertilized, the fruit eventually shrinks and falls off.  We are never sure that the first few squash fruits we see in the spring will actually survive.  Soon, though, when there are male blossoms open on several plants, odds are good that the bees will get around and transfer the male pollen to most of the female blossoms.  In fact, the bees were quite busy among the squash plants while I was taking these photos.

By the way, this is why cross-pollination is not a problem in the first generation.  The fruit forms from the tissue of the 'mother' plant.  The seeds are the only parts which contain genetic material from the 'father' plant.  So, if you grow a bunch of varieties of squash or peppers together, you don't have to worry about getting yellow zucchini or hot bell peppers this year.  It is only a consideration if you plant seeds saved from those fruits next year - then you may end up with some interesting crosses.  I have to remind myself of this every season, it seems.  In the back of my mind, for just a minute or two, I still wonder if that spicy serrano plant will corrupt my sweet little Italian peppers.

I find the science behind what is happening in the garden to be fascinating and I believe it is essential knowledge for an organic gardener.  Yet, when I walk through the garden and see the growth and change, it still feels like magic.  And that is the best part.

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