So it turns out we undertook an accidental experiment this year. Without realising it we proved the unequivocal value of co planting when it comes to pollination levels in pumpkin crops. As part of our desire to encourage the kids to take a more active interest in the farm and it’s possibilities, we worked with them to begin their pumpkin business “nine to thrive”. While things started really well, enthusiasm was high, planting ran smoothly, rainfall was strong, and their appetite for what would result in cash flow was palpable. However despite cultivating the patch with the newly refurbished power harrow….which gave the boys the chance for a much desired lesson on the tractor, the pollination levels were so darned low.
Meanwhile in the new veggie garden next to the house we planted out our cucumbers and nurtured them along as one does in a new patch….the cucs came off by the bucketful and the kids took to eating them like apples…taking them whole in their lunch boxes every day. One plant was elusive though and we later realised it was because while it’s baby leaves looked like a cucumber it was in fact a pumpkin. At the same time in the same patch a volunteer raised its head and within weeks we realised that it too was a pumpkin. As the weeks and months ticked by we watched as the flowers in the veggie garden appeared and then swelled while the flowers in the paddock appeared and then promptly shrivelled without ever turning into pumpkins. Within a month we counted 18 pumpkins from just two plants in the veggie garden and just 8 pumpkins from the 16 plants in the dedicated pumpkin patch.
The boys began to jot their learnings in a diary and we pondered the water levels, the level of attention, the access to the paddock for the chooks ducks and geese and mused over all the possible reason for the such low pollination in the paddock by comparison to the veggie garden volunteers.
We struggled to draw conclusions but continued to talk. In the meantime we decided to turn over one of the other veggie beds and get a last minute manure crop in. We planted buckwheat and within a week it was up…within two weeks it was budding and within a month it was flourishing with flowers.
The next part was really what allowed our unintended experiment to draw conclusions. Within a week of the buckwheat flowers blooming we noticed a whole series of second generation of swollen little flower heads on the pumpkin plants in the veggie garden. At first it was just an observation but within three weeks we counted a whopping 36 pumpkins from just two plants. Given we live in Stanley where frosts are angry and regular it’s hard to know how many of these little babies will reach maturity and end up on our cellar shelves for devouring in July but the results were irrefutable. Planting a pollinator nearby to flowering crop has such a profound improvement in the yield that we will never plant a lone crop again….this learning is now playing into our mind about how to plant out the broader orchard….to plant in single fos as a monoculture which makes orchard maintenance easier or do we interplant every single row to enhance pollination and better mimic a natural growing environment.
Next year our pumpkins are getting planted in the paddock next to the nursery manure crop!