The Fate of The Quest to Save The Wee Bee Little Pumpkins

Wee Bee Little is a cute miniature pumpkin variety that also tastes very good and doesn’t take up too much space in the garden. I like it very much. It is my favourite pumpkin. Unfortunately, it started tumbling down a dark path of cross-pollination a few years ago.

What a Wee Bee Little should be: 2017.

I had all but given up hope of being able to grow Wee Bee Littles again, outside of growing and observing every single seed from the various lines I had saved. All of the lines had been ruined by cross-pollination with other pumpkin varieties. Some had fraternised with Small Sugar, which is a medium-sized pumpkin, some had fraternised with spaghetti squash and the weirdest one yet is one I grew in a planter on the deck this past season that looks like it could have cross-pollinated with a zucchini. Either that or a weird outcome from spaghetti squash. They are all the same species, Cucurbita pepo. I haven’t even grown zucchini. But bees pollinate the flowers and can transport the pollen to other plants, even in a neighbour’s garden.

For more detail about my cucurbit cross-pollination woes, read here and here. If only I had known sooner how highly susceptible pumpkins and squashes are to cross-pollination. I learnt the hard way. But maybe I can help others to learn before varieties disappear from their gardens.

The situation seemed hopeless because Wee Bee Little is not commercially available in New Zealand anymore. And we can’t just easily import pumpkin or other cucurbit seeds anymore because of biosecurity regulations to prevent the spread of certain diseases. That’s why we have a pretty small selection of pumpkin and squash varieties available now.

But then, I found the ray of hope: a small packet of untested Wee Bee Little seeds, hiding under some other seed packets in a container. These were from a pumpkin grown in a planter on the deck one year. I have a better seed storage system now. No more lurkers.

This season, that is the only pumpkin I grew of the Cucurbita pepo species out the back, aside from one plant of another Wee Bee Little seed line that I grew on the deck, which turned out to be the weirdo. As soon as I saw that its first fruit was dark green and elongated, I pulled off all its flowers and laterals (growing branches).

The weirdo Wee Bee Little cross on the deck. At least it turned orange in the end.

I grew two Jack Be Little pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) in the Front Plot, which had to be replaced twice because they got chomped by slugs or snails. The last two plants were stunted from being in their pots too long and I only ended up getting one little pumpkin. So there would not have been many flowers on them. I banned spaghetti squash for the season.

I planted butternuts in the main Veggie Garden and Chuck’s Winter in the Front Plot, which are of the Cucurbita moschata species.

Here’s what went down with the Wee Bee Littles. I planted four seedlings grown from the forgotten seed line in the Veggie Garden. Plants #2 and #3 had to be replaced because they got chomped by slugs or snails. A common problem. Plant #1 was the first to start flourishing. I felt nervous as it started flourishing a bit too much for a Wee Bee Little pumpkin. It’s growth habit was not compact and the fruit started getting bigger than they ought to. At that point I pulled off all the remaining flowers and laterals. It could stay and keep ripening its four pumpkins but it could not produce any more flowers. No fraternising with the others.

Plant #1 on the left was definitely not a true Wee Bee Little with it’s medium-sized pumpkins. It most likely crossed with Small Sugar. Also, it did not grow in a bush form (I cut it back) and its leaves are more rounded compared to the more pointy, rough Wee Bee Little-type leaves on the pumpkin plants beside it.

Plant #4 was a little more vigorous than a normal Wee Bee Little but it had small, Wee Bee Little-type fruit. Yes! In the end they are a bit elongated compared to the slightly flattened, round shape that Wee Bee Littles should be, so this one probably cross-pollinated with Small Sugar too, but throwing more to its Wee Bee Little parent. Plants #2 and #3 also grew small, Wee Bee Little-type fruit that are the right size and shape. YES! I think I got the Wee Bee Littles back! Plant #2 is the only plant left that is still growing a bit.

Finding out what pumpkins I got from each plant at the end of the season. Plant #2 is still hanging in there with a flower.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to bagging or closing up female flowers and hand-pollinating them with male flowers from the same plant because of the factors of early pregnancy, the Christmas Holidays and other things. So I cannot guarantee that seeds saved from any of the fruits will be true. But there’s a good chance that some of them will be, especially from Plant #2, which was the latest to get going after replanting. It also still has one small green pumpkin developing on it while there are no other Cucurbita pepo flowers left anywhere in our garden. The latest-maturing pumpkins from the furthest ends of the plant are less likely to be cross-pollinated. But I will probably save seeds from all of the true-looking fruits and label the bags well for further testing. And there are a few seeds left in the packet these plants grew from. I am extremely excited about all this!

The Great Pumpkin Carnival was today. And while I didn’t have a large selection of pumpkins to choose competition entries from, I think I got something more important: my favourite mini pumpkins back. Wee Bee Littles have once again graced the tables of The Great Pumpkin Carnival. You’ll just have to wait until next time to read about the carnival proceedings.

3 thoughts on “The Fate of The Quest to Save The Wee Bee Little Pumpkins

  1. The various cultivars of cherry are discriminating about their pollinators. They must bloom at the same time. Nurseries that supply cherry trees are happy to recommend compatible pollinators for particular cultivars. Otherwise, there are charts to identify such pollinators. It would be helpful if seed suppliers could do the opposite for some of their squash seed. I mean, they could recommend squash that would ‘not’ pollinate each other. I typically grow zucchini (because they are so easy), so (if I collected seed from my squash) could grow squash of other species that would not cross pollinate. Unfortunately, as you describe, many of the best cross pollinate.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funny how some plants can have such specific pollinating needs and some cross-pollinate like there’s no tomorrow. It would be helpful if seed companies put some more information up about pumpkins and squashes. Sometimes you have to do some googling just to find out what species a particular variety is because they don’t tell you. If it were me, I would put a warning in their description!

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      1. Cherry trees of similar types may not care who provides the pollen. They are probably more discriminating about when they get the pollen. Appropriate pollinators must bloom at the same time.
        All species of Yucca hybridize freely. No one has identified a pair that will not hybridize. However, it does not happen naturally very often because each species is pollinated by a specific species of yucca moth! That is crazily specialized!

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