Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; firstname.lastname@example.org
A number of fruit and fruiting disorders have been observed in summer squash and cucumbers over the last two weeks including lack of fruit set, bottlenecking, pinched blossom ends, crooks, nubs, hollow centers or cavities, fruit zippering and scarring.
Lack of fruit set can result from a lack of pollination due to reduced bee activity, reduced pollen viability, or reduced pollen germination in high heat. Water stress will compound this problem. When day temperatures are in the 90s and night temperatures are in the high 70s, plants will commonly abort fruits or produce misshapen fruits. To reduce losses due to heat, apply irrigation so that plants are never under water stress.
Growers should note that some squash (mostly zucchini) varieties will still set fruit without pollination. Steve Reiners at Cornell did a trial in 2013 with 21 varieties of summer squash to determine which were capable of setting fruit without pollination. Female flowers were bagged prior to opening to exclude pollinating insects. After 1 week, bags were removed and fruit rated as to whether it was marketable or not. The results can be found at this web site: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/expo/proceedings/2014/Vine%20crops/Seedless%20squash%20Reiners.pdf. For example Golden Glory and Dunja Zucchini both were able to set a high percentage of fruit without pollination. Selecting varieties with this ability can reduce losses due to poor pollination.
Parthenocarpic varieties of cucumbers and zucchini that set fruit without pollination are also available and can be less susceptible to environmental extremes or conditions that limit bee activity in monoecious or gynoecious varieties. We currently are evaluation 17 parthenocarpic pickle varieties for adaptation to our region.
Lack of fruit set can also be due to harvest management. When summer squash or cucumbers are allowed to progress to an overly mature stage, plants will “shut down” and not reflower for a period of time. To manage this problem, frequent picking (every 2-3 days) is necessary.
Misshapen fruits commonly are found in high numbers with high temperatures and water stress in the summer or low night temperatures in the fall. This includes bottle necking, pinched blossom ends, crooked fruits or fruits with “narrow waists”. These defects are most commonly due to effects on pollination. Other stresses such as herbicide injury, root pruning in cultivation, or wind damage can increase the number of misshapen and unmarketable fruit. Potassium deficiency can also cause pinching at the stem end.
Hollowness or open cavities in cucumber and summer squash fruit can be caused by inadequate pollination and reduced seed set. Boron deficiency or the combination of boron and calcium deficiency can also result in increased hollowness.
Progression from marketable to unmarketable pickle fruits that are crooked, waist pinched, tip pinched or tip pinched with crook.
Small cavities in cucumber fruit. In a more severe form hollowness and cavities can render the fruits unmarketable or reduce processing (pickling) quality.