Pie & dry in the pumkpin patch

Yet another garden setback at Seven Trees. Or maybe I should say another learning experience! Our squash pit ended the season sadly bereft of the massive piles of winter squash I envisioned while poring over seed catalogs early this spring. I know other gardeners in our area had issues too, but many didn’t. I think it was a combination of factors – not enough compost in the soil, a cool rainy summer, and just plain wrong varieties for a chancey climate.

Now that it’s time to plan next year’s garden (and sheepishly buy pumpkins to process for the freezer), I do know that we’ll be using literal hills of nice rich Stella compost, instead of the stingier amounts I doled out this time. And we’ll spend yet more time poring over the Fedco Seeds catalog for good pie pumpkins (which aren’t neccessarily the usual “Halloween-looking” ones) that can start early and mature faster, so we’re not as dependent on a long hot summer we may not get. Why Fedco Seeds? Because they made the courageous choice to “fire” their biggest seed producer, Seminis, after it was bought by biotech giant, Monsanto. Read more about Fedco here too, with links to biotech/genetic engineering info.

So. Pumkpins. They like manure. They like water. They like long hot summers. But….and here’s the kicker….they also like being pollinated! If you plant certain kinds of squash near each other, there is a good chance you will get a mutant, like the pumpzinis we got last year. Avoiding mutants is challenging, but fun. What we learned is that there are 4 main species of pumpkin/squash, and 2 varieties of the same species can cross. Sometimes just the seed produced in each squash is affected. This means if you save seed, you might not get a true-to-type variety the following year. Mutants are also produced directly (though some information I have read says differently, I can only describe what happened at Seven Trees), like the pumpzini, a strange mixture of zucchini flesh with pumpkin shape & color. So what do you do?

Shop! When looking at catalog or seed packet descriptions, pay attention to which species your intended belongs to. All ‘pumpkins’ belong to the Curcurbita family, which is often abbreviated C. The latin name following it is the species name. Choose one variety from each family, and they won’t hybridize. This year we chose a delicata for our early table squash, potimarron for a later table squash (we haven’t tasted it yet, so no review) and Long Island Cheese (we only got one ripe one, 2 didn’t ripen fully) for our pie squash. We had to pass on zucchini and acorn this time, since they are both C. pepo and would have crossed with our delicata.

(Click on the names to be taken to a photo page with even more varietal information.)

There is C. moschata:

This group includes the pumpkins frequently used for commercially canned pumpkin. They tend to be oblong pumpkins and have tan skin.
Other members include:
Winter Crookneck Squash
Butternut Squash
Cushaw Squash

C. maxima:

Whether you consider these to be squash, pumpkins, pumpkin squash or any other name, these are the beasts of the pumpkin patch. Members include PrizeWinner Hybrid, Big Max and of course the infamous Atlantic Giant.
Other members include:
Hubbard squash
Boston squash
Most Winter squashes
Turban squash
Banana squash
Buttercup squash
Lumina


C. pepo:

These are the Jack-o-lantern varieties you most commonly see, and the cute little pumpkins that fit in the palm of your hand. Common pumpkin varieties include Connecticut field pumpkins, Howden pumpkins, and Howden Biggie pumpkins.
Other members include:
Most summer squashes
Gourds
Pattypan Summer squash
Crookneck squash
Scallop Summer Squash
Zucchini

And C. mixta, which isn’t as common as the others, the most available variety being the pumpkin cushaw whose proponents claim it makes the best pie.

The italicized descriptions came from The Pumpkin Nook, a wonderful resource for everything you want to know about pumpkins – history, cultivation, pollination, selection, harvesting and so on. You can even read about (and draw your own conclusion on) bonding with your pumpkins!

Speaking of bonding with pumpkins, we’ll be bonding with the last of last year’s pumpkins when we bottle the pumpkin porter next week. We got a quick taste when we transferred it to another carboy for secondary fermentation, and it’s shaping up nicely. Smooth full body, lots of spice and a hint of pumpkin. Can’t wait to try it fully fermented and carbonated!

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