Cucurbita maxima landrace in Switzerland

Last year I bought a slice of some squash at a farm stand. It had very dense flesh, ideal for searing in a frying pan and then adding to salads (I don’t like mushy vegetables in a salad. They have to be crunchy or dense). The taste was great in soup too.
I saved all the seeds in the slice and began to research what kind of squash it could be. My research led to varieties like Banana squash and Candy roaster.

This spring I sowed out some of these saved seeds and later planted them out into a manure heap. Additionally my mother planted one bought seedling onto the heap. Since I have seen the squash patch of the farm I bought the squash from, and it is very small and they had many different squash, I am quite sure that these seeds were all already crossed. So I sowed these F1 seeds in 2023 and I plan to sow the F2 and some of the F1 in 2024.
In the F1 there already is some diversity in fruit shape (see pictures below).

I plan to also add seeds from different squash I buy and taste this fall. Additionally a Candy roaster landrace is awailable here and I plan to add this.

My goals are:

  • Great tasting winter squash (for roasting in the pan and for soup): self explanatory how to select for this
  • long storage: prefer seeds from fruit that stored longer
  • Healthy squash: my biggest problem is mildew. Since mildew destroys the foliage, affected squash have less energy for fruit, which means it selects itself to some degree.
  • It would be great if they could be direct seeded
  • Resistance against low temperatures in spring and more importantly in fall, so the fruit ripen well
  • Resistance against high winds. Squash leaves are quite soft and the leaves stalks are brone to breaking. This leads to damage in windy weather. It would be great if I could select against that.

I am not sure where I am going to plant this squash next year. This year they were on the manure heap because a) this is the traditional place for winter squash plants and b) the sprawling monsters are out of the way there. But I had only 5 plants this year and they overgrew the whole heap, down the sides and out into the meadow. So…I need more space next year. I like the manure heap because there are no snails and snails are serious destroyers of young squash here. I can hardly select for mildew resistance if the plants all get eaten young! And yes, I know that maybe one could also select for snail resistance, but honestly I don’t see that here. Maybe I am pessimistic, but I prefer to plant them somewhere the snail pressure isn’t very high. Since Zuchetti survive the snail pressure in the garden, winter squash may too. So if I plant them into the garden, I have to grow starts and grow them to a certain size, which means that I have to grow about 30 starts at least…I would rather direct sow them…I could choose a combination: grow starts for the garden and direct seed some on the manure heap.

Concerning the manure heap: you are propably now all imagining plants that have too much nitrogen, but this isn’t really the case. It is mostly haygrass, with very low feed value, which we therefore use as bedding. This grasses have very low absorbency, which means that we have to use quite a lot of it and change it often. This means that the actual manure content is quite low. The color of the squash leaves doesn’t indicate a nitrogen surplus to me. So I feel that the squash on the manure heap are actually on a quite challenging location, because the upper 30 cm of the manure dries out very fast, which means they have to form deep roots. Since the squash shades the manure, the decomposition of the manure may even happen faster than without squash.

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It looks like you got a good head start with your seed. That is a huge advantage. You already have proven genetics already crossed together. Congratulations!

If you already put eyes on the farm where the seed comes from, do you also have an opportunity to ask where they got their seeds and what varieties they used?

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Since it is a self-service farm shop, I don’t see them that often while shopping, but if I see them, I will certainly ask! I know that they are not organic, but IP (integrated production) and I can see their vegetable field from the road. It is quite small and almost mixed cultures, for example, one bed of something and next to it already something different. This tells me that they do many things by hand or with small machines, which means they have to choose varieties that fit with that style. It tells me also, that they probably can’t use all that many pesticides, because the application would be very difficult. This means that they may use resistant varieties and beneficials.

Additionally, while I occasionally see plastic mulch, most of the plants are directly on the ground. They have some hoophouses with chilis, cucumbers etc… if I drive by and they have rolled up the sides for ventilation I see right inside and there is no plastic mulch either.

So, from what I can observe, their plants are cultivated in way I like. Additionally, their produce is very high quality.

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Nice project Laura. You’ve found a landrace variety? Interesting. I hope it will apreciate the conditions on the heap. Maybe plant some seedlings out at a more secure place so you’ll have loads of seeds to experiment with the following year.

I want to try some direct seeding next year. See what comes of it despite all the snails. I’ll make seedlings too because it’s unlikely more than a few will survive.

I’m going to plant quite some cucurbitae on manure heaps next year. My cattle ranger friend is going to lay them in his fields soon, hopefull they’ll have lost a bit of their nitrogen over winter… But his heaps are less mixed with straw than yours . I might face a lot of mildew problems.

I’ve found landrace seeds for the Candy roaster landrace here: Kürbis 'Candy Roaster' Bio Samen online kaufen.
The description says that the fruit have different shapes and the color of the skin can vary. This seems to indicate some diversity. Additionally, one member here even has a thread about his work with the candy roaster landrace: Modern Candy Roaster: Strarting from a legacy Appalachian landrace of Cucurbita maxima

So I plan to mix my own seeds from 2022 und 2023 together with these landrace seeds and plant a mixed patch in 2024. I plan to specifically use the Candy roaster landrace because it seems to be somewhat similar to the squash I bought and ate in fall 2022 (and saved seed from) so I hope it has similar qualities while also adding diversity.

I wish you luck in your direct seeding enterprise! And I am looking forward to hearing how your squash do on your heaps.

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Candy roaster does have very good flesh qualities. Sweet meat was very similar, so much that you couldn’t tell them apart by taste. Candy roaster did have downside with it’s skin being really easily damaged in the moist autumn weather so you might want to keep an eye on the bottom especially. I have some F2s growing and couple days ago I noticed one moldy leaf or maybe flower was in contact with skin and it had started to soften immediately. And they are fully developed (about 6 weeks from pollination) so it’s not like the skin is still tender for being immature. I have found that they also don’t keep very well even if they don’t get any damage. I think longest was till january, but most would start to spoil before that. Sweat meat on the other hand seemed to tolerate moisture outside and store longer. I think I had this year one till spring which is quite good for maxima.

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Interesting, Snails helping select Snail Resistant Seedlings? I’ve experienced this myself, Snails went through, ate about 40% of my seedlings but the rest made it. Hmm could it be that you have different snails? Maybe your Snails are more aggressive than mine. Would Ducks help?

How would Humanure work for transplanting Squash into? I’ve heard peeps having good success with Squash in Compost, maybe same extends to Humanure as well?

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Thank you for this information, Jesse. Well, I can certainly try Sweet meat and Candy roaster and see which one does better for me!

We simply have very many snails and all around the garden and even in the garden there are very many hiding places for them. Additionally we can have very wet weather, which they love. As soon as the plants have reached a certain size, they simply grow so fast the snails can not really harm them. So my strategy will propably be to make seedlings, plant them out and let the snails select for fast juvenile growth. If the snails take out too many, I can always try to protect them somewhat…
I don’t plan on using ducks because the snails come out mainly in the evening and at night, which is when the ducks should be inside because of foxes…Additionally my parents had Indian runners for years and we never felt that they made a difference…

Update on my plants this year: photos from 16.9.2023

There seem to be subtle differences in fruit color in the banana shaped fruit. Some are tan,some are striped and one is more orange. There are about 8 mature fruit in the patch, one was already picked and used by my parents, sadly too early to save viable seeds. The pumpkin shaped fruit are propably from the Rouge de Etampes plant my mother planted into the patch…There are quite a lot young fruit, I ate one raw directly from the plant and it was about as tasteless as a raw zuchetti, but not unacceptable. So we probably can ue the immature fruit as a zuchetti substitute. I have to pick the fruit in about the next 10 days, because my parents want to spread the manure in the pastures. I hope they will have enough time to ripen their seeds to be viable.

Concerning health: some plants are dying down because of mildew, some are still vigorously putting out new growth.

Quality control at work:

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Love the banana shape! And the cat.
I wonder about mildew.
My hypothesis is like this: at the end of the season the plant feels it’s days are numbered. In a great effort to provide it’s offspring all its energy it pushes all its energy and water out of the foliage and pushes it into the fruit. Meanwhile mildew grabs it’s chance.
I have no idea if this is true whatsoever, but to my thinking it’s logical.
But if it is true indeed and you sélect against mildew, you might be selecting against plants which sacrifice their foliage for a last boost in fruit and seeds.

And if your seeds store less energy, the growth of your seedlings could be hampered. Leading to snails killing your seedlings.

So i feel it’s important to ask people what they think of this hypothesis.

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I imagine humanure would work great with squash. David the Good specifically mentions having seen good results with that combination in his Compost Everything book.

One thing to remember with humanure, though: If you put fresh poop in a hole and cover it with soil and plant on top of it (this was traditionally called night soil), the pathogenic bacteria will not get killed, and may spread through your soil. This may not matter if the only surrounding plants are squashes, but it will matter a lot if you want to plant root crops or leaf crops nearby.

Now, humans have been using fresh poop as fertilizer for thousands of years, so it clearly works great. Just remember that humans have been dying of things like E. coli for thousands of years, too, and often it was because their food was contaminated by a high quantity of E. coli because of fresh human poop.

I highly recommend reading The Humanure Handbook, and following the advice about composting humanure to the letter. That’ll kill all the pathogenic bacteria, and then you can safely put the resulting rich compost anywhere you want without issues.

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I think it’s interesting! It seems to me it could very well hold true in many contexts.

I am not so well versed with squash. Historically we struggle to grow it here. This is our first growing season attempting to adopt landrace principles from the beginning, and even with that said most of our squash this year died as seedling. So if that’s enough to make my input uninteresting to a reader, here is your legitimate and inoffensive out!

I do solve problems for a living as a software engineer if that restores to anyone a modicum of interest.

Vis-a-vis this hypothesis:

Less energy into seeds > resistance to powdery mildew from more energy in plant, but also increased susceptibility to seedling predation

Plants have so many different strategies and mechanisms they can muster to solve problems. Some people will object to the word “strategy” and say that because plants don’t have consciousness, they don’t have the higher-level faculties needed to even make decisions, let alone plan and coordinate these decisions according to a particular strategy. I don’t think plants have consciousness the same way animals do but they do plan (or do a very convincing impression), communicate, and react.

It also seems to me there are so many possible ways a plant could appear to be resistant to powdery mildew. Many of them have less to do with plant genetics than they do conditions. But even if we just look at genetics, it seems to me there are many ways a plant could solve the problem of powdery mildew.

That is, if late powdery mildew is even a problem - - if its onset is only after giving abundant fruit, is it really an issue that needs to be solved?

Because there are powdery mildew infections that might be detectable but minimally impactful, there are so many variables influencing a plant’s susceptibility, and because there are so many ways a plant might respond to infection, I think it’s difficult to say with confidence that selecting for horizontal resistance [against powdery mildew] will make the seedlings of future generations more susceptible. But perhaps someone with a more nuanced understanding of squash pathogens and biology can speak more authoritatively on the subject.

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That is a very interesting theory! I think it’s entirely possible.

It’s an excellent reminder that we should always think carefully about where our selection priorities may lead us. There are unintended consequences to most things!

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Mildew does come even before end of season if conditions are right. Last year with hot weather and drought I had mildew taking over late july well in growing season. Almost all cucurbits had some. This year have barely had any even this late even though temperatures might not have been ideal. Watermelons, melons and cucumbers succumbed before any signs and otherwise there are just single leaves. What I read after last year is that it likes dry weather which would make sense. It might be that plants are weaker then, but it just might be to do with it’s reproduction. Haven’t looked into it that closely. Generally plants tend to be weaker if they have heavy fruit load and they do prioritise producing seeds over staying alive. So later/less producing might seem healtier, but it’s likely not because they are more resistant.

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Hmmmmmyeps. That reminds me. I’ve had that happen the first year the farmer dumped a patch full of one year old manure and clay someyhing like four years ago. It caught Mildew, white leaves but then it made new foliage and provided a very good harvest.
It’s been declining ever since Mildew and harvest.
I’m moving the population to another farmers manure piles next season. So it would be a nice occasion to check for that hypothesis : does very rich soil provide enormous growth which attract Mildew,…
It’s going to need monitoring.
Late blight might be a blessing in disguise but early blight is a brake on development for sure and possibly caused by nutritional overload. Confusing.
Do you share my observations Jessel and other folks on this thread?

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Thank you @Hugo, @JesseI, @H.B, and @UnicornEmily for your thoughtful discussion of mildew! I agree with HasBean that late mildew is no problem

This is exactly how I see it. I am going to save seeds from all fruit this year, regardless from what plants they originate. The exception would be if one fruit has an extraordinary nasty taste or spoils now (before the harvest).

On the other hand I agree with Jesse, that mildew early in the season is a problem. If the weather is hot and dry it is mostly powdery mildew, while downy mildew loves cold and wet. I plan to select against very susceptible plants by rogueing out young plants that get mildew even before they set fruit. In years like this, where the mildew starts very late, I will probably do no rogueing out.

I find Hugos theory very interesting, but I am not sure if I believe it, since the plant with the worst mildew doesn’t seem to have riper/ better fruit. But nonetheless I like the thought of selecting for plants that now when enough is enough and stop forming new fruits in the autumn. On the other hand, as long as the big fruit ripen fully (are not neglected by the plant to form new little fruit) I like a plant that stays vigorous until frost kills it. This has several reasons:

  • the little ones may be edible as zuchetti substitute
  • plants may better use the available season (wildly differing date of first frost)
  • it looks beautiful longer (shallow, I know).
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I’ve checked in on the cucurbitacea. No mildew nowhere. Not on yellow crookneck, maxima, moschata, mixta, cucumbers, melons…
They all have fruits, it’s been very hot and dry not long ago. Most are in récent compost. It’s very strange.
I’ll have to observe more.

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Additionally, I visited the farm where my seeds originate today and found out that my seeds came indeed from a Pink Banana squash. I was very surprised by the diversity in shape and size between all the Pink Banana fruit.

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Last year and the year before, I noticed a pattern with my squashes. The old ones that had borne lots of fruit got powdery mildew in August, right after we got our first summer rains. The young ones didn’t.

I noticed that some plants were more susceptible than others.

I didn’t notice a correlation with fruit behavior one way or the other (my best spaghetti zucchini fruits came from plants that got powdery mildew in August, and I had harvested them immature from those plants an entire month earlier).

My suspicion is that it’s possible for a plant to have a naturally longer and healthier lifespan without any unwanted tradeoffs. I suspect it’s also possible for it to happen with unwanted tradeoffs. So it’s a worthy sub-goal to keep an eye out for, as long as you’re careful to make sure your selection choices benefit your higher priorities most.

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My pumpkins were harvested by my parents on about the 25. 9. Yield is acceptable with about 10 mature fruit and some young ones. I tried the immature one lightly roasted and found it better than zuchetti, it had more taste. From the mature ones, I already tried the big long one and found it decent, but certainly would have benefited from letting mature a little longer. At this stage I am saving all the seeds. I am still adding new seeds from new varieties for example from a pumpkin I bought and liked.

If I compare my pumpkins with the one from the seed source farm, I have gotten most colorations they have, except the bluiesh long one. I wonder if one will show up eventually…

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To expand the growing space, i would probably shovel the manure heap into many small mounds (approx 18-24 inches diameter and 6 to 8 inches high) about 4 feet apart or so. Then plant the seeds into the smaller mounds, thinning to 1 plant per mound.
As the plants grow, they’ll spead out over top of the grass (or weeds etc) in the space between the mounds.

This is an easy method that is functional if you have a space where the aesthetics don’t matter too much, because it does start to look a little “bushy” and overgrown in the last half of the growing season when you can no longer trim the grass between the mounds.

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