I have picked three types of squash for my garden. One variety each of Curcurbita pepo, maxima, and foetidissima. They should not cross breed.
The Table King Bush Acorn Squash (Curcurbita pepo) is a long keeping winter squash that matures in 75-80 days. My mountain property is not the ideal squash growing area, but these smaller bush squashes with a shorter growing season are worth a try now that I have raised beds where the soil warms faster and includes reflected heat from the trailerstead.
I like eating Acorn Squash and squash are easy to grow where warm enough. I will start them in my indoor gardening room a few weeks before the last frost date. Squash leaves are edible and taste good even though the fuzzy texture is off putting to me. To get around that, I slice the leaves thinly and sprinkle on top of soups or salads. Lettuce is usually gone by the time squash leaves are available, and I use the thin sliced leaves in sandwiches, too. Because I also eat the leaves, I plant at half spacing, reserving the extras for leaves. By the time their sisters are filling out and need the space, I pull the middle plants out and use them for greens.
All squashes initially blossom with male flowers before female flowers form. These are a delicacy and can be battered and fried, scrambled with eggs, or served on soups or salads. Having double the plants provides extra male flowers for eating.
Winter squash store well for good eating during cold weather, and baking them like my mom always did by slicing them in half and filling the centers with a pat of butter and brown sugar can hardly be beaten. I sometimes shy away from that rich, calorie-laden treat by filling them with orange juice and cinnamon instead. Any way you fix Acorn squash, they are high in fiber and nutrients.
Storage improves their flavor, so keep them a month or two before eating. If your climate is moist, make a mild solution of chlorine and water to dip the whole squash in then dry thoroughly. It will keep down mold spores. Here in bone dry New Mexico, I haven’t had a problem.
If it grows in the mountains, I want to save seeds and shift toward having a landrace variety better suited to my climate.
Japanese Heirloom Red Kuri Hokkaido Squash (Curcurbita maxima) is my second pick. It gets 5 to 10 pounds, fairly small for a Hubbard type squash, and should mature within 90 days. It is a bush type squash and I will also start it indoors a few weeks before my last frost.
This is my pick for pumpkin pie, bread, and all the myriad pumpkin recipes that proliferate starting in October. For canning, if I get enough, to last the rest of the year.
Commercially canned “pumpkin” is usually Dickinson squash (Curcurbita moschata) instead of pumpkin, but would not be this less common variety. In part because each Red Kuri plant usually has only 3 squash, making it too expensive to produce commercially for canned pumpkin.
I want the Red Kuri because it is drought tolerant for a squash, and its sweet flavor and creamy texture are delicious in pumpkin pie. It is also a great storage variety. If possible, I would make Red Kuri a landrace variety and save its seeds every year.
I am not sure I can grow squash here in the mountains, and not sure I can manage grow tunnels along with all I have to do this summer. So these are purely mountain trials.
However the garden squash does, I am sure I will be successful with Calabazilla (Curcurbita foetidissima). It grows all around the neighborhood and I got ripe seed from a neighbor’s plant. They may not make pumpkin pie, but the large number of seeds are edible to me, coyotes, and porcupines, with a whopping 31 percent protein. As far as I know, no one around here uses this plant.
First Americans (fighting terrorism since 1492) used the whole plant. I may use the seeds for oil production, they are 24-50 percent oil. The oil can be used for cooking, soapmaking, lamp oil, and so on. Since these are a reliable perennial, they are my best crop so far for oil production. Could it beat out the Italian imported olive oil I adore? That remains to be taste tested. It will beat out genetically modified rape seed oil a/k/a Canola oil, hands down.
The root system on this squash is of epic proportions and is why it can live in this very dry location with no supplemental water. The tuber can get up to 150 pounds and is large and thick. It has saponins and can be used for soap and shampoo. When dried, the root is 47-56 percent starch and it is the starch that can be used to make biofuel.
The large leaves stink when crushed but apparently cattle eat it anyway. My guess it that it would taint dairy milk.
I have made no mention of how pretty this vine is with its tropical sized leaves in an area where wind and dryness have conspired to make most native plants here grow tiny leaves. They have a coating for water retention, and are a little leathery. Calabazilla has orange squash blooms that glow against its blue green foliage, too. The big buff colored seed balls show for a long way.
Because this is a native and requires a fair amount of space, I will tuck the seeds around my Food Forest in sunny spots.
I love winter squash for its robust flavor and long shelf life. It is a good choice for those who want to feed themselves from their own property and attain some food security. In all it is a great addition to my Food Forest.