This year we devoted an area toward the north end of the orchard to growing an assortment of heirloom summer, and winter squash. The intent was to see which varieties performed the best here, when compared side by side, under the same growing conditions.
With our erratic weather the last few summers, ranging from blazing hot with a chance of wildfires, to the coolest summer in decades, growing an assortment of varieties together in the same year seemed like a more meaningful way to compare them directly.
However, despite extensive site preparation last winter, to prepare the poor soil in that area for spring planting, we weren’t prepared for the meadow vole explosion that occurred by early summer. After a lot of effort though, we did manage to get the voles under control, just enough, so that these ravenous rodents didn’t undermine the entire project.
Losses of both winter, and summer squash, were extreme early in the season. However, although they’re now winding down, all of the summer squashes produced substantial quantities of fruits. Of the three varieties planted, Early Prolific Straightneck (yellow), Cocozelle (striped), and Black Beauty Zucchini, the only one we wouldn’t plant again is Early Prolific Straight.
Both Cocozelle and Black Beauty are a little more forgiving of not being picked for a day or two, but Early Prolific, if not picked when very small, has a tendency to rapidly become very seedy, at the expense of the flesh. Black Beauty and Cocozelle though were unstoppable, and it’s difficult to declare a winner based on productivity, flavor, or texture. They were both excellent, and found their way onto the grill, and into lots of Zucchini Orange Bread, or our new favorite Zucchini Fritters.
For a time it seemed we’d have no winter squash harvest to speak of, but despite the voles, every variety we planted produced something.
Many of the varieties, however, did produce significantly undersized fruits, secondary to vine damage, so stepping up vole control over winter, into early spring, will hopefully prevent that from happening next year.
In addition to the summer squash, we trialed eleven different winter squash varieties.
Anna Swartz Hubbard (Cucurbita maxima) wasn’t given much of a chance to grow by the voles. The vines of both Anna, and Gill’s Golden Pippin, were consumed almost as fast as they would grow. However, we did get a few fruits from this variety, which has a golden yellow flesh, often described to be similar in flavor and texture to a sweet potato.
This variety is supposed to have excellent storage qualities, but I doubt we’ll be keeping these long enough to worry about storage.
Boston Marrow (C. maxima), there is no question, was hands down the star of the squash patch this year. This squash is not only prolific, but earned a spot in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste as a result of its superior flavor. This old heirloom variety has more than 200 years of documented history. Fruits average between 10 to 20 pounds.
Our largest this year was 18 pounds! Impressive considering the damage this year to the plants. This is a long storage squash, and under ideal conditions should last until spring, and is traditionally used as a pie squash because of its fine texture. However, I’m also curious to try it in a winter soup. If this squash delivers on flavor, it will become our new favorite winter squash here.
Galeux d’Esyines (C. maxima) was a surprise, in that we expected some of the decorative pumpkins may not yield well, but this variety in fact was one of the better producing pumpkins this season.
It’s also one of the most uniquely attractive. These were somewhat undersized at 6lbs, and should typically range between 10-20.
Next year we’d love see how these do once the meadow voles have moved on, and the fruits can grow to full size.
Gill’s Golden Pippin (C. pepo) was beautiful, and prolific. It’s good that it was prolific because this was the most favorite of all the squash from our vole’s perspective.
These small yellow acorn squash plants were relentlessly gnawed on, and sadly the harvest is rather scant as a result this year. This is apparently one of the best tasting of all acorn squashes, and we can’t wait to try it. Next year though, we refuse to lose these to the voles!
Greek Sweet Red (C. moschata) is an anomaly in the winter squash patch this year. For some reason these vines are only just now starting to set fruit. Perhaps like our tomatoes this year this variety was set back by our cool and foggy summer. When mature they somewhat resemble an elongated butternut squash, both in shape and color, and should have a rich sweet flavor. They look promising, but it’s a little too early to tell how they’ll do overall. We’re not sure they’ll ripen before the season ends.
Jarrahdale (C. maxima) was almost a total loss, but it seems that one vine was spared. Jarrahdale is not a prolific producer even in ideal conditions, and in fact, the one vine that remained in the squash beds only produced a single, beautiful, grey-green pumpkin, but at least we have one to show for our efforts. In addition to being decorative, this is a long storage variety, with dry flesh, and good used in soups, breads, and muffins, but it’s almost too beautiful to eat!
Marina di Chioggia (C. maxima) tried to do well, and set lots of fruit, but she was the third favorite after Gill’s and Anna for the rodents, so although fruit was set, the vines were destroyed before they had a chance to mature. This should have been a lovely green warty pumpkin, weighing in at around 10 pounds, but it never had a chance. Next year, maybe we’ll try again.
Musquee de Provence (C. moschata) I like happy endings. This variety, we thought, had been obliterated at the time we published our vole post, but it seems they missed at least part of one vine, and so did we! While out harvesting, I was shocked when I uncovered not one, but two unmistakably ribbed pumpkins.
As most of the harvest is in, we’ve left these to mature a little longer, realizing we’ve now put them in serious jeopardy. Although the vole trapping does seem to be effectively reducing the population, they’re still out there, lurking.
Hopefully our rogue rodents will leave them alone while they finish ripening. We’ll have to see. Typically this variety ranges between 8-15 lbs, and is a long storage variety.
Potimarron (C. maxima) did have good fruit set, and the voles were gracious enough to leave a few to mature. We’re excited to try this variety as the flavor is said to be reminiscent of chestnuts.
If Red Kuri (C. maxima) looks remarkably similar to Potimarron, that could be because they’re essentially the same squash. The French call it Potimarron, and the British often refer to it as Onion squash. There is a subtle difference in coloring between the Potimarron and Red Kuri we grew this year, but we’re most curious to see how the the flavor compares between the two, and if we can discern a difference. The Potimarron plants weren’t as productive as Red Kuri, but I suspect that had more to do with the fact that Potimarron was planted just down hill from Gill’s Golden Pippin, and our lazy voles ate whatever was nearby.
Waltham Butternut, well, what can I say, there’s a reason this variety is popular. It’s traditionally been my favorite winter squash, and this year the plants set a lot of perfect small fruits. Long storing, with sweet flesh, ours are destined for lots of scrumptious butternut squash soup, and homemade roasted butternut squash ravioli!
So despite tremendous challenges in the garden this summer, with weather, and ravenous rodents, we still, no doubt in large part thanks to our bees, managed to eek out an acceptable winter squash crop.
We have yet to taste-test most of these varieties, and that ultimately will dictate which varieties we plant again. So far, of the varieties we tried this year, the only squash we’d not grow in the garden again is the Early Prolific Straight summer squash. Although it’s seedy texture is preferred by our chickens and turkeys, we don’t much care for it.
Gill’s Golden Pippin it seems is an excellent trap crop, so if we need to get creative catching voles next year, perhaps we should plant this at the other end of the orchard as a diversion.
Jarrahdale, from a productivity perspective would ordinarily be culled from our list. It takes up a lot of space, for very little in return, but it’s such a distinctive looking pumpkin, I’m sure we’ll find ourselves growing it again, even if its just to decorate the Thanksgiving table.
There is no doubt however, unless the flavor turns out to be massively disappointing, that we’ll be growing Boston Marrow again next year.
The entire project was worth it just to discover this variety, and who knows, it may even dethrone my beloved Waltham Butternuts as King of our fall and winter kitchen. We’re going to need a bigger soup pot!