Saturday, 30 July 2016

Mixing up the maximas

You might remember that I threw all cucurbit seed-saving advice in the wind this year in embarking on something of a C. maxima landrace adventure. I've let the bees do their pollen dance and then saved and planted whatever crosses they've come up with. Since I garden in an allotment, and some of my neighbours grow winter squash as well, there's bound to be some cross-pollination with varieties that I've not selected myself. As I'm fairly picky about my winter squash, I should confess that this instilled some doubt in me at first. If I've understood the science behind this correctly, however, cucurbits are mostly pollinated by themselves or by neighbouring plants, so most of the genetic material should in fact come from within my own winter squash patch. And anyway, it's fun to try and mess things up a bit to see what happens.

 The squash are starting to mature now, which makes this an appropriate time for a first evaluation of what the bees have been up to last year. My main selection criteria, of course, will be taste, but based on growth habbit and appearance I think I can already draw some preliminary conclusions. Without further ado, here's this year's winter squashes. Let's start with the crosses:

Both of the above are a cross of Sweet Mama (F1) and an unknown paternal line. Because of the salmon-coloured spots on the squash on the left I would speculate that there's some Galeux d'Eysines genes involved (which is a pity since I didn't think it was very good, but that's the name of the game of course). Since it's a fairly round squash however, which is unlike either Sweet Mama or Galeux d'Eysines, there might be something else going on here as well. The squash on the right looks like it might be cross with Sweet Meat (because of the colour) and/or Marina di Chioggia (because of the pronounced ribbed structure).

This is another Sweet Mama (F1) cross. I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture but this is one big squash, at least half a meter in diameter. This poses a bit of a mystery since I didn't grow anything this big last year. The only variety that comes close is Galeux d'Eysines, which can, apparently, get quite large. Now genetics isn't quite as straightforward as that; you could very well cross two medium squashes and up with a larger one, but still, there's a likelihood that this is actually a cross with something from one of my neighbours. It's also definitely more yellow/orange than the Galeux d'Eysines I grew last year, though apparently there's a bit of colour variation in the latter as well. The stripes are probably from Sweet Mama (it shows up in quite a few of the crosses, could be a dominant allele?). I'm selecting for small to medium-sized squash, and I've yet to come across an orange-skinned squash that rivals the green or blue ones in taste, so it's unlikely I'll be saving seed from this monster. It looks impressive though.

This Burgess Buttercup cross more clearly includes some Galeux d'Eysines genes. It has the stripes and shape of Burgess Buttercup, and the skin colour, size and some of the warts of Galeux d'Eysines. I hope it inherited its eating quality from its mother...

More Sweet Mama offspring. This squash has a slight teardrop-shape, which makes me suspect that it might have crossed with a hubbard squash. I only grew Blue Ballet last year, which is a scaled-down hubbard, and this is one is quite a bit larger than that, but still, that would be my best guess.

Then there's also some less exciting crosses:

This looks pretty much like a Sweet Mama squash, but it's more vining in its growth habbit and perhaps a bit more squared than your average Sweet Mama, so it might actually have crossed with Burgess Buttercup. 

A Burgess Buttercup cross that looks exactly like a Burgess Buttercup, if perhaps slightly less block-ish. It probably crossed with itself.

This is a Green Hokkaido cross. Again, I fail to see the difference with the original Green Hokkaido at this point.

Finally, I'm also growing a bunch of named varieties this year, mostly to add some more (supposedly) excellent squashes to the maxima mix, and also simply because I seem to have an unquenchable thirst for trying new winter squash varieties. I've only got one plant of each of these:

To the left is Sibley, to the right Guatemalan Blue. Both are banana-type squashes with supposedly excellent eating quality. Guatemalan Blue is significantly larger than Sibley (it's probably about 40-50 cm long), but not nearly as productive (I've counted 4 medium-sized Sibley squash on the one vine that I have, which is quite good for a Maxima squash, at least in my garden)


Ah, Marina di Chioggia (left), one of my absolute favourite maximas so far (taste-wise) but frustratingly late to set fruit and mature. I can't give it up though, so I'm hoping to transfer some of its genes into my proto-landrace. To the right is Bon Bon (F1), a Buttercup-type that I'm quite impressed with so far. I'm not sure if it just happened to get the best and most fertile spot in the garden, or if this is really just a superior variety, but this is one healthy-looking and vigorous plant. If I'm not mistaken I've counted 7 decent-sized fruits on this one vine, which would make it by far the most productive maxima I've grown so far.

Hokkaido, from Real Seeds. This seems like a pretty standard orange Kabocha squash, though it was probably one of the earliest to vine and set fruit. The leaves on this plant have a silvery appearance to them, which is a bit unusual.

Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead or Blue Kuri. I'm growing both, and they seem similar enough for me to have forgotten taking a picture of the other squash. At least Sweet Meat, whichever of the two it turns out to be, seems to be doing much better than last year, so hopefully I'll have the opportunity to evaluate the fully-matured squash this time.    

Crown Prince, a squash with a royal reputation.

Blue de Hongrie. Not so much Blue as white though...

Buen Gusto de Horno. I'm not terribly impressed with this one so far, though I had read a lot of good things about it. This plant isn't particularly vigorous and it has only put out one fairly small squash. The taste better be out of this world!


And last, and perhaps also least, Uchiki Kuri, which put out two tiny squash and then decided to just sit there and enjoy the sun. I'm not sure things will work out between us. 

So far so good, perhaps I've inherited a bit more Galeux d'Eysines genetic material than I had bargained for, but all in all there's some interesting material here to work with. Needless to say I already look forward to the taste testing. I've also become intrigued with the genetics involved in all of this, so next season I'll probably try to make some controlled crosses just to play around a bit. Sweet Mama x Marina di Chioggia seems like an obvious choice; I was already planning on doing that this year but I didn't get around to it.

The winter squash patch, with some reluctant watermelons in front.
The dark green plant in the front row is Bon Bon.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Peas on my mind

Well not just peas, really, but several representatives of the Fabacaea, that is, the legume family. This year I've embarked on a small legume trial that I've somewhat bombastically titled The Great Legume Project. My aim is mostly to try some new things and have some good fun in the process, but I'm also interested in discovering which legumes I could adopt as reliable food staples, that is, for drying and using throughout the winter. Ideally of course, I would just grow all of them, all the time, and indulge in the incredible diversity that the legume family has too offer. There's probably a risk that I would do exactly that if I had hectares of land at my disposal. In the real world, however, my growing space is limited (and seems to come under increasing pressure every year), and so is my patience for plants that demand a lot of pampering without giving much in return. Selection there will be! Anyway, this post is a brief overview of the different legumes that I'm growing this year, and how they're doing so far. I already have half-developed plans for trialling mung beans and cow peas next year, so this project is unlikely to end here...

Fava beans

Ah, good old fava beans. Hardly a newcomer in the garden, but I've only ever used them in their immature form. I know you can eat the dried seeds like any other bean, but I've never done so, so I don't know if they're very good. I'm about to find out. There's five varieties currently inhabiting the fava bean patch: Aquadulce, Solberga, Express, Green Longpod and Göteryd. The favas have suffered a bit from the abundant growth in the neighbouring pea patch however, which has overshadowed them more than I had reckoned with. If you think this implies a certain bias in favour of the peas on my part, you're probably right to some extent... To be very frank, I'm mostly interested in the immature favas, which I know are great. But I promise I'll try to contain myself and give the dried seeds a chance as well.


Whereas I'm yet to fully fall for the fava, I'm already a complete pea convert. I'll have peas in all their forms and shapes, please. The fresh peas I grow never make it to the kitchen though, I usually just munch on them in the garden, if the d*mned pigeons don't get to them first, that is. This year, however, I'm particularly focused on the dry/soup peas. I'm growing six varieties: Govorov, Klosterärt, Bjurholms småärt, Sollerön gråärt, Biskopens gråärt, and Gotländsk blåärt. The Govorov and Bjurholms småärt (Swedish for 'little pea from Bjurholm) are green peas, the Klosterärt is a yellow pea, and the other three are 'grey peas', aka black or maple peas. The maple peas are supposed to make a good substitute for chickpeas, so I'm really, really (really!) curious about them, I've never tried them. Sollerön and Biskopens have pink flowers, green pods and brown/red seeds, while the Gotländsk blåärt has purple flowers, purple pods and red/brown seeds. They're very ornamental, and all seem to be extremely prolific, particularly perhaps Klosterärt and Bjurhölms småärt. Sollerön and Biskopens were the last to flower, but all are coming along nicely now. I can't wait to dig my hands into a jar of homegrown dried peas! So yes, I suppose I should admit to a certain bias towards the peas, they've already earned their permanent residence in my garden. If only I could grow a lot more of them, somehow...
A wall of peas: Klosterärt and Bjurholms småärt

The peas are vying with the chickpeas for the title of most favoured legume crop. As anyone who has grown them will have to agree, there's just something incredibly loveable about chickpea plants, with their feathery leaves, their wavy growth habbits and their cute little flowers and seed pods. So yes, these are coming back next year as well, and in fact I've already ordered a couple of heirloom varieties from the US to seriously expand my chickpea trials next year. This year I'm growing three batches: Black Sicily, a black chickpea; Golden Dragon, an orange/yellowish variety; and a blend of standard tan chickpeas from various grocery stores. I sowed all of them at the end of March, together with the peas and the fava beans. The Black Sicily and Golden Dragon were quick to emerge, but cutworms got most of the seedlings. I therefore had to resow, after which more were cut down, and in the end I was left with only 15 plants or so in total. The grocery store mix never emerged, so then, a few weeks later, I decided to sow the entire jar, which must have been several hundreds of seeds. Only two plants finally came up. I suppose this is largely due to environmental conditions. The Black Sicily and Golden Dragon apparently were selected for emergence in cooler soils, which makes them valuable in my conditions, seeing that it's unlikely I would get mature chickpeas if I would wait until the soil has warmed before sowing. The plants seem to have enjoyed the warm spring. They are growing well and are bearing an abundance of pods. I suppose I'll need to save most of the seeds for next year's expansion, but perhaps a modest homegrown hummus is within the range of possibilities. Patience, patience. 


Lentil 'Gotlandslins',
with potato onions in between
Last year I grew 'Gotlandslins', a lentil variety that derives from Gotland, Sweden's largest island. The rabbits got most of them however, and what was left resulted in a pretty meagre yield. I wasn't all that impressed but couldn't resist sowing them again this year. This time I've managed to keep the rodents out, and the plants generally seem to be doing much better than last year. There's plenty of pods on the plant, so I might actually be able to eat some of the lentils this year. Overall, these are quite fun to grow, and they're definitely cute, but as a potential staple crop I can't help but feel that they're a bit too much bother. If only the seeds would be five times as large, and grow together in long pods. A bit like a pea, say... Now there's a plant breeding challenge.

Dry bush beans

Dry beans are perhaps the centrepiece of any legume collection, if only because of the vast variety of different colours and patterns that are out there. I had to seriously restrain myself when ordering bean seed, and even then I still ended up with an dry bean patch twice the size of any of the other legumes. I'm growing a bush variety of Borlotti beans, some store-bought Swedish 'bruna bönor' ('Brown beans'), Stella (another brown bean), Hutteriternas Soppböna (a pale, greenish, and very plump round bean that I received through Sesam, the Swedish society for the preservation of heirloom vegetable varieties), Brightstone (a brown bean with dark blue speckles) and Wolverine's Orca (a black&white bean that indeed looks a bit like an orca whale). The plants are flowering at the moment.


And finally, a bit of a outsider: lupin beans. The species that I'm growing (L. albus) is far from appropriate as a staple food (it's supposedly quite bitter and requires extensive preparation before it's palatable), but I nevertheless look forward to trying it as a novelty food. Lupin beans, soaked for extensive periods in order to leach out the alkaloids, are a popular snack in some Mediterranean countries. Supposedly there are a number of 'sweet' lupin varieties around that have been bred for lower alkaloid content and therefore require no soaking (particularly some strains of L. angustifolius), but these seem a bit hard to get a hold of. I've yet to get my hands on them at least, but they are definitely on the wishlist. The L. albus, meanwhile, has been treated somewhat unfairly the past few months; I all but neglected it during most of the spring and early summer. Despite the lack of watering and the dry spring it has done well and is now flowering quite happily.

That's about it for the (dry) legumes this year. So far so good.