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.

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