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Squash Saga – More Practice Needed!

December 30, 2009

October 2008 and the kitchen table was filled with squash, several with blue pieces of tape on their stems. All the hand pollinated squash retained the piece of blue masking tape that I had used to tape the blossoms closed. These were to be the parents for the next squash generation. As each squash was used, the seeds were scraped out, cleaned, dried and put in a plastic zip-lock with a slip of paper detailing the supposed parentage.

By the time I decided to try to save some squash seed that year, the first flush of blossoms had already come and set fruit, and the vines were already taking over the garden. Nevertheless, I went out with my masking tape and taped up both male and female flowers that were mature but closed – and then next morning I did the pollination. Looking back on it now, I know the mistakes I made. Some of the flowers were already a day old (they close up again) and the bees had already been there. The maze of vines was confusing as well. Flowers which I was sure originated from the Sweet Meat were actually from the Kabocha. Some of the problems became apparent as I watched the season progress. I knew before long that I had made mistakes using day old flowers, but I couldn’t remember which particular flowers those were.

As the winter progressed and we were gradually eating all of the squash. One day, doing the usual squash patrol, looking for any signs of mold, I noticed a piece of blue tape in the bottom of the basket. It came from the one good pollination for the sweet Buttercup that I was trying to propagate, but I could only guess which of the remaining three it was.

Going into planting season this year I had quite a selection of dubious seeds. I gave my dad a few of them to plant in his garden in Grants Pass. I needed more space for trials, so I dug hills in new ground near the parking strip outside the fence by the street. Each hill got a nice load of compost. The seeds were planted in the spring. All that remained was for them to grow and show their true nature.

The hills along the fence germinated nicely, but the plants never thrived like a squash should. They looked their best around mid June when they were just starting to flower. Soon the plants just ran out of steam. I tried to rescue them with additional fertilizer, but they just were not happy. I hand pollinated a few flowers so that if there was anything interesting I would have the next generation. But no sooner had the fruits begun to develop when I would discover that the neighborhood squash thief had picked them. Frustrated, I planted more squash inside the fence. Nevertheless, from these trials I discovered that I had inadvertently created an interesting hybrid Sweet Meat / Orange Kabocha cross. I could also eliminate several Buttercup plants that were clearly had a bush type habit that I did not want and I discovered verified one of the Buttercup lines I was aiming for.

Meanwhile, in Grants Pass, my dad’s garden was growing some of the same seeds as in my trails, but in better tilled garden soil. There, the Sweet Meats made dozens of large fruit, as did the hybrid cross. What a difference the soil conditions make! I think the squash outside my fence could not send out their roots into the compacted ground outside of the region where I had dug the hill. Once the roots hit the end of the cultivated area, the plants just stopped growing.

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