How lucky are we for this day of sun? We’ve been getting pretty darn autumnal around here lately. The last sunny days of summer are special for farmers as we wind down with the work and can admire our literal fruits. We pulled in well over two tons of winter squash this week, pictured above. We lay it out on black tarps for a couple weeks after harvest to let it “cure,” converting their remaining starches to sugars for longer storage and sweeter flavor. The hotter the better. Our hearts go out to farmers and friends down south who aren’t getting to bask in the warmth with us and our squash. In this wettest of years, we can especially empathize with the crop losses many will experience from wind and flood.
color, flavor, and variety
Pictured above are four of the hard squash varieties we grew this year. Overall, it was not an ideal year to grow squash, which are highly susceptible to mildew diseases that travel on storm-system winds and proliferate in wet conditions. In fact, some of the new varieties we trialed this year didn’t yield a single squash. However, the bulk of our plantings in the four varieties pictured above were largely unaffected. Organic growers often talk about resilience. Hard squash, much like our beloved potatoes, are a crop for which heirloom varieties can actually add to our resilience in an unpredictable climate, and all have interesting stories as well.
Two of the varieties above—candy roaster and Seminole pumpkins—are very old “landraces,” a German term for cultivars saved for their survivability in a given place. As a farmer or community of farmers saves seed over generations, selecting the seeds each year of the strongest plants, they build a very broad genetic bank within each seed. This super-diverse reserve creates plantings in which many plants will be more or less resistant to a wide variety of challenges they might face. You’ll rarely see 100% success, but most years will see very solid performances across a field. (Contrast this with other crops that have very specific and common diseases best addressed with single-gene resistances, like zucchini with powdery mildew or bell peppers with anthracnose). We can borrow from this broad resistance when we adapt old landraces to new areas that share climatic challenges. The southern Appalachian candy roaster is resistant to powdery mildew and black rot. Meanwhile, the Seminole pumpkin comes from the Seminole Indian nation, which formed as various tribes from across the South moved into swampy central Florida to resist further displacement by colonial whites in the 18th century. It is one of the only squash naturally resistant to downy mildew, and it can keep up to a year at room temp.
Butternut and delicata are both much newer to the scene. Surprisingly the ubiquitous butternut is only from 1944, when a Charles Leggett of Stow, Mass. hybridized more conveniently-sized neck pumpkins with gigantic and delicious Hubbard squash. The stabilized result from his nearest USDA field station is therefore a distinctly post-war squash, selected for (small) size and superb flavor for an increasingly nuclear, urban family consumer.
Delicata squash, on the other hand, was once a widespread Native landrace with unclear origins, but it fell out of favor as powdery mildew became more widespread in the 20th century. It wasn’t until 2002 that Cornell University successfully bred mildew resistance into this ancient and unique variety and turned it into a household name.
Wherever they’re from, try one today in a squash soup like this curried variant! (But our favorite is candy roaster.)
Have you been wondering how much time you have left to experiment with our myriad variety of salad greens, squash, and potatoes? Well, great news, our CSA (now and for a long time coming, featuring apples!) is still year-round! Our winter season will officially begin the week after Thanksgiving. Your existing credits will roll over to the new season, but starting next week we will ask you to put a small additional deposit in your account if you plant o continue on so that we can gauge interest at our various locations. If you need to add credit to your account, you will be able to do that at that time. More details coming, for now,
Bryan and Jo