Sunday, July 6, 2008

More squash musings (and more seeds!)

My squash investigations reminded me about several appealing seed houses -- first, I ordered more seeds from Gourmet Seeds International (lots of interesting varieties and I wanted to check on the 'Summer Sampler Mix'), then I bumbled past Bountiful Gardens (uh oh, more seeds), and then Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds had all these cool eggplant varieties that I remember seeing in markets in Thailand and Laos, and finally, I wanted to order some 'Fourth of July' tomato seeds (from Burpee), after having bought some at a local farmer's market (and of course, needed to add some other things to make the order worthwhile).

'Fourth of July' tomato
My gardening companion, who loves cherry tomatoes, really liked them. They're bigger than cherry tomatoes, but still small, and very tasty.

The squash mystery has been focused by CEN's comment about the last post, who suggested they looked similar to 'Zephyr' - a hybrid offered by Johnny's Seeds.

Its heritage, according to Chow.com, is 'a hybrid of yellow crookneck and a cross between delicate (Delicata, presumably) and yellow acorn squash (both winter squash).' So crosses between C. pepo and C. moschata varieties certainly result in something resembling 'my' squash, although it's certainly not identical.

Curiously (at least to me, as a biologist), I realized (hmm) during my investigations that 'hybrid' in seeds doesn't necessarily refer to crosses between species (as it does in biological literature), but also to crosses between inbred lines of the same species.

So Cucurbita pepo, C. moschata, and C. maxima, all of which have been domesticated for literally thousands of years, have hundreds (and hundreds) of varieties that have been developed in different parts of the world, and shaped by breeding for different traits of fruit type and storage characteristics. So crosses between a distinct line of Zucchini, say, and a Crookneck variety, may be called a hybrid in a seed catalog.

And, adding to the complexity of Cucurbits, within each species, crosses within species are very easy, so seed-saving requires extra effort to keep a specific variety going, even open-pollinated types, and unintentional interspecies hybrids are not terribly unusual either (as IndustrialPoppy pointed out in her comment).

Cornell researchers recently revived 'Delicata,' a heirloom variety, as a favored winter squash by deliberately introducing 'Acorn' squash genes which increased disease resistance to mildew, resulting in a AAS award-winner. Both are C. moschata varieties.

I've had fun learning A LOT more about squash and its biology and origin that I ever knew before -- but that's why it's fun to be interested in the origins of our food plants and the natural world.

2 comments:

  1. I have a rather large vine with green and yello squash similar to your picture, but with limps or nodes on them. I don't know hwat they are or if they are edible. Were your edible?

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  2. Marcy, you probably have bi-color gourds, rather than the zephyr squash pictured.

    Did you come across this post: http://naturalgardening.blogspot.com/2008/07/more-about-squash.html The squash I described there were edible, but all you can do is try them (a small quantity!) Gourds can be quite bitter.

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