Designer Zucchini

When Cornell asked the organic farming community what they would like in a zucchini, I can imagine the response.  We want a prolific zucchini that bears fruit as fast as you can pick them.  A nice nutty sweet flavor with dense flesh that doesn't cook up mushy or taste bland.  How about an eloquent stream-lined shape or with subtle ribs which are so favored by gourmet chefs.  How about some striping or mottling that won't show blemishing or scars on the fruit like some of the new zucchini hybrids?  Make it open-pollinated so we can save seed for another crop.  Give it a vigorous plant that resists squash borers and beetles like the yellow summer squash.  Make it drought tolerant.  Most of all give it disease resistance so the plant stays healthy and productive the whole season.

NY04-833-1L is the name of a routine breeding line that Cornell University plant breeders produced.  One of hundreds of breeding lines that they produce every year.  It's novel in that it addresses a part of the wish list of the organic farmer and gardener.  NY04-833-1L is the second generation from a cross between a farmstand favorite in New England, "Costata Romanesco" and a special strain of "Early Prolific Straightneck" which is Mildew Resistant.  Both parents produce a large vigorous plant.  "Romanesco" is a zucchini of flavor and class but can be a frugal bearer.  "Early Prolific" is a workhorse that can keep on going and going but is prone to some of the faults of it's crookneck ancestry.

I didn't get to see the F1 Hybrid which was produced by the Costata Romanesco x Mildew Resistant Early Prolific Straightneck.  When a first generation hybrid is produced all the offspring will have the same characteristics and generally there will be some characteristics of both parents.  Dominant traits will show up, recessive traits may not; if you remember Mendels Laws from High School Biology.  The F1 generation consists of uniformly similar plants.

We received seeds from the F2 generation resulting from the crossing of those identical hybrid plants.  It was the F2 that was given the name NY04-833-1L.  All I knew was to expect the unexpected.  When somebody of gardening authority tells you not to save the seed of F1 hybrids, it won't be Cornell breeders.  It's precisely theunexpectedyou want.  Every plant may produce a different kind of fruit and may have differences in disease and pest resistance, productivity and vigor that will allow it to compete with weeds orkeep going in wet and cold summers.

The predominant chartreuse overtones in the 2007 crop of Romanesco x Success PMR

The predominant chartreuse overtones in the 2007 crop of Romanesco x Success PMR

This Cornell cross has probably been one of the most exciting breeding lines that I've worked with.  For me, I'm seeing many nice features in the plants and fruit of this cross.  I imagine I could be quite happy working for the next couple of years with just the seeds from the fruit of this generation in order to develop a variety that my farmstand customers will ask for (they'll say, "I need a bushel of that chartreuse zucchini, the one you had the other day") and that I can grow and harvest with ease.  Actually, I may be able to develop a useful product in much less time if I'm willing to accept some variability in the fruit.  But each year I select out that perfect chartreuse squash to save the seed of,  I'll be closer to a sustainable, consistant performing, open pollinated variety.

Since I'm participating in the Public Seed Initiative, I know that my selection of F2 plants will be important to the project.  Selection often means tearing out inferior plants and allowing only the superior to cross breed and save the seed of.  Only I really don't know which plants will have the best qualities.  I have ideas, but I'm not sure because I haven't observed the plants under disease attack yet.  As a result, I "self" each plant if I can.  Hopefully,  there will be a male flower ready to pollinate an open female on the same plant.  Then, the night before they will open, I will tie both blossom buds closed.  Next day I'll open the blossoms, remove the corolla (petals) and pollinate the female. Then I label the tie (a piece of survey tape) with a permanent ink Sharpie which simply reads "x self".  When the fruit ripens to "gourd or a pumpkin-like" ripeness and the skin is a hard "shell" I will cut open the squash and save the seed. Seed from this kind of cross (the F3 generation from a "self") stands a good chance of producing plants and fruit which have a greater similarity to it's parent.  This is especially good if I find that one of the F2 plants had truly superior qualities.  If I allowed that plant to "sib" or cross with others in the same row, those qualities would be diluted or covered and possibly lost.  Sibbing the F2 generation could be a good thing if some of the plants had good qualities but also drawbacks and the other plants had good and bad characteristics which were complementary.  Giving it another generation to make sure disease resistance was effectively imparted to the population might be a good reason to sib.  Not catching a female flower before it opens and can be tied shut and then seeing it open the next morning being visited by bees is the reason for most of my sibs.  They aren't very controlled.  I might consume the fruit or allow it to produce seed, again depending on the trait I see in the plant and it's fruit.

There is another kind of cross I might make at this point, a backcross.  I really like one of the plants that produced one of the fruit pictured here.  I won't tell you which one.  So far,  it has not succumbed to powdery mildew (one of the reasons that zucchini will rot and plants will die long before frost) but it might.  To increase the probability that disease resistance is imparted to the next generation (F3), I would cross this plant with the disease resistant parent, "Mildew Resistant Early Prolific Straightneck", actually a Cornell release named "Success PMR".
In 2007, the yellow stipes on pure white of the original "Yikes-Stripes" of 2005 and 2006 is gone and the color contrast is much less.  Working with such a small population as I do and without the best isolation technique, I may have lost the characteristic I valued the most.  A disappointment unless better colored fruit show up in the remaining plants that still haven't produced fruit.

This all seems very simple, there is really no mystery in plant breeding but it does take care in careful isolation technique and record keeping;  however, the years and hundreds of crosses between wild gourds and edible squash to just develop that one stabilized, open-pollinated parent, "Success PMR" makes me appreciate the work that our publicly funded breeders such as those at Cornell do on an on-going basis.

A New Romanesco Zucchini

Everybody likes the long, slender Costata Romanesco. Very close in it's genetics to it's relative, Cocozelle which by the way is one of the original zucchini introduced and grown in America initially by families of Italian immigrants around the turn of the 20th century. Cocozelle has a heritage but Romanesco is wilder, firmer with a flavor and shape that gourmet chefs really like. Romanesco produces flowers in great quantities but lacks disease resistance and fruit productivity.

This is one of two F2 crosses involving Romanesco as a parent designed to impart disease resistance to the popular Romanesco that Flanders Bay Farm received. One of many Cornell University crosses targeted at helping the organic farmer, this one was released unfinished to cooperating farms under the Public Seed Initiative which is administered by NOFA-NY.  I received seeds of a second generation cross (Costata Romanesco x PMR Caserta) F2 from Cornell via the Nofa sponsered OSP.  The initial hybrid of the cross of the two parents probably produced uniformity as F1 hybrids do, all the hybrid plants were uniform in fruit and plant habit. We received seed from siblings of that hybrid that were crossed. When you save the seed of an F1 hybrid you get diversity and true to our expectations every plant is a little different, their fruit is too. The F2 generation is what breeders really want to look at.  In the first year after planting the F2 cross only one plant was bearing fruit with the pronounced ridging of Romanesco but most had the attractive stripes of Romanesco.

We will pollinate the female flowers with males on the same plant so we get a "self" which will produce offspring more like this one parent than the variable plants we now see in a row. Which seed we save from this summer's "self" crosses will depend on our observations of the plants through the summer.  This produces the material to select from based on what characteristics you're looking for.  I'm sure that Cornell and other participants in the project are interested in primarily disease resistance.  Powdery mildew resistance is one of the primary reasons that this cross was made.  But breeders are always looking for a number of characteristics and so too, do we.

The idea is to let the organic farmer select the fruit qualities from the diverse second generation cross between Romanesco and a disease resistant strain of Caserta and select for the particular growing environment of the organic farm. The unique collaboration between the organic farming community and the professional breeders at Cornell could lead to an important gourmet summer squash coming soon to your neighborhood green market.  There have been a number of selections that we made from the cross.  There is a selection of very a productive vigorous plant that produces a gray with dark green mottled and striped skin that we like and have given a working name as "Super Caserta" and also an attractive very pale green with light green stripes that we find very appealing when harvested young.

The above picture shows the results of 3 years growing the Romanesco/Caserta cross.   I know that we should be looking to stabilize selections for uniformity but I continue to cross still yet unstabilized selections like Super Caserta with white zucchini and other long green zucchini from my collection.  It may not be suitable for the chain grocery stores, but my customers expect to see the assortment of zucchini that they can pick and choose from and so I continue to save and plant the dozen or so selections and crosses made from the original Cornell material.  It works for me.
 

Round Summer Squash

Round Zucchini have been popular in Europe for years. The Italians have their dark green Tondo di Piacenza, the French have the light green speckled Ronde de Nice, the Dutch have the "Roly Poly" (a loose translation from Burpee's marketers) and the British have their single serve striped marrow, Tender and True. There is even chinese produced seed of an almost white round zucchini. The common thread is that these zucchini are actually rather nice; solid, nutty, sweet, and as a bonus they are extremely early producers and are prolific if you keep harvesting the fruit. The compact plants are real workhorses of efficiency. They laughed at the limited nutrients and water of our sand lot trials!

Select the non hybrid types or if you want to check out the pedigree of the hybrids, save seed of those too. This year we made crosses within the same cultivar simply by "selfing" the female flower with pollen from a male on the same plant or "sibbing" another plant of the same variety and we also made crosses between hybrids and similar open-pollined varieties to preserve as many of the hybrid's characteristics and develop a variety that performs well for us and that we're able to save the seed of from year to year. It may take a few years or generations of selecting the plants with the characteristics you like but eventually you can develop an open-pollinated variety that breeds true and has the characteristics that you want.

This blend of round and near round types that we have marketed to chefs and specialty produce stores on the East End of Long Island.  We can't produce enough to keep up with the demand since our primary work on Flanders Bay Farm is breeding sustainable varieties and then offering the seed to the local organic farming community.  Our blend has a working name "Orbit" and consist of stabilized lines in all zucchini colors from yellow and silver to dark green and bicolors, all meant to be used in the baby (2-3") stage.  We hear customers exclaim, "they're so cute".  We started working on the varieties that comprise the mix several years ago (actually in the 1980's) and recently added some odder shapes to the mix.  It is a sustainable mix.  All we have to do (and you too, if you choose to save the seed) is make sure to self-pollinate the specific kinds to maintain type.  Some new developments include an open pollinated bicolor developed from Hollar's One Ball and some of the genetics from "Lemon" an old time yellow squash from Baker Creek Seeds and a very productive modern yellow hybrid, Papaya Pear.


A few words on hand pollinating:

Squash are monoecious (one plant bears both male and female flowers). In the upper photo I am using the male flower (with it's corolla removed) as a paint brush. I will transfer the pollen from the yellow anthers to the female stigmas. The female blossom also has it's corolla removed. You can see that the stigmas are attached to the ovary or yound fruit. I use survey tape to tie around the hand pollinated blossom and write down the parents (such as Eight Ball F1 x Tender and True) or if I use a blossom from the same plant I write "self" indicating that it was pollinated by itself or "same" if it was sibbed (crossed with a sibling).

Insects work squash flowers transferring pollen among zucchini and any other squash that they have access to on their foraging sprees. Zucchini types (all shapes) can cross with each other as well as patti pans, yellow summer squash like crooknecks, many jack-o-lantern type pumpkins, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, delicata squash and some others. I like genetic diversity but I also like to eat zucchinis that aren't stringy or taste like a pumpkin and often, if I have a rare variety, I want to preserve it's purity, so I will make a major effort to prevent insect pollination (more on that later). If I am just raising zucchini and I don't mind if they cross then you can let the bees do their work and not be concerned about making hand crosses. Of course, if you're not saving seed- let them all cross, it won't affect this years fruit.

One of the top producers of squash seed in the U.S. is a wholesale seed company known as Hollar Seeds. They have produced seed of a delightful open-pollinated round zucchini known simply as Round Zucchini. Great as a mini vegetable harvested the size of a golf ball, nice for stuffing when it's the size of a softball. Recently they've concentrated on developing a trio of hybrid round zucchini, a yellow one named 'One Ball', a dark green named 'Eight Ball' which won an AAS award and a solid light green one named 'Geode'. While the dark green and light green varieties are similar to available open-pollinated kinds, the yellow one is of real interest. I'd recommend growing all three of the Hollar squash hybrids for your farmstand and figure on picking one or two fruit from each plant each week. Market the billiard ball sized zucchini together in a large display basket and keep picking them young so they will continue to produce.

Over the year we've grown all of the Hollar round squashes we could find and as many of the other round zucchini. People appreciate a zucchini alternative. They're fun to grow and a good cash crop since they're considered by many of our visitors as a gourmet item.  The Hollar varieties are available at many retail seed outlets. Check the pages of your favorite seed catalog.

These round zucchini from the above plants have matured to form a tough pumpkin-like or gourd-like rind. You must leave them on the plant until their colors have changed and they develop that hard skin. It takes several weeks beyond the immature stage that we usually consume summer squash at for the squash to mature. These are on the porch where they will "after ripen", for an additional month. The after ripening gives the seeds an extra amount of time to gain food reserves which will allow for healthier, more vigorous seedlings and better germination. Then they will be split with a sledge hammer (yes, the can be tough), seeds will be scooped out, washed in a mild soap solution and thoroughly dried to the "breaking" stage before storage. We used to spread out the seed on newspaper to dry but now we use drying screens which provide better air circulation.

The Diversity of Scallop Squash

Scallop Squash

Patty Pan or Scallop Squash are some of the earliest summer squashes described in the literature from the 1700's in early colonial America.  They were one of the squashes domesticated by the Native Americans and grown by northern tribes.  For a while they fell out of favor, but now they are all the rage when harvested at the 2-3 inch size when they are delicate, tender and beautiful lightly steamed, seasoned and plated with the main course. 

scallopsd.jpg

We have kept old fashioned strains of White Custard, Yellow Scallop and Green Tint and made them more diverse by crossing them with some modern hybrids and then working to stabilize each of the solid colors and bicolor kinds that were selected.   Below are the crosses and parents used to produce the seed crop for 2007.  We continue to work on stabilizing our selections to keep the diversity of color yet maintaining a consistant scallop shape. So far we have the following breeding lines: White Scallop, Green Tint Scallop, Yellow Scallop, Dark Green Scallop, Green Striped Scallop (see below) and Yellow Striped Scallop. These are all large scallops that we are now stabilizing from the mass cross that we made many years ago.

We were so glad to still have viable seed from a cross we made many years ago using an heirloom Mandan tribal squash and the source of dark green/ light green mottling (below).  This year, a pleasant and unexpected variation (same pattern but in yellow/cream) showed up.  There must be a gene that controls the pattern that we bred in but what is the cause of the expression in the very different colors?  We hope to be able to stabilize the new development.  Note how the blossom end shows the beginning of the dark green/light green combination on the yellow/cream scallop.
 

Asteroid Green Striped: New for 2010

We managed to produce a large quantity of our new squash for 2010; Asteroid Green Striped. Several years in the making; to stabilize the color pattern trait we performed "selfs" on all the fruit we saved for seed. In other words we first identified plants with fruit of a good color pattern (green or light green stripes) and hand pollinated the blossoms; performing crosses only among those identified plants. We believe we have a nice stabilized selection. Our yellow striped selection, Asteroid Yellow Striped has been a bit more fickle in the process of stabilization but we believe that in another year or two it will be where Green Striped is today. We also did a comparison planting of Pattison Squash such as Juane et Verte (the nearest variety for comparison) which produces a very different fruit. Our Asteroid line produces a true scallop similar to Patti-Pan White which doesn't develop the tough skin that the Pattison's do. The striped pattern of Asteroid Striped kinds are particularly attractive at very young stages; Patterson squash develop their best coloration with age.

Breeding Squash

The Art of Selection

When plant breeders talk about selection, they're generally discussing the merits of a plant from a scientific point of view.  I was asked by a graduate student doing a study on the effect of the Organic Seed Partnership on farm based breeding how my background as a geologist helped me breed new varieties for my farm.  I was at a loss because I think of plant breeding as an art, an almost lost art since it has almost disappeared as a government funded position except for a hand full of public supported breeders at the old "land grant" universities.   And with public supported breeders, it is an art.  I was drawn to geology by the beauty and diversity of the landscape, minerals brought up from the Earth, fossil life imprinted in rock and the desire to learn everything I could in order to understand what I saw.  The same kinds of things draw me to plants.  The beauty and the diversity and the desire to learn everything about them.

cyel1.jpg

A cross between two zucchini with differing characteristics can produce variation in their offspring.  It never fails to cause me some astonishment when I grow the seed of those crosses.  It's like opening Cracker Jacks looking for the surprise at the bottom of the box.  I marvel at the colors, patterns and shape, most are like the unexpectedprize.  As a scientist though, I'm pragmatic and I know that I ought to be better at collecting the data for each of the offspring as I make decisions on what fruit I will collect for seed and which I will discard.  How is one better for my farm environment and my customers than another?  Geology also deals with real world applications such as the planning for geologic hazards and the conservation and sensible extraction of resources for the future.  Such is art and science.

Elizabeth Dyck who has directed the Organic Seed Partnership and works with Public Breeders, Jim Myers from Oregon State University and George Moriarty from Cornell University (above) to teach farmers how they can become more involved in the development of vegetable varieties adapted to their individual farms.  Both Jim and George look critically at each new plant from a cross.  Both take extensive notes on each.  Jim uses a PDA with EXCEL spreadsheet software, George uses index cards taking notes in the field like his predecessor, Professor Emeritus of Plant Breeding at Cornell,  Henry Munger.  Depending on the kind of vegetable, the criteria for evaluation differs.  To develop varieties for organic systems also requires one to look at a different set of criteria than for traditional systems.  Organic farmers and gardeners have a more diverse environment, a different soil biota and a new set of selection parameters since they work without the herbicides and pesticides commonly used in traditional farming.

With expert plant breeders assisting, a group of Long Island farmers participating in the OSP Workshop at Flanders Bay Farm select male and female parents to cross in a diverse planting of zucchini.  The night before, an equal number of mature male and female flowers ready to bloom the next day were taped closed with survey tape (twist ties or masking tape can also be used) to prevent insects from getting at them when they first open the next morning.  You can tell the cucurbits about to bloom because the buds show color the day before. 
 

On the above photo (left), the female bud (fruit attached) on the bottom is large but does not show color yet and is still two days from blooming, the one above it is ready to be pollinated.  The corolla is removed at the same time the tape is nipped off from both parents the next day and the male is used like a paintbrush to thoroughly coat the female pistil with pollen (right).  Given each row had a different kind of squash: zucchini, delicata squash, pumpkins, acorn squash, round and scallop squash and some bizaar oddities to work with, what guides the decisions you make when choosing the parents of a cross.  Since many squash and pumpkins belong to the same species, Cucurbita pepo, all the diverse squash that had blossoms ties shut could cross to produce viable offspring.  Most participants stayed within the row to preserve the characteristics of a specific kind of squash (find a male scallop squash to cross with this female scallop) and even opted to "self" a particular plant liking the characteristic of the one plant and wanting to preserve the characteristics .  Some noted the vining characteristics of some squash and opted to avoid any potential parent with vining characteristics wanting to maintain compact bush habit.  Most did not cross the aisle (mating pumpkins with zucchini for instance) except in an instance when it appeared that no other tied male blossoms were available!  I jokingly admonished them, "never cross the aisle to another row". 

Of course, I often do.  We have crossed very sweet acorn squash with zucchini to develop a nice sweet summer squash although the bizaar shapes are not about to find public acceptance.  Many immature acorn squash make outstanding zucchini substitutes, something that East End chefs should consider as they put in their orders with the farmer.  Oved Shifress, a Rutger's plant breeder until about 1970 who identified the precocious yellowing, B gene in squash was a strong advocate that Jersey Golden Acorn (which incorporated the B gene) be eaten as a summer squash for the best "sweet corn-like flavor" but the public unfortunately, just never "bought" the idea.

Sprawling Habit:  An unexpected trait from a Cornell Experimental Cross.

How do you select parents and what do you select for?  The sprawling zucchini is a selection from one of the Cornell Crosses.  The initial cross was to impart powdery mildew resistance into summer squash.  It is interesting in that the sprawling character was not anticipated.  But in the F2 generation, unexpected characteristics can appear as genes for various traits segregate.  Thisunexpected sprawler starts out with a bush habit, bears it's first fruit at the center (as bush zucchini do) and then sends out laterals in all directions.  These laterals can sprawl several feet and produce a female fruit at almost every node.  The yield and flavor of the sprawling zucchini is considered by many to be superior to bush zucchini.  George Moriarty feels that it is all that extra leaf mass that helps improve the crop.

Vining and sprawling zucchini resulting from intentional or unintentional crossing with other pepo species occurs often.  Many farmers and gardeners would select against a sprawling zucchini.  They take up too much room and interfere with cultivation.  In Israel where hydroponics helps to "make the desert bloom",  this kind of characteristic was viewed as potentially useful.  Now, in hydroponic greenhouses in the mid-east and elsewhere, "sprawling" types of zucchini are trained vertically up support lines in the same way that European greenhouse cucumbers are grown.  In a greenhouse, profit is determined by productivity per square foot.  So, what one person selects against by yanking out of the row, others might flag as an important trait.

Such is selection, partly an art and partly a science.  Seeing new value that others might miss.  The scientist in me looks at yield.  I want a productive plant and my notes on the plants from a cross will reflect the yield.  I'm looking for disease resistance.  On the advise of Michael Glos from Cornell, I made a solution of powdery milder spores.  One handful infected "whitened" leaves (check your lilacs or jerusalem artichokes as a source of pm), one part water and a blender.  Spray over your seedlings.  Select the best of the survivors to plant in the field.  Ah, Darwinian selection at it's best.

I also notice that bean beetles and other insects are at work eating holes in my zucchini leaves and vine borers at the soil level are burrowing the life out of the stem.  Some zucchini are not affected.  "Put them on my note list",  my science training says.  Cross pollinate those squash.  Save the seed.  Plant them out next year (repeat the experiment).  Plant them next to a control (ordinary zucchini).  Observe.

When you hand pollinate a blossom (best in the morning when the flower is fresh and the bees are working), you will want to protect the female flower from other stray pollen that can be carried to the pistil by insects.  George Moriarty passed out the critical supplies at the OSP workshop and explained the technique.  One small paperbag placed around the pollinated blossom, fold corners down to seal the opening around the flower stem and then secure the folds with small bendible metal clips (or use a mini hand stapler).  Use a wire tie twisted around the stem of the pollinated fruit to identify it when the fruit ripens.  I use a piece of plastic survey tape and a "super permanent" ink Sharpie (permanent doesn't mean legible at the end of the growing season) to record the parentage of my cross and tie it around the stem (flower peduncle).

Oh yes, I normally do not bag my blossoms;  instead I tear off all the petals from a pollinated flower and hope that insects will bypass it, also I hope that there is enough pollen from my efforts covering the pistil and stray pollen will not effect the cross.  Lastly, I pollinate late (10 am) and so most pollen has already been cleaned out of the open blossoms by insects.  Does it work for me?  Yes and no.  Under normal field crop conditions I would say that it works pretty good.  In my gardens, it isn't unusual to have dozens of pepo cultivars within a few yards.  Under those extreme conditions, about 10% of my seed from a cross will reflect errant pollen.  If you can't accept that amount of contamination then please bag your blossoms.  For me, I like those odd offspring.  No, I don't know the male parent but sometimes I can guess.  Often,  I find something in an accidental cross worthwhile and for me, it may send me off on a new breeding trip. 


Sprawling Zucchini

Sprawling zucchini is a new plant habit.  It starts out with a bush habit, bears it's first fruit at the center (as bush zucchini do) and then sends out laterals in all directions.  These laterals can sprawl several feet and produce a female fruit at almost every node.  They are, however, more restrained than vining squash.  The yield and flavor of the sprawling zucchini is considered by many to be superior to bush zucchini.   Yield is amazing.

Vining Summer Squash are Winning Converts

From Great Britain A Vining Zucchini

From Great Britain A Vining Zucchini

You can see by the size of this young vining zucchini which has sprawled up and over a snow fence that the fruit will become massive.  The vines of this British squash are similar to vines of Halloween Pumpkins.

It's getting much more difficult to find vining zucchini (the true pepo species). They were popular in England and New Zealand at one time but can still be found in the seed trade if you look hard enough.  "Table Dainty" (there's really nothing dainty about this striped squash) and "Long Green Trailing" (photo above) grow to the size of a small zeppelin. And the British like to raise giant exhibition vegetables. The fruit of these "marrows" are used at a stage a bit larger than we tend to use zucchini since they are most often stuffed and baked, but both varieties can be used to produce smaller tender zucchini.  Long Green Trailing in recent years has lost it's stripes as you can see in the above photo.  Even the color photo on the British seed packet shows the variation I knew from the 1970's and the two different English companies I managed to get seed from sell the same non-stripe variety undoubtedly from the same supplier.

Table Dainty

Table Dainty

I like the new Long Green Trailing a lot but I liked the old one better.   Table Dainty has it's admirers too. Both climb up and over my old tractor, cover weeds and small trees with it's ever branching stems like Kudzu with a vigor that I admire; and where the vine contacts the earth, they anchor themselves with new adventitious roots and sprawl onward with reckless abandon.  That's why I've pollinated so many of their fruits with my favorite and most productive bush zucchini to increase the diversity of these great old vining zucchini.  Interesting to note, the F1 generation from the crosses all produced the bush habit of the male pollinators and a variation in fruit including a striped kind similar to the old Long Green Trailing I remember from a cross of Long Green Trailing and Romanesco.  While interesting, I didn't have the time to grow the F2 generation yet, but I anticipate that bush and vining kinds will appear in that generation when I finally get around to getting the F2 seed in the ground.
 

Tatume Summer Squash and Little Gem

Another vining pepo squash which is getting difficult to find is a favorite in Mexico and in the southwest U.S., "Tatume". Seeds over 10 years old from the old Long Island Seed Bank germinated and produced a small crop of small green oval pumpkin-like fruit (shown below). These vines, unlike Long Green Trailing are thin and delicate; and the leaves are too. Adapted to an arid climate, it forms roots at it's nodes like most squash vines that sprawl over the ground struggling to both find and conserve moisture. This is one admirable squash.


I would like to think that these vining squash will have a role to play in regions of the world where soil fertility and limited water resources make a nice edible squash that can glean what is necessary to sustain itself from over a large area a useful food plant. In addition, some of these vining squash offer a shade canopy from the baking sun for creating a better environment for the survival of seedlings of other food plants.

Tatume has it's origins in Mexico where the tough vines can bear a multitude of small pumpkin-like summer squash under harsh conditions. It is more drought tolerant than your average bush zucchini but when the oval, light green squash are harvested the size of a tennis ball they are delicious.  Recently, I've been hearing a lot from Southern gardeners (Texas and Florida) singing the praises of Tatume.  For flavor and texture they like it, but more than that they see it as a survivor.  Bush zucchini just don't last.  When disease or insects cause other summer squash to cease production,  Tatume comes through.


I used Tatume as the female parent and crossed a number of bush zucchini to it.  In the above photo you can see that the hybrid F1 generation looks quite similar to your usual bush zucchini.  One can tell the caserta and romanesco parentage of the striped fruit (courtesy of the Cornell PM breeding material), the black zucchini and white zucchini male parents are also obvious in the dark green and pale green fruit.  All with the Tatume female parent.  As far as plant habit, like my other vine x bush crosses, they are also bush habit in the F1 generation.  None of the frugal, tough, wirey vines that Tatume is known for is apparent in these crosses.  We'll see if these beautiful Tatume "daughters" have the resiliance of their parent in this and the next generations.

Gem Squash

Gem Squash

Another vine zucchini that we worked with in the summer of 2006 was the Gem Squash also known as "Little Gem" or "Gem Store", a dark solid green perfectly round little ball from South Africa. They should be harvested when golf ball size if you use them as a summer squash when the skin is tender and keep them picked young, they will just keep on coming as the vines branch and keep spreading. A single plant can spread over several square meters. The internet will help you find links to the proper South African way to prepare these little squash as a supper time feast. Like Tatume they are arid squash and do rather well with limited resources. While tatume will turn a streaked orange as it ripens in fall (for seed), Little Gem never gets much larger than a tennis ball and will remain dark green. When mature the Gem Squash develops a hard shell and stores well. They can be treated like an acorn squash at that point. They make an interesting decorative fall squash.  A recent maxima squash was just released by the industry last year called "Little Gem", a bit confusing...and not the same squash as this C. pepo type.