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Crazy Squash Story

Neck Pumpkin on the vine

You could describe a neck pumpkin as a megagigantic butternut squash. This one is about 30 inches from stem to blossom end. At harvest it weighed 19 pounds. In central Pennsylvania, people favor neck pumpkins (also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash) for pumpkin pie. This same squash appears (ripe) in two other photos in this post.

I had some fun with squash this year. Actually, I had a series of fortunate unlikely accidents. Each one was minor and seemingly unimportant, but when I think it through, the accidents together make a story worth sharing.

I present the accidents in the order they revealed themselves to me… but I’ve numbered them in chronological order. I hope that makes sense.

Accident #3: Windy Wipeout

I “acquired” a small section of one of our ornamental beds in 2013 to grow beans and zucchini. That worked so nicely that I used space the same way this year. As soon as the soil was warm, I planted a hill of zucchini seeds and mulched around the hill with autumn leaves that hadn’t broken down over the winter.

Whenever I checked the garden (daily when I was home), leaves had shifted to cover the hill. I’d brush them aside, but wind would move them back again and again. As seedlings emerged, I wasn’t home enough to keep up with the wind, and eventually leaves smothered the young plants.

Accident #2: Hedging Bets

I’ve been developing a “rain garden” and set new perennials along the bank in early spring. Among my plantings, several seedlings emerged that were obviously of the cucurbitaceae family (the Gourd Family). These would have to be volunteers from squashes I’d grown in past years, but I didn’t know which: Butternut, Neck Pumpkin, Blue Hubbard, Fairytale, or Zucchini. I decided to leave to seedlings at least until I figured out their variety.

Accident #4: Bad Redo

Hybrid winter squash vines

Before producing their first fruit, my hybrid squash vines had overtaken a huge swath of an ornamental bed. The plants were supposed to be zucchini which are very compact as squashes go so the behemoth hybrid winter squash plants were totally inappropriate. From the farthest squash leaves in this photo to the nearest is more than 20 feet. The mountain of leaves rising to the window is a stand of trellised climbing beans. Beneath them and a four foot stretch of squash vines is an azalea bush that puts out red flowers in spring.

I re-planted the original hill of zucchini seeds. At least that’s what I thought. I used seeds I’d stored in an unlabeled, folded paper towel. I was fairly confident these were zucchini seeds I’d collected over the winter from a very mature fruit I blogged about here: Summer Squash is a Choice You Make.

Soon, the volunteer cucurbitaceae seedlings near the rain garden revealed themselves to be zucchini. For a week or two I pondered removing the second planting of zukes from the ornamental bed; we’d never eat so much zucchini!

And then it became obvious that the plants emerging from my second planting of zucchini seeds weren’t zucchini plants. I was intrigued: What had I planted?

Accident #1: Cross Pollination

Turning back the clock to mid-summer of 2013 gets us to a defining moment for this year’s squash crop. I had Fairytale squash, neck pumpkins, and butternut squash growing strong, but the plants were still young.

Hybrid squash on the vine

The first fruit from my hybrid squash vines hung among the branches of a butterfly bush. I tried to imagine it was a weird neck pumpkin, but it hardly changed shape as it grew—it just got bigger.

One morning, a beautiful female blossom was prominent on a neck pumpkin vine, but there were no corresponding male blossoms. There was a male blossom on the Fairytale squash vines with no female fairytale blossoms to pollinate. I hated to lose a squash fruit, so I used the Fairytale blossom to pollinate the neck pumpkin. Had no idea if this would work, but I hoped it would at least fool the fruit into developing.

That and several other neck pumpkins eventually matured. We ate squashes, I preserved squashes, and I collected seeds from squashes. In fact, I gave away neck pumpkin seeds to readers of this blog.

Back to This Summer

In June of this year, I started two planters each with 4 neck pumpkin seeds on my screened porch and I set the seedlings in the garden in early July. From markings on the leaves of the “not zucchini” plants in the ornamental bed, I guessed they also were neck pumpkin plants. And then those “not zucchini” plants produced a fruit. It wasn’t a neck pumpkin.

Neck Pumpkin and Fairytale Squash

My hybrid squashes grew from seeds of a neck pumpkin (the very long squash in this photo is a neck pumpkin). In 2013 in a pinch, I had pollinated a neck pumpkin flower with one from a fairytale squash plant (perhaps from the very plant that produced the fluted round squash in the photo). Apparently, I collected seeds from that cross-pollinated fruit and, thinking they were zucchini seeds, planted them in spring of this year. Note the 12-inch ruler tucked under the fairytale squash. These are very large fruits!

The mystery squash plants grew aggressively, covering an azalea bush, climbing into a butterfly bush, stretching 20 feet along the wall through the rest of the ornamental bed, and five more feet into the herb garden. The plants, I realized had to be the result of that fateful cross-pollination in 2013: I was growing a hybrid of my own creation.

Photos reveal my hybrids are a sensible shape and color to have emerged from the cross. The fruits ripen to a creamy tan, just like neck pumpkins and fairytale squashes. The shape isn’t what I might have predicted, but it’s easy to imagine it as a morph between the two fruits. The fruits are bulky—reasonable considering neck pumpkins sometimes get to 20 or more pounds and fairytale squash might make it to 30 or more pounds.

Next Season’s Squash

I’ll collect seeds from my hybrid squashes and plant at least one hill next summer. If I can control it, I’ll pollinate these only with flowers from the hybrids themselves… which is what I did this year. It will be interesting to see the characteristics of progeny from the hybrids—I could get neck pumpkins, I could get fairytale squash, and I could get a variety of fruits that fall somewhere in between.

I hope the neck pumpkin seeds I mailed to readers weren’t hybrids. I know I collected unadulterated neck pumpkin seeds last year because the plants I started on my porch and moved to the garden produced neck pumpkins. I suppose if my readers got hybrids, I might have heard about it from someone by now.

Neck Pumpkin, Fairytale Squash, and hybrid of both

And hybrid makes three. I chose the cutest of my hybrid squashes for this pose. It’s not the largest of the lot, but it weighed in at a hefty 12 pounds. I’ll post about it again when I butcher it for a meal, pies, and what-not… a squash that size goes a long way.

 

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