Friday, March 5, 2010

Year of the Squash!

The National Garden Bureau (in the US) has just announced that 2010 is the year of the squash! Are you excited yet? Five years ago, I would have thought that squash was a rather uninspired choice for such a prestigious title, yet now that I've been introduced to the wide variety of squash available to gardeners, I'm a changed woman!

Squash is an ancient North American native that is one of the oldest sources of food grown in this part of the world (along with corn). Today, the squash family is one of the most diverse, boasting a large range of sizes, shapes and colours - including orange, pink, gold, soft green, blue gray and deep green. It's also good for you, containing essential minerals and vitamins!

Squash are a member of the Cucurbitacea family, which includes three species considered squash - C. maxima, C.moschata and C. pepo. Generally, summer squash are from C. pepo, but winter squash can be from any of the three species.

In our gardens, I tend to grow mainly summer squash. Why? Because they're quick to grow, typically take up less space and produce very heavily! I think we all know how generous summer squash can be in their harvests! Every year is a bumper crop and although a family of four really only needs 1 or 2 plants, I usually grow a dozen. What can I say, there are so many beautiful types of summer squash, that's it's hard to pick just one!

Here are a few of our favourites:

Pattypan Squash - I grow about four different types of pattypan every summer, choosing cultivars like 'Sunburst', 'Starburst', 'Peter Pan', and 'Moonbeam' (see photo of 'Moonbeam' above provided by the National Garden Bureau). These pretty zucchini are best picked when they are about 2 to 4 inches in diameter and can be roasted, bbq'd or sauteed whole. Many of the cultivars offer plants with a 'bush' habit, as opposed to sprawling vines, making them a good choice for a small garden. (By the way, even the kids like these flying saucer-shaped zucchini!)

Zucchini - Zucchini are a garden staple in North America. Not only are they easy to grow, but the plants are also extremely prolific! Admit it, haven't you ever left some of your excess crop on your neighbour's doorstep? They also seem to triple in size overnight, and that small zucchini that you left in the garden 3 days ago is now a baseball bat-sized monster! We try to pick our zucchini small (8-inches long or less) - not that I don't occasionally miss one hiding under the leaves, which ends up grated for zucchini cake, muffins and loaves.
  • Magda - My hubby is Lebanese and this is a Mid East-type squash with soft green skin and blocky, tapered fruits. They have a mild nutty flavour and are ideal for stuffing, stir-frying or pickling. I usually grow about 6 plants in order to keep my mother-in-law in the tender fruits all summer long.
  • Costata Romanesco - Say the name out loud.. doesn't it sound like the name of an Italian movie star? Well, it may not be a movie star, but it is a culinary star with its long, ribbed fruits in alternating shades of gray-green and pale green. The yield is less than with other types of zucchini (which may be a good thing), but the flavour is unbeatable! It also produces a good supply of male flowers for stuffing or appetizers.
  • Floridor - This is a rather unique zucchini. It resembles 'Eight-ball', which is a small, round deep green zucchini, yet, 'Floridor' has sunny gold fruits that are best picked when 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Fun and delicious!
Ok, I think I need to stop here before I write an entire seed catalogue! I'll cover winter squash and pumpkins in a later post, but I hope you'll try a few of these amazing summer squash that I've listed above. If you can only pick one or two, I'd go with 'Magda' and a pattypan type.

Happy Gardening!

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