Landrace Gardening: Hybrid Squash

Reader Contribution by Joseph Lofthouse
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When I tell people that I am growing landrace crops, and that I allow my plants to promiscuously cross pollinate, their replies are often tinged with fear. They worry about deformed franken-fruits, and about bad flavors, and about ugliness. My experience has been that those fears are not realized in my garden.

One of the nicest things about landrace gardening is that plants tend to resemble their parents and grandparents. So if I start out with great parents then due to family resemblances I am likely to end up with great descendents for many generations to come. Here is a photo demonstrating how family resemblances are retained. The great-grandparents of these squash were Buttercup (like the dark green squash in the photo) and Red Kuri (which resemble a tiny red Hubbard). The descendant squash have retained the basic buttercup shape and great taste, and have picked up beautiful colored skin from the Red Kuri. They are small fruited like their ancestors.

You may remember this photo from some months ago. It shows a hybrid squash which resulted from a cross between a Hubbard squash and a Banana squash. The child squash was beautiful, and it tasted great. It was a blend between the traits of the two parents. The offspring have now matured. I harvested them prior to our recent frost-emergencies. [Sorry that I missed blogging for a couple weeks. I felt like harvesting the crops was more important than writing about harvesting. We had a very hard freeze this week that killed the frost sensitive species. I’m still harvesting cold hardy varieties, but I have the opportunity to blog again.]

Here’s a photo of what the grandchildren of the Hubbard X Banana hybrid look like. These are the F2 generation. It is the generation that exhibits the most diversity when two different inbred cultivars are crossed. The traits have been scrambled so that the shape, and fruit color, and rind thickness have been interchanged between the different kinds. Despite cosmetic appearances, they have retained the general family characteristics. Eating quality is sweet and moist without strong flavors. No bitterness or stringiness appeared. Unfavorable traits have to come from somewhere, and since the grandparents didn’t have them they are unlikely to show up in the grandchildren. The fruit size is very large as is typical of this particular family. I could continue to grow this squash as a complete family group, or I could select individual fruits as the ancestors of future generations to move the family in a direction I’d like it to go. Either way, I’ll only replant seeds from parents that passed the survival-of-the-fittest test in my garden and that taste great to me. Their children are likely to grow great and taste fantastic.

I have been working on my butternut squash landrace for five years. Each year I select for fruits that taste marvelous to me. This year I imported and grew other kinds of butternut squash to see how they compare to my landrace. Uugh: Too many gaggy butternut squash! I hadn’t fully realized how thoroughly my landrace butternut squash have come to conform to my ideal of what a good tasting squash aught to be.

I believe that fears about Franken-fruits, and bad tastes, and ugliness in crossed plants are unfounded, because they don’t typically manifest in my garden even though I allow a tremendous amount of promiscuous pollination. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

Next week’s blog will be another photo essay showing off the beauty of more landrace crops.

Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art oflandrace gardeningin order to feed his community more effectively.