by Leigh Mills
One year, I planted seeds from an acorn squash someone had grown and given me. I nurtured the seedlings and cared for the plants all season, anticipating an abundant harvest. As the fruits grew, I observed strange things. Their shape didn’t seem acorn-like and they took forever to turn green. After the harvest, I opened one up and was surprised by its sponge-like interior. It was only then I asked the friend where she grew the squash. “In my community garden plot,” was the reply. “Next to other squash?” my second question. “Oh yeah, several kinds,” she said. Into the compost went the inedible fruit. Since then, I have learned more about growing squash and saving their seeds.
Squash is a favorite food, with hundreds of nutritious varieties spanning cultures and time. Many gardeners save squash seed, but how many really know how? Here are some tips for the coming season so you can save your squash seed and have it be true for many following years.
The class, or genus, of squash is cucurbita. There are 6 types of squash species: maxima, mixta, moschata, pepo, ficifolia, and foetidissima. Maxima species include lots of the pumpkin varieties, banana squashes, buttercup, Hubbards, marrow and Turban. Mixta includes most cusha, wild Seroria squash and silver seeded gourds. Moschata has the butternuts plus about 100 more kinds of squash. Pepo seems to be the largest group and has the acorns, small pumpkins, cocozelle, crooknecks, some big pumpkins, scallop squash, vege marrow, zucchini and the small, decorative, striped and warted gourds. The ficifolia species is small and the plants need a very long season to mature. The Chilacayote or fig-leaved and Malabar gourds are ficifolia types. The last species is the foetidissima and includes the calabazilla or buffalo gourd. This last type is grown for the oil from its seeds.
The main thing to remember when growing and saving squash for seed is that squash will easily cross-pollinate between members of the same species. The easiest way to save squash seed is to grow one type of squash in each species; otherwise, you will need to hand pollinate or practice other isolation methods. If you are using “fresh” seed from a company, check to see if they mention the type of species on the package. If you’re not sure of the species, you can always look up the information on the internet or in your local library. When getting squash seed from other sources, make sure they have been grown out pure. Always ask the seed giver what kind of squash it is and where they grew their seed.
There isn’t enough room in this article to describe hand pollinating or other isolation techniques. I rely on my Seed to Seed book written by Susan Ashworth for my seed research, and most of this article’s information came from that book. It lists all the squash names in each species and gives detailed instructions for hand pollinating; which they say is easy, even for beginners.
I advise any gardener who wishes to start saving seed to learn how. Read books, experiment, practice, and enjoy the immense satisfaction you can receive from saving your own seeds, no matter how difficult it may seem.