The Mystery of the Calabacita Squash

Article first published as The Mystery of the Calabacita Squash on Blogcritics. Story by giantveggiegardener.

As a gardener and a cook, I’ve been searching for a particular squash seed-the Mexican Calabacita. It was the original squash used to make the famous ‘Calabacitas’ dish of squash, corn, onions and green chili here in New Mexico. Most of us now use zucchini to make this savory dish because of it’s availability, but here at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, you can buy the Calabacita squashes in early summer and then by mid summer, they are gone. They are little green squashes with soft skin and teeny weenie seeds-too small to harvest. I researched it and found that the squash originally came from Mexico but not a lot of information is out there on it. No seed catalogs have it. None of my gardening friends have any seeds. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Then two years ago while on vegetable gardening forum here in Santa Fe, I met another gardener and during the course of our conversation after the forum, the mysterious Calabacitas squash came up. I told her of my difficulty finding the seeds. She told me she had gotten some Calabacita seeds from another farmer whose family had been here for generations.  She offered me a few of the seeds. Finally I would get some seeds! So we emailed each other and I sent her an envelope to send me some but they never came. I went by the Farmers Market where she sells produce but we kept missing each other. Another season passed and still no seeds.

This year, on the last day of my season as ‘The Tomato Lady’ at the Farmers Market where I sell heirloom tomatoes, I went by her booth and mentioned maybe I could get some of those seeds for this upcoming season. She said,” Why not buy one of the squashes now?” When she pointed them out, I said, “That’s one of them? It doesn’t look anything like the ones earlier in the season” and she remarked, “Yes that’s one of them. They are actually a type of WINTER SQUASH. We just pick them when they are really young and immature and have no seeds”. That explains it! Why I could never get any seeds from them. That is why we don’t see them later on in summer-if you let it keep growing; it will become a mature winter squash. There were several there at her booth with different colors. Some were green with orange stripes and some were salmon color with green-grey stripes. She said there really wasn’t any difference in the taste.  I ended up with the salmon-green striped one. It weighed about 15 lbs and has a squat oval shape outside and lovely orange color inside. It smelled like a cross between a cucumber and a melon.

I got the seeds and roasted the squash. To roast it, I quartered it and rubbed some oil on it and put it on a cookie sheet. Then I added a little water in the bottom of the pan so it wouldn’t dry out. I put it in the oven at 350° and placed some aluminum foil loosely over it so it would not burn. It took about an hour to cook. Afterwards, I put the flesh in a freezer Ziploc and will later cook squash lasagna with béchamel sauce.

So Calabacita squash can be used to make Calabacitas in early summer or later in the fall used in winter squash dishes.

Here is a recipe for Calabacitas from New Mexico:

1 lb or more Calabacita squash or any summer squash, cubed

3-4 ears fresh corn cut off the cob or 1 can corn

1 chopped onion

cumin to taste

New Mexico green chili to taste

Sauté the onion, add the squash and corn and sauté till tender.

Add cumin to taste. Add New Mexico green chili to taste.

More on squash bugs..

Squash bugs are around my squash and pumpkins right now. I go out AT LEAST ONE TIME A WEEK and go hunting for adults, nymphs and eggs. I know the ADULTS LIKE TO HIDE DOWN AT THE BASE OF THE PLANT or underneath the leaves. I take the hose and spray the whole plant and at particularly at the base which is covered in straw. The adults come running up the stems of the leaves to escape the water. Then I pick them off with my hand. I hate handling bugs barehanded so I use gardening gloves. I either squish them on the ground or put them in a bucket of soapy water where the adults drown.  No mercy.

I then look at EACH LEAF of the plant to see if there are any EGGS ON THE UNDERNEATH SIDE OF THE LEAVES, usually in the “v” where the veins form. If I find them, I either tear off the whole leaf (if I have a lot of leaves) or I tear out just the section that has the eggs and put them is a bucket of soapy water where they will smother. THE EGGS WILL BE DARK LIKE ROOTBEER WHEN THEY ARE READY TO HATCH, so get them EARLY.

I also look for the GRAY NYMPHS WHICH ARE USUALLY UNDERNEATH THE LEAVES OR ON THE STEMS. If I find a few I squish them. If I find a lot, I take the whole leaf off because they are fast and I can get them all. Then I put them in the soapy water.

Squash bugs go from EGGS TO NYMPHS IN 7-10 DAYS, so we should look for eggs about every 7 days to catch them from turning into nymphs. I do this on the weekend when I have more time. The squash bug PRODUCES ONE NEW GENERATION EACH YEAR but of course if each squash bug lays 15 eggs on each leaf they chose to deposit their eggs on, then all those newly hatched nymphs will lay more-but not this year. The nymphs will grow into adults this year but will not lay eggs. They will overwinter and lay their eggs next year.

So my thinking is if you get the adults now and the eggs now, then next year you should have way less squash bugs (I’m assuming we might miss a few) and of course if we get them all, in theory we should have none next year.

I keep my plants covered early in the season with row cover until they flower but now that they are flowering, I must uncover them so the bees can pollinate them. The key is to be REALLY DILIGENT ABOUT FINDING THEM BEFORE THE EGGS HATCH. After they hatch you can easily be overcome by the nymphs. Most people don’t keep up on the inspections and then the problem magnifies tenfold-so keep up on them. The hunt is on!

Some people spray Sevin on the plants. I prefer to go organically, so if I get a major problem, I would use Neem which is somewhat helpful but picking them off is the best way to control them.

All pictures courtesy of University of Minnesota. For more info on squash bugs, go to their site:  http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1208.html

Squash bugs/squash vine borer preventatives

I get a lot of questions about how to control squash bugs. They are a veggie gardener’s nemesis. I have read and tried several things and think a few help. Here’s a list of things you might try to control squash bugs and squash vine borers.

squash bug

Squash bugs
Squash bugs attack both summer and winter squash. They pierce it and suck out the juices. If left unchecked, they can take over and destroy the plant. The key to control is catching them right away. Here are some thing s to try:
-Plant onions around squash to help repeal them. I planted little sets around the squash last year and I got a few but not a lot. Very controllable.
-Make an onion spray to put on leaves. Fill blender with water and add a couple of onions.      Blend onions and let them sit overnight. Strain onions out and put in sprayer to spray squash plants.
-Put row cover over young plants till they flower, then remove so they can get pollinated.
-Hand pick every 7 days and remove eggs, nymphs and adults from leaves. Put in bucket of soapy water. Then cover plants again with row cover. Squash bugs life cycle from egg to nymph is 7-10 days so keep ahead of them.
-Spray Neem Oil on squash when you have to keep them uncovered for pollination. Neem is an effective repellant.
-Plant late like the first couple of weeks of July-you may miss their lifecycle.
-Rotate squash into different beds, They may not find you. First time squash growers generally get the first year free of squash bugs. Afterward the bugs find you and the battle is on.

squash vine borer

Squash Vine Borer
This bug is not suppose to be west of the Rocky Mountains and yet it has been seen around here damaging and killing squash plants. It likes to bore into the main stem around the base of the plant to lay its eggs which then turn ito larvae inside the vine and eat it from the inside. Look for sawdust like  particles around base if plant suddenly wilts. You can try to slit the vine parallel  (not across it) and dig out the grub and then tape the wound shut. It may survive. Here are some things to try:
-Once again cover them until pollination needs to happen.
-Wrap aluminum foil around the base of the vine for about 12 inches to keep them from attacking it.
-Also bury the vine with dirt or mud covering the main vine.

GIANT PUMPKIN/WINTER SQUASH-How to Tell Which Direction a Vining Squash Will Grow

Have you ever planted winter squash and it grew in a direction you didn’t want? Here is a good tip for how to tell which direction a vining winter squash (versus a bush variety) will grow. I will use my giant pumpkin as an example but any winter squash that is a vining squash will act the same.

Let’s say you plant some vining winter squash next to a wall or on the edge of a garden bed and you need it grow away from the wall not into it or into your squash bed not out of it (good luck on that one!) When the plant puts out the first two leaves as I have described in previous posts, these are called the cotyledon leaves (baby leaves) and don’t look like any of the other leaves it will grow afterward. All leaves after the cotyledon leaves are called true leaves.

put mark on side of pot opposite of first true leaf

Sooo pay attention to that FIRST TRUE LEAF.  The plant will GROW IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION FROM THE FIRST TRUE LEAF. If I’m growing them inside for a head start, it is easy to mark the container as you will not remember which one was the first leaf (trust me!) when the second one appears. I just take a marker and mark the opposite side of the pot so I know when I transplant it into the ground which direction I orientate it. If I grow directly into the soil, after the first true leaf appears, I gently dig up a big amount around it and gently lift it and the dirt so as not to disturb the new roots and rotate it in the direction I want it to grow. For those who are growing their winter or summer squash seed in the ground, it is too early. Wait till May 15th (our first frost free date) to plant directly into the ground when the soil and weather are hopefully warmer.

Mycorrhizal products here in Santa Fe

Someone just wrote me if I knew a source for Mycorrhizal (also called Mycorrhizae) products here in Santa Fe. So I thought I’d respond in a post in more detail as well as reply to him in the comment sections.

Mycorrhizal is a fungi that help protects plants from many diseases and drought like conditions. It forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots, making water and soil mineral nutrients more available to the roots of a plant while the plant feeds the mycorrhizae sugars it produces. It is found in nature in most UNDISTURBED soils. Gardens do not have undisturbed soil- we work the soil to various degrees adding amendments and tilling soil.

There are two main types of Mycorrhizal.

ECTOMycorrhizal works on more woody crops like trees. I don’t use it myself on my trees.

ENDOmycorrhizal works for most (90%) but not all vegetable crops (some crops do not respond to any Mycorrhizal like Brassica crops, spinach and beet crops). I used myco products for both my giant pumpkins and tomatoes in previous years but will also try it on all my curcubit crops this year as well as they seem to get the most diseases and the prices seem to be coming down on mycorrhizal products as it starts to become mainstream.

I just saw that Santa Fe Greenhouse has some Mycorizzial products. I bought ‘BUSHDOCTOR MICROBE BREW’ (by Foxfarm products) from SFGH and will try it this year. It is a liquid. It says on the directions to use 2 tsp/gal of water every 2 weeks as a drench. I think a bottle would last the whole gardening season for most people. I can’t remember what it cost (I bought it a month ago), but didn’t seem like it was exorbitant. I use to have to order myco on the internet so I’m anxious to see how it works. The Microbe Brew also has a bunch of soil bacteria and microbes in it besides the Mycorrhizal that will be good for the soil and plants as well. All these things help the plants either protect or fight off diseases-all organically.

2011 Vegetable Lineup

I finished my vegetable list for my main garden. I will grow many heirloom tomatoes, Fairy eggplants, Shishito peppers, Costata Romanesco zucchini, Galeux d’ Eyesines and Red Warty Thing winter squash, Rattlesnake pole beans, and several different cucumbers and some greens. I will have to expand the garden one more time but not before the season starts but sometime this summer. This is so I can get my tomatoes on a 3 year rotation. I’m ok for this year but need a new section for them by next year. I hopefully will be at our Farmers Market this coming year again. We have to apply each year and they have a jury system to get in as it is so popular and has grown so much. Looking forward to a new growing season!

2011 TOMATOES
HEIRLOOMS
PLUM STYLE
(2) Goldsman Italian American-red-BH
(2) San Marzano-red plum/80 days/AFN
BI-COLOR
(4) Striped German-bicolor-SFGH
(2) Gold Medal-bicolor-75-80 days-BH
(1)Ananas Noir
BLACK OR PURPLE
(2) Paul Robeson-black/75-85 days-AFN
(2) Cherokee Purple/80 days-AFN
RED
(1) Pantano Romanesco-red/70-80 days-BH,TOMFEST
(2) Costoluto Genovese-red/78 daysTOMGROWERS
(2) Goldsman Italian American-red-BH
CHERRY TOMATOES
(2) Black Cherry-black/75 days-AFN
(1) Green Grape-green/
(1) yellow/62 days-TOT TOM
HYBRIDS-I grow a few hybrids
(2) Lemon Boy-AFN
(3) Park’s Beefy Boy-red-70 days-AFB

2011 VEGGIE LIST
BEANS-Rattlesnake (remarkably favored pole bean)
PEPPER-Shishito (Japanese non hot pepper)
SUMMER SQUASH-ZUCCHINI-Costata Romanesco (best tasting zuke around)
WINTER SQUASH-Galeux d’ Eyesines and Red Warty Thing (that’s what it’s called!)
EGGPLANT-Fairy (best sweet, no bitter taste and soft skin eggplant I’ve tasted)
CUCUMBERS-Parisian, De Bourbonne, Boothsby Blonde, Poona Kera, Armenian and Parade? I grow cukes for either taste or which variety is best for different types of pickles
CORN-not this year (I’ll get it from our Farmers Market)
LETTUCES-From COOK’S GARDEN-Provencal Mix, Mesclun Mix, Buttercrunch, Yugoslavian Red, Santoro Lettuce, and Little Gem
SPINACH-From COOK’S GARDEN-Bloomsdale
CARROTS-Purple Haze and Scarlet Nantes
ARUGULA-Apollo

2011 HERBS-Following is a list of herbs that will be planted or exist on the property
Basil-new
Lime Basil-new
Thai Basil-new
Oregano-exists
Thyme-exists
Lemon Thyme-exists
Chives-exists
Dill-usually self seeds
Marjoram-new
Mint-exists
Sage-exists
Lavender-exists

Veggie Tip-What to look at in seed catalogs

2011 Baker Heirloom Seeds Catalog

Why order from seed catalogs vs getting seeds or plants from the local nurseries? Variety. We have more choices to pick from. Now don’t get me wrong – I buy many of my vegetable plants from our local nurseries as well. I don’t start all mine from seeds but I like to grow some new varieties every year and many of those aren’t sold locally. Besides I really like going over the catalogs. What should we look at when ordering from our seed catalogs? Here is some information that catalogs give to help us make our decisions in choosing which variety to buy.

1. Quite often catalogs will list the particular needs of the variety-i.e. needs cool moist soil, tolerates heat, etc. This is important information to consider because of our cold springs, hot summers and what location we plant them at our houses.

2. They list whether it is a hybrid or heirloom variety. I like to grow mostly heirloom varieties so I look for this.

3. We get specific information on each variety-size, weight, color, flavor,  etc and often the history of where a particular seed came from. I especially find the history interesting. I like knowing where they originate from.

How many days to harvest-this tomato was 72 days

4. Probably the most important thing to consider with each variety is how many ‘days’. This means how many days to harvest. Here in Santa Fe, we have a short growing season. Our last frost is the average date we no longer experience freezing temperatures which is May 15th and the first average frost date is around Oct. 10. Last year was a really cold, windy spring with night time temperatures still at 27° on June 6th. We basically went from Winter to Summer. Every year offers new challenges for us weather wise and the weather has everything to do with how many days to harvest depending on when we can put the transplants or seeds in the soil.

 

So how many days to harvest? Some vegetables such as summer squash, cucumbers, lettuce, etc don’t take many days to harvest but some vegetables need a longer growing season such as winter squash, watermelon, and tomatoes so buy varieties that won’t go into October to ripen. Let’s take tomatoes for an example.  If we choose a tomato seed that says 72 days, we’ll probably get tomatoes but if we choose one that says 95 days to harvest, the odds are we won’t get any ripe ones before we get that first frost in fall. In Santa Fe, we should be looking to grow varieties that ripen in 60-80 days. Tomatoes come in early, mid and late season varieties so keep that in mind. Early season goes from 52-60 days, midseason goes from 60-75 days and late season goes from around 80-100 days. You certainly can try some late season varieties (I do) but pick more in the early-mid season range especially if you are only planting  a few. Also with tomatoes that ’80 days to harvest or 80 days’ means from transplanting plants outdoors not planting seeds outside. I’ve had people come up to me and complain they only have green tomatoes in October and when I ask what variety, it usually is one of the longer growing ones so pay attention to that day information in the catalogs because you can usually find some varieties with shorter days till harvest in every variety out there.