WHAT DO YOU WANT in a ‘Butternut’ squash (besides sweet flesh)? I wanted ones that really lasted, to keep me in “fresh” orange meat all winter long, and I got my wish, after buying seed from a catalog that said they’d been selecting their seed strain for just that quality. It really pays to read the details—to look for little specifics like this that make a big difference between one ‘Butternut’ and another (or any open-pollinated vegetable or flower variety you might be growing). My squash adventure.
The two individuals in the top photo (shot April 9) were cut from my vines in fall and stored in the mudroom closet since, both still heavy and firm and solid as can be. From the feel of them, they’ve got more life left—though I expect I’ll have at the dears well before they falter. The other half-dozen fruits I harvested from that hill last fall would have kept just as well—except I ate them.
I bought the seed at Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic seed company nearby, specifically because the description said that they’d been “intensively selecting for storage,” saving seed to sell from their ‘Butternut’ harvest each year with lastingness in mind. Another gardener or seed farmer might have selected for another trait—but Turtle Tree was intent on long-storing squash, and that they got.
Remember my story about Turtle Tree last year, an interview with co-managers Lia Babitch and Ian Robb? I had asked about this blend of art and science that is plant selection, and Lia told me a story of a strain of celeriac that was given to three breeders to work on. The assignment: It must have good leaves, and a big, round root that is white and smooth, and not pithy.
Years later, the results of the three breeders’ work was compared—and though all were experts and pursuing the same assignment, all three strains were different (with the one woman’s even different from the two men’s—hers more a mound of foliage than their leaves that jutted upright!).
How does this selection process work?
“We make observations all along the way,” said Lia, “from the moment of germination,” discarding any twisted or stunted seedlings, not by any means waiting until harvest time to select the best ones to save seed from for next year. (Advice that has me getting rid of any vegetable seedlings in my flats under lights right now that look less robust…in favor of the strongest ones…)
As I make myself a pot of ‘Butternut’ soup this week–in April!–I’m thankful for the extra attention special seed companies like this one put into every packet.