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Dakota Gardener: A Celebration of Dakota Squash

By Tom Kalb

Are you looking for a vegetable that is delicious and easy to grow?

Think squash. Squash has been a staple of gardens in the Dakotas for centuries.

Our native tribes grew and harvested squash. They sliced the young fruits, skewered them through willow sticks and dried them in the sun. Squash was vital for their survival during the cold winters.

Squash was one of the crops along with maize and beans in the famous Three Sisters plantings. The squash vines served as a mulch that shaded the soil, conserved moisture and prevented weeds. If you are interested in a taste from the past, Arikara, Mandan and Lakota squash seeds may be searched for on Google and purchased online.  

We may also celebrate the work of researchers at North Dakota Agricultural College. These scientists introduced buttercup squash to the world in 1931. Many cooks will tell you that buttercup is the finest flavored of all squash. Top varieties today include Burgess, Bonbon and Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert.

When buying winter squash seeds, look for varieties that resist mildew diseases and ripen in less than 100 days. Among the best performers in our trials have been Autumn Delight and Carnival acorn squash, Butterbaby and Early Butternut butternut squash, Bush Delicata sweet potato squash, Primavera spaghetti squash and Sunshine kabocha squash.

We can’t forget summer squash. This disrespected vegetable also has a rich history in the Dakotas. One hundred years ago, North Dakota was one of the poorest states in the nation. Commodity prices were low, farmers were in debt, drought was common and swarms of grasshoppers were destroying crops. Many families suffered from poverty and hunger.

The North Dakota Agricultural College responded by looking for crops that could remedy hunger in these desperate times. They quickly discovered that summer squash thrived in our state and encouraged farm families to grow it. One of the most common varieties was white patty pan squash.

We tested this heirloom in our trials in recent years and verified that it grows extremely well. Unfortunately, it tastes terrible. One of our researchers was a minister in Logan County who grew vegetables for the poor. After eating his first patty pan squash, he confessed the fruit tasted so terrible that he felt it would be a sin to make the poor eat it. He brought his squash to the county dump instead.

Today, we have summer squash that is tender and tasty. Sunburst yellow patty pan squash is delicious and beautiful. Zephyr and Tempest yellow squashes have distinguished themselves with their firm textures and outstanding flavors.

Other noteworthy summer squashes are the yellow straightneck and semi-crookneck varieties. Multipik and Slick Pik YS 26 will amaze you with their yields. Believe it or not, they are more productive than zucchini!

Speaking of zucchini, some people make fun of it for its prolific yields. Jokes abound about how you must keep your car locked in the summer; otherwise someone may put their excess zucchini in it. Rather than make fun of zucchini, we should honor it for its abundant yields. Go online and discover recipes on how to prepare the fruits. We can grill it, roast it and sauté it. Enjoy zucchini in breads. 

Look for zucchini varieties that resist diseases so the harvest continues until frost. I like varieties with vines that are nearly spineless and have an open habit that make harvesting easy. Top performers in our trials include Dunja, Green Machine and Spineless Beauty.

Celebrate squash this summer. It is part of our Dakota heritage, delicious and easy to grow.

Source : ndsu.edu

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