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In search of a patch of calabaza pumpkin/squash

October 18, 2013
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It's time for Linus to start seeking the most sincere Pumpkin Patch. It all started in the 1959 comic strip of Peanuts and debuted on television in 1966. The Great Pumpkin has become the best known unseen character in all of, if you can call comics strips, literature.

I'm just seeking a patch of Seminole pumpkins, and now, the calabaza pumpkin/squash, a term applied to a variety of gourds and melons throughout the world. There are big ones, small ones, some as big as your head; green ones, tan, red, orange, yellow, pink and multi-colored ones, all covering a bright orange flesh. They are sweeter than the pumpkin.

Tom MacCubbin, our Central Florida gardening guru, has said, "Calabaza are squash-like vegetables that look like pumpkins and taste like sweet potatoes."

A calabaza, Cucurbita moschata, also called West Indian pumpkin, green pumpkin squash or Calabash, is popular in the Caribbean, as well as Central America. Mexico likes to claim it as their native plant and an ancient staple food. In Florida, calabeza refers to the Cuban pumpkin, or Cuban squash grown in the Latin Americas, and is a big favorite in Dade County.

There are many different varieties, all members of the Cucurbita genus. Their variation is due to out-crossing and strain selection. Like all squash, they have male and female blossoms on the same stem. Because they must be pollinated by bees, people who collect their seeds try not to plant other winter squash close-by, possibly a mile away. Seeds do not come true to their bearing parent if this happens. Consequently, seeds, genetically, can be the result of the two different parents. Consequently, there is a wide variety of these fruits. The male blossoms arrive first and abort, so don't fret the lack of blossoms too early, just eat the male blossoms.

Calabeza is one of the staples of the Native American diet, along with corn and climbing green beans, that makes up the "Three Sisters" plantings, all grown together in one spot as companion plantings that benefit each other. They make up a balanced diet to eat. The corn provides the trellis for the green beans that provide the nitrogen and shade, while the squash helps the soil retain moisture and act as mulch to prevent weeds. Their prickly stems deter pests.

Since the outer shell is thick and hard to cut, remove the stem and, using a heavy knife, tap it with a hammer to split it. Remove the seeds and bake the pumpkin/squash. In addition to the flesh, you can eat the blossoms and the seeds (or pepitas). I am finding the blossoms for sale in the Farmer's Markets now. Just batter and fry.

As for the seeds, roast them the same as any pumpkin seed. Spray a cookie sheet, spread the seeds and roast them until browned and crisp. The fruit is rich in Vitamin A, beta carotene, riboflavin, thiamine and calcium, while the blossoms are rich in calcium, phosphorus and iron.

Calabaza is started by planted seeds, 2-3 in a hill, rows 6-9 feet apart, spaced 4 feet apart in the rows. Vines grow to 50-foot lengths. Be sure to place a gallon or two of well-rotted compost or animal manure under each hill before seeding. Thoroughly mix this into the soil.

Unlike the Seminole pumpkin, calabaza vines are susceptible to downey mildew and encounter a disorder called silverleaf caused by the sweet potato white fly.

Both Seminole pumpkin and calabaza are comfortable in hot weather conditions. The leaves are green with mottled grey markings. It requires 3 months from seedling to harvesting the fruits. Don't forget that squash are botanically a fruit prepared as a vegetable. A cucumber is also classified as a fruit.

The Curcurbitaceae are divided into four sub-species, the Mexican native curcurbita peep, that includes pumpkins, ornamental squash, acorn squash and summer squash or winter squash. Another sub-species, curcurbita ovifera, that include crookneck and straight neck squash, originated in the eastern U.S. and were most likely the squash the Pilgrims ate. Once the Spaniards brought squash to Europe and Asia, it became the nutritious and economical cuisine of many countries. The Italians developed the zucchini.

When harvesting, leave at least one inch of the stem intact. They will store longer and better that way. Don't store with ethylene producers like apples and pears because it causes the fruit to discolor and rot. If cut, wrap fruit in tightly wrapped plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week. Cooked calabaza can be frozen for up to one year.

Trafalgar Middle School Garden

The Trafalgar Middle School Garden flooded out because there was no drainage, then to top it off, the water pipes broke right there and flooded it again we are rethinking the pumpkin situation. Even though pumpkins are the quintessential symbol of autumn, by the time they will ripen, we will be long past enjoying them for anything but eating

We are into our second planting with loads of seedlings to plant. Storms have brought about tossed pots and losses of markers, so we now call it our mystery garden. I do recognize the leaves and have a fair idea what we have, the varieties are thus, a mystery. The children and we adults are amazed at how high and well our plants have developed. I love the ringing around the garden of the fruit trees.

Fencing has gone up to stake the tomatoes, and the mounds for the future strawberries are being built. Four lovely seedlings of watermelons were brought to us to plant.

I may not be able to wait in our pumpkin patch for Halloween, but I shall enjoy watching our garden grow.

Don't forget the Native Plant Sale Saturday, Oct. 19, Manatee Park, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or to thank a tree for your fresh air.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener; hibiscus enthusiast and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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