I have been following Joseph Lofthouse's development of his version of landrace breeding with some interest. The idea of incorporating more diversity into plant parents rather than restricting the pool fascinates me. Certainly limiting the selection criteria to only a few key characteristics while allowing the rest to vary widely would act as some insurance against changeable patterns in weather, pests and disease. Combined with one of my most common talk/teaching subjects - seeds - a project was born. As I always say, every instance of seed saving is one of seed selection.
I'm not sure why I settled on using butternut squash. Maybe it was because I like it and it stores well for me and it could use a little more selection to ripen well in our climate. Maybe too because it is insect pollinated and only requires one growing season to produce seeds. The seeds are also large and easy to save. At any rate, the idea just struck me that I should offer out mixed Cucurbita moschata seed to people in my growing area with the idea of creating a landrace for Eastern Ontario.
To make it accessible, it needed to have few rules and few expectations. You could fail. Heck, every gardener does. You could grow other squash but if it was moschata, just report to me which types so I knew. You could grow as few as three plants or as many as three hundred just return seeds so I could mix them all together before packaging them up for the next year. You could have your own goals and not request more seeds, selecting as narrowly as you wanted for your own purposes just as long as you respected the OSSI pledge. The genetic material was to remain open source. What I was looking for was minimal; plants that grew well without significant issues that produced family sized fruit that ripened within the growing season from direct seeding. That was it.
Year 3 Results:
Most growers had decent results from 2015 though there were a few that lost their plants to critters and many experienced a sluggish start compared to Cucurbita maxima or pepo. We even had a CSA greenscreekfarm.comBusy Beaver Farm who managed to tuck a few in veg. boxes. The parent population was all classically butternut in shape and seemed to result in medium sizes though there were outliers. I had three flushes of fruit, the first two ripening well and third one struggling to finish. My plants did not have much disease though there was some powdery mildew at the very end of the season. I did not notice many pests, even squash bugs were minimal.
It will be interesting to see how the project progresses. I've also sent out seeds to other areas in Canada and Europe so they can select for their own regions.
In the meantime, I'm eating my way through a lot of squash!
* A gardening friend also participated in the grow out and posted a number of pictures and stories here at Living my Dream Life on the Farm.
Goals for 2016:
1. Package up small and medium sized packages to hand out with instructions.
2. The instructions will also contain an optional sheet to fill in characteristics. I encourage participants to send pictures to Experimental Crops of the North on Facebook or to me here. I find it more fun to share plant adventures.
3. Collect seed for 2017
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.