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A Japanese/Brazilian Squash Finds Fertile Ground in New England

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 March Issue Newsletter

By Bryan Connolly

Abóbora híbrida on a farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Photo: Frank Mangan

Winter squash are traditional in New England for their ornamental and culinary uses. They are also a staple crop for vegetable growers in our region. Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) and buttercup, hubbard, and kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima) are familiar to Northeastern consumers and farmers. Butternuts are known for a high degree of insect resistance, especially to squash vine borer and striped cucumber beetles, and are resistant to Plectorsporium blight. Though the tradition butternut cultivars are susceptibly to powdery mildew, newer varieties have had resistance to this fungus bred into them from wild gourd species. The buttercup/hubbard/kabocha groups are prized for their culinary uses but are very prone to squash vine borer and striped cucumber beetles. Little known in North America is a cross between these two squash groups (Cucurbita maxima ´ C. moschata) known as Abóbora híbrida or Abóbora Japonesa in Brazil, and will be referred to as hybrid pumpkin for the remainder of this article.
These hybrids were developed in Japan. Around 1960 they migrated to Brazil where they have become quite popular. Several cultivars have been developed e.g. ‘Tetsukabuto’, ‘Suprema’, ‘Greenstone’ and ‘Triunfo’. In addition to being grown for food, this cross is also used as a rootstock in many parts of the world for melons and watermelons. The University of Massachusetts lists this hybrid as an ethnic crop for this region but I had not heard of anyone growing this crop in New England. I had to try it out. To get first hand knowledge I applied for a USDA Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Resource Education (NE-SARE) producer grant to trial this hybrid. Luckily, I was successful in getting funding (see grant number FNE11-709).
Hybrid pumpkin seeds were purchased from the seed sources below. Cucurbita maxima ´ C. moschata produces fruit, but no seeds, and must be planted near a regular butternut type or buttercup/hubbard/kabocha type for pollination. Seeds of butternut, buttercup/hubbard/ kabocha, and hybrid pumpkins were planted in Mansfield Center, CT in mid-June in both 2011 and 2012 in a randomized block design to compare the squash types. Striped cucumber beetle damage, squash vine borer infestation, and yield were systematically assessed. Additionally, notes on powdery mildew tolerance, Plectosproium tolerance, freeze tolerance, keeping quality, and table quality were taken. Harvest was conducted lastweek of September for both years.
The results show that hybrid pumpkins did just fine in New England. In our climate the plants matured fruit without a problem. For the most part, the hybrids did combine the best traits of the parents. The crosses, though not immune,were more insect and Plectosporium blight tolerant than the buttercup/hubbard/kabocha types, and also more powdery mildew tolerant than traditional butternut types. During the second year of the study almost no buttercup/hubbard/kabocha types survived to produce because of insect damage; the hybrids did have mortality but a sizable crop was harvested. In 2012 harvested fruits were accidentally left out on a night in early October when temperatures sunk to 26°F. Butternut types suffered injury that some did not recover from, and many soon beganto rot. The hybrid types recovered from this frost and most have kept well into February.
In 2011 the crosses kept into March without a problem. In the kitchen the squash had deep orange flesh, with good texture and flavor, comparable to buttercup, though
moister and not quite as sweet. I think this Japanese/
Brazilian squash did find fertile ground in Connecticut,
and I believe this crop has the potential to be widely grown
throughout the Northeast. A technical peer reviewed paper
of this squash trial is being prepared.
For additional information see:
Uretsky, Jacob. 2012. Development and evaluation of
interspecific Cucurbita maxima x Cucurbita moschata
hybrids for processing squash. Master’s thesis. University of
New Hampshire.
Seed Sources for Abóbora híbrida/Abóbora Japonesa
(Hybrid Pumpkin):

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