Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Tatume Climbing Zucchini; Calabacita
April 23rd arrived this spring, as it does. That is the date we normally plant squash, zucchini, melons, watermelons, and cucumbers inside in little peat pots to go outside in late May. Unfortunately, this year April 22nd arrived first. As it does, too. That was the date I had my gall-bladder surgery. No problem, we thought. We'll just put off planting for a week. But then family disasters rained down upon us non-stop and are still ongoing. No cucurbits got planted indoors. Eventually, around June 7th, we were organized enough to plant all those seeds outside, in the hope that we would get something, maybe.
It looks like melons, watermelons, and cucumbers will be pretty much a bust. They are there, but struggling. The weather has been all over the map. Hot, cold, wet, dry; but never enough of any one thing. The squash are the only thing that look at all hopeful, but we are still waiting for 8 kinds of summer squash to produce something, anything. And then there is lucky number 9.
We got Tatume squash from Hawthorn Farm as our new summer squash to try this year. It's a climbing squash, a trait that has been bred out of most summer squashes grown in North America. Most home gardeners prefer bush zucchini, which produce a lot of squash in a very compact space. The appeal is understandable. Market gardeners like bush squash too; as they are also easier to find and pick. We were interested in Tatume because we have already built a sturdy trellis system, and we were hoping that by growing them upward we could avoid some of the problems we have had with cucumber beetles and squash bugs.
Well, it turns out that Tatume is very attractive to both squash bugs and cucumber beetles. The good news is, it doesn't care. It is so large and rampant a plant that quantities of bugs that would kill a lesser zucchini have no noticeable effect on it. My research suggests that it is also reasonably impervious to vine borers, a pest we have not yet (*knock wood!*) encountered, but which ravages cucurbits by, well, boring the vine and cutting off the flow of nutrients from the roots. Partly this is because the stem is tough and dense.
Also, Tatume, like many vining squash, will root itself at nodes along the stem as it grows along the ground, bringing more water and nutrients into the plant and insuring itself against having one part of the plant severed from another - once rooted, the stems can continue on on their own. This also makes it drought resistant and tolerant of poorish soils. Obviously, we have lost this advantage by trellising it. Still, our garden has decent soil and plenty of water, so trellising is working out fine so far. In spite of the large size of the plants, we have already picked about half a dozen little squash (calabacitas, in Spanish). They are about the general size and shape of a hand-grenade. We have found them dense and nicely textured, with a mild but very pleasant flavour. They are not quite the calabacitas I remember as a child in Mexico, but close.
I thought such a large plant would be later to produce, but it has beaten any other summer squash in the garden by at least a week; from seed to fruit in about 6 weeks!
My impression is that this sort of calabacita is extremely widespread in Mexico, Central America, and the southern U.S.A; South America too for that matter. There are no doubt a number of different strains of it, with slightly varying qualities and flavours. Tatume has been circulating under that name for a good few years - I remember seeing it listed in one of the first seed catalogues we got when we first started our allotment garden. I did not try it then as the advertising copy described it as "not as annoyingly productive as most zucchini". I'm afraid I did not regard that as a selling feature! I wanted annoyingly productive, as I had very little space. Too bad! I believe that properly trellised, Tatume will produce quite as much summer squash as any other zucchini in a similar space.
Tatume is also known for its' generous production of male blossoms. At first, I would not have believed that. I kept checking the plants, and seeing female blossoms forming, but no male blossoms. I was afraid all the female blossoms would abort; but no problem, they all swell up nicely. Eventually I realized that all the female blossoms were on the south side of the trellis, where by chance it is easy for me to check, and all the male blossoms were on the north side! That tidy division seems to be breaking down as the season progresses, but for a while it was remarkably consistent. Still, if you want to cook with squash blossoms, this is a good variety.
I have not yet had a chance to try it, but these are also used as winter squash. If you miss picking them as summer squash, leave them to mature completely. Or so goes the advice. My impression is that the mature squash will be somewhere between bland and dull, but maybe I am wrong. It looks like in some strains the flesh may be a bit spaghetti squash like, which would actually be nice because I have a very hard time getting spaghetti squash to survive the swarms of cucumber beetles and squash bugs. At any rate, I will certainly leave one or two to mature and try them out. I may be pleasantly surprised!