Ever since Robert Prince of Flushing, New York, published his first fruit tree catalog in 1771, gardeners have been thumbing through catalogs and dreaming of spring. This year in the Baker Creek catalog (rareseeds.com), I found an interesting squash seed from Argentina, which is a huge country with a lot to offer. Instead of birthday spankings, Argentinians tug the earlobes of the birthday boy or girl. Argentina has more cows than people. And the world’s oldest plants, 472-million-year-old fossils, are from Argentina.
Argentina also brings us gardeners a wonderful old summer squash, Zapallo del Tronco (Cucurbita maxima). This squash has buttery, creamy, soft flesh with skin so fine you can eat the rind. It is called avocado squash because its low moisture content gives it the consistency of an avocado.
Like all summer squash, Zapallo del Tronco cooks up nicely when sauteed in olive oil. Diced with mangoes and peppers, it makes a quick sweet salsa that is perfect for serving over fish.
Because of its low moisture, the firm flesh holds together when grilled. The squash flowers are delicious fried in olive oil or even stuffed and baked. Pick male flowers; their blossoms do not have undeveloped small squashes.
This squash grows in a semi-bush plant, so it is ideal even for smaller gardens or large containers. Plant summer squash seeds an inch or so deep directly in the garden after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up. Space the plants 1 to 2 feet apart in rows 3 or 4 feet apart.
Many gardeners plant squash in small raised hills that, like raised beds, drain well and dry out quickly. If you start plants indoors, use peat pots so you don’t harm the roots when putting the plants out in the garden. Squash does best in full sun and rich soil, so add lots of compost or aged manure to the bed before planting. These are very productive plants that fight off squash bugs and have excellent heat tolerance. You will get squash just 48-52 days after planting. Plant summer squash where it will get full sun for at least seven hours a day.
Once your summer squash plants are about 2 inches tall, add mulch to keep weeds down, retain moisture and regulate the soil temperature. Summer squash is a heavy feeder, so you may want to fertilize with an organic liquid fertilizer when the plants bloom and fruits are forming. Water with at least an inch of water once or twice a week.
The fruits are best picked when small, at 2-4 inches across. As with many summer squash, the more you pick, the more squash will form, so harvest frequently.
Plant Zapallo del Tronco, the avocado-like squash from Argentina, in 2022, and enjoy a summer of squash on the grill, perfect for a summer birthday party. And give those earlobes a tug.