Gathering Together Farm winter squash display at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market
A version of this post was first published on Wayward Spark.
Gathering Together Farm grows (among other things) seven types of winter squash on about five acres of fertile ground. Planting, tending, harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering the bounty to market requires a lot of time and a lot of laboring, but the result is monumental and delicious. Their delicata squash crop alone yields about 20,000 pounds of fruit.
buttercup squash, kabocha squash
Squash varieties have been trialed and selected over the years based on several characteristics: yield, market demand, storage, and taste. An individual variety may rate well in regards to several traits but poorly with others. Pie pumpkins are in demand, but they don’t keep very well. Kabocha squash has a decent yield, stores fairly well, and is delicious, but people often aren’t very familiar with it and are sometimes intimidated by its relatively large size.
Delicata squash is a perpetual favorite. Perfect size. Perfect sweet smooth flavor. Easy to cut into. Easily blends into any autumnal recipe. GTF with our partners at Wild Garden Seed grow, save, and sell a farm-original, ‘Zeppelin’ variety of delicata. (You can read the whole story of how they managed to avoid seed contaminated with bitterness like so many other farms experienced a decade ago.)
The farm’s seed/irrigation/greenhouse manager Joelene has observed that winter squash will produce more vibrant vines and have a larger fruit set if they are direct seeded in the spring. The downside of this method is that a wet spring can delay planting, or an early frost can leave a whole crop of underripe squash sitting unharvested in the field. Transplanting young squash seedlings is a more reliable though somewhat less productive method employed by GTF.
Winter squash begins to ripen in September, but the main harvest starts in early October. The skins of the squash harden, and the vines yellow and eventually die back. Before the first frost, teams of laborers head out to the fields to clip the squash stems and later load the harvest into industrial onion bins (with a method similar to the watermelon toss seen here). Bins are trucked back to the farm packing and storage area where they will be washed, sorted, and wiped dry by more workers with the help of a conveyor-belt sprayer system. Squash that doesn’t meet high quality control standards is donated to the regional food bank or composted.
butternut squash, ambercup squash
Squash will generally keep for several months if it is kept in a dry place at a consistant, cool temperature. At the farm, squash that isn’t sold shortly after harvest is stored in a large shipping container with a dehumidifier.
Gathering Together Farm sells squash in all of our farmers’ market booths, to restaurants and grocery stores in Corvallis and the Portland area, and at our Farm Stand. We also have a long-standing contract for many tons of butternut squash with Oregon-based distributor of organic produce, Organically Grown Company.
This year, GTF grew the following varieties of winter squash:
‘Metro‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘JSW 6823’ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘Early Butternut‘ from Osborne Seed Company
‘Nutterbutter‘ from High Mowing Seed Company
‘Delica‘ from Osborne Seed Company
‘Sweet Mama‘ from Osborne Seed Company
‘Cha Cha‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘Sunshine‘ (orange) from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘Bon Bon’ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘Jet‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘Zeppelin‘ from Wild Garden Seed
‘Marina Di Chioggia‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘Sweet Meat‘ from Territorial Seed Company