I love garden surprises. This fall, my surprise came in the form of a massive squash called The Red Warty Thing (formerly called Victor). Back in July I pulled down my cucumber vines. This left me with a 33’ trellised row in need of planting. So, I ordered 5 varieties of heirloom winter squash from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com). In all honesty, I didn’t plan on eating any of them. I wanted to use them in the fall decorations around our house.
When I ordered The Red Warty Thing, I thought I would be growing a lovely orange, bumpy, softball sized decoration to mix in a bowl with my gourds, acorns and leaves. I was very surprised when my “decoration” turned into a 16 pound pumpkin!
I have grown very few things that I enjoyed as much as this squash. In fact, watching it grow became a part of our evening routine. It produced huge vines with huge, beautiful leaves. After that came the huge yellow flowers. Once the bees did their thing, we enjoyed watching the light yellow football shaped fruit that was about the size of golf ball turn into the huge Red Warty Thing. For the first month, it kept its yellow color. Once it got about as big as it is now, the skin started to change. Then it developed slight ribs like a pumpkin. Then the bumps started forming and the color started changing ever so slightly every day.
As much fun as it was to watch the squash grow, I will probably not grow it (or any other squash) for a couple of years. The reason I have finally decided to give up on squash for a while was a little green bug called the cucumber beetle.
Now I am a pretty experienced gardener. However, I have never experienced insects that were this invasive and this destructive. While I am accustomed to squash bugs and squash vine borers, I have never encountered anything like the cucumber beetle before. As soon as the foliage reached the top of the trellis, these guys showed up. And not just a few either. They came en mass. Over the next few weeks they systematically stripped all of the foliage and flowers from my 15 plants. The only way I could keep ahead of them was to let the squash vine on the ground. For some reason the bugs only ate the foliage on the trellis.
Since I grow organically, I didn’t have any means to fight them. I never noticed a larval stage. One day I noticed holes in the leaves and the next day the trellis was covered in a swarm of green bugs. These beetles finally showed me that as an organic grower I am truly defenseless against a determined invader.
Since this is going to be the last winter squash I grow for a while I decided to do a little research and see what I could do with a 16 lb squash. Turns out, I can do a whole lot. According to the internet, the Red Warty Thing has a flavor and texture that allows you to use it in all of your pumpkin recipes. So I can puree it and use it to make pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup. It can also be cubed and roasted just like an acorn or butternut squash. Since I really like all of these things, I am looking forward to helping my wife convert our “decorative” squash into a plethora of pumpkin dishes for all of our Thanksgiving guests.