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Archive for Thursday, August 1, 2013

Garden Calendar: A squash alternative without the bug problem

August 1, 2013

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Jim Guthrie holds a Zucchetta Rampicante Tromboncino Squash in his garden. The plant, a relative to zucchini and yellow squash, has a similar flavor to its cousins but aren’t as attractive to squash bugs.

Jim Guthrie holds a Zucchetta Rampicante Tromboncino Squash in his garden. The plant, a relative to zucchini and yellow squash, has a similar flavor to its cousins but aren’t as attractive to squash bugs.

A zucchini by another name might be a little less sweet to squash bugs. At least that is what one Lawrence gardener is beginning to believe in his second season of growing Zucchetta Rampicante Tromboncino squash.

In the time of year when many gardeners are losing zucchini plants to both squash bugs and squash vine borers, Jim Guthrie’s Tromboncino squash plants are thriving.

The name zucchetta (also spelled zuchetta) refers to a few heirloom Italian squash varieties that are cousins to the zucchini and yellow squash typically grown in the U.S. Although they look a little different, Guthrie says the flavor of the Tromboncino is good and indistinguishable from other summer squash when cooked into breads or sauces.

Guthrie, who gardens in the Sunset Hills neighborhood with his wife, Diane, decided to try zucchetta last year because of the insect pests that are rampant in this area.

“I really liked cooking with zucchini, but I just couldn’t control the squash bugs. I started looking for an alternative and found these as a possibility,” he explains.

In his first season growing zucchetta, Guthrie was able to harvest squash until frost without an insect problem. He says he still checks his plants daily for pests and has seen a couple of squash bugs this year that he removed. The plants appear unaffected. Squash vine borers have yet to be a pest in Guthrie’s garden, although he knows they are a common problem for other gardeners in this area.

One of the biggest differences between zucchetta and zucchini is the growth habit of the plants.

“You need a lot of vertical space or a lot of horizontal space,” Guthrie notes. Because his horizontal space is limited, Guthrie used a feedlot panel to create an arched trellis for the vines.

Feedlot panels, also referred to as cattle or hog panels, are available at farm stores along with the T-posts necessary for support. Guthrie trains the vines to go up and over the arched trellis although a few strands of the plant will find their way along the ground at the trellis’ base.

The other difference in these squash cousins is the shape of the fruit: Zucchetta Rampicante Tromboncino can grow to 3 feet or more in length with a slightly bell-shaped bottom. If left to grow on the ground, the fruits curl on themselves in trombone-ish fashion.

Guthrie recommends harvesting when the fruit are 12 to 24 inches long. He suggests slicing and broiling them with garlic, pepper and Parmesan for a simple dish. Grilling, stir-frying, adding to breads, muffins, pasta sauce and soup are also good options.

If left on the vine long enough, Tromboncino will form a hard outer shell and turn yellow like a winter squash. If ripened in this way, the squash can be kept for a few months. Otherwise the shelf life is similar to a regular zucchini.

Finding seeds may be the biggest challenge to growing zucchetta, but there are options. Guthrie ordered his from Territorial Seed Company after searching local garden centers, and there are a few other online dealers who sell the seeds. Some companies refer to this particular variety simply as Tromboncino.

Other zucchettas might also be resilient to squash bug feeding. Zuchetta Tromba d’Albenga produces a fruit similar in appearance to Tromboncino.

The plants are bush-type but larger and more elongated than typical zucchini or yellow squash. Serpent of Sicily (sometimes called cucuzzi) is another variety with a long, green fruit, but needs even more room than Tromboncino with vines that grow to 25 feet or more.

Zuchetta Rugosa Friulana produces a light-yellow, warty fruit. All three of these varieties are available through the local distributor Seeds from Italy and from garden centers who carry their brand, Franchi Seeds.

Tromboncino and Rugosa Friulana are varieties of Cucurbita moschata. Tromba d’Albenga and Serpent of Sicily are Cucurbita lagenaria, and the typical zucchini and yellow squash are all species of Cucurbita pepo.

Zucchettas are also sometimes labeled as zucchinos.

— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or mastergardener@douglas-county.com.

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