Origin: Elmer, NJ (and Bolivia & the Delmarva Peninsula)
Improvement status: Breeding population
Seeds per packet: ~15
Germination tested 12/2022: 92%
Life cycle: Annual
This beautiful squash population is at once both exciting and something of a disappointment. It's disappointing only because it's not the squash we hoped it would be when we planted the seeds that produced it. But it's exciting because it might just be something new and great.
Here's the story: In our first year in Elmer (2014) we planted seeds from the USDA for a squash variety known as 'Jemi' in the language of the Esse Ejja people, a small indigenous group living in the Bolivian Amazon. The USDA noted that it is traditionally grown on sand-bars in the river. The seeds from the government did not germinate well, and we ended up with just one plant that produced a single fruit. Unfortunately, it had escaped our notice (we had actually given up on them), so that one fruit was not hand-pollinated. We were growing a handful of other Cucurbita maxima squash that year, including lots of 'Nanticoke' squash not far from this one. We saved the seeds from that single squash with the label 'Jemi' O.P. ("open pollinated"). In 2020, Nate figured they might be nearing the end of their viability, so he planted a bunch of them and decided this would be the one C. maxima squash at the farm this year.
As they grew, it was exciting that they seemed to be vigorous and quite uniform-looking. But once the fruit started ripening, it was clear they just didn't look right. 'Jemi' fruit are round, almost like a globe, or round and tall (based on the photos in the USDA database, they're shaped like either Bert or Ernie's heads — for all you Sesame Street fans out there). They're also grey-blue-green in color, with just the occasional orange splotch. Our whole patch ultimately looked more or less like the first one in the photos here. Beautiful pink pumpkins, some slightly more orange, not too big, not too small. They had the long-keeping ability of the Nanticoke, and they definitely had its ability to thrive despite vine borer damage. Of course, it was an F1 hybrid, which explains the uniformity. Predictably, the F2 generation showed much more variability (as seen in the next photos;). Now we're selling F3 seed, along with some F2 seed from the previous generation, and calling it a "breeders mix."
Given the diversity of the 'Nanticoke' landrace (see last two photos) which is the original pollen parent, subsequent generations could demonstrate even more variability. We're excited to see what forms pop out and what new varieties you all breed from these seeds over the next decade or more. We'll be continuing to experiment ourselves — hoping for at least a few stable lines of vine-borer-resistant winter squash for the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast — and crossing our fingers for a line that resembles the beautiful F1 population. (If we succeed with that last part, we've got dibs on the name 'Pink Panther' squash!)