Our 2023 EFN seed catalogue is now online! 100+ new varieties. Over 40 different growers and foragers from across the country. A million thanks to all who make this possible, especially our amazing seed-house crew!
The 'Nanticoke' winter squash is just plain incredible. It must be grown, seen, and tasted, to be believed. It is an unimproved landrace from the Nanticoke (or Kuskarawaok) people, one of the southernmost peoples in the Algonquin language family, who historically lived in southern Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake in Maryland. Today, Nanticoke people live primarily in Delaware and southern New Jersey (where they have merged with the local Lenni Lenape to form the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Nation). Intriguingly, this squash is a Cucurbita maxima, which means it originated in Argentina. Most scientists and scholars believe all maxima squash reached North America in the 1500s or later, so the genesis of the Nanticoke squash in the mid-Atlantic region is likely relatively recent. Nevertheless, this landrace holds staggering diversity within its genome. Fruits appear in a range of colors, including blue, pink, grey, orange, coral, white, green, gold, and red (though blue, pink, and grey seem to be most common). Some fruits have a distinctive "turban" quality to them. Some have a profuse amount of warts. Some are small and round, others large and flat, and still others pointed. Some have stripes, some have dots, and some have asymmetrical splotches of color. Flavors and textures vary too, but thankfully most of them are quite delicious. In the decade since EFN co-founder Nate Kleinman first started growing them (from seeds received from Seed Savers Exchange's seed bank in Iowa), he has meticulously hand-pollinated or isolated for purity, and mainly saved and replanted seeds from the best-tasting plants, regardless of form, resulting in a population that is still incredibly diverse, but has a higher proportion of good-sized (3-8 lb) and good-tasting fruit. We believe many of the world's favorite heirloom squash (including the Galeaux d'Eysines, the Turk's Turban, and the Rouge Vif d'Etampes, from France, and the Kabocha and Hokkaido from Japan) may have been bred from Nanticoke squash which found their way into global commerce due to the exceedingly long storability of some fruits (we've had some last up to 18 months at room temperature).
The diversity is the main reason to grow this squash: you literally never know what kind of fruit it will produce. We see new forms emerge every year. To a small degree we have begun selecting new varieties from the Nanticoke population, but it will be many years before any of these are stabilized (if ever). In the meantime, we are happy to share this wonderful squash with you.
25% of the proceeds of these seeds will be donated to the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Nation based in Bridgeton, NJ. Any Nanticoke or Lenape people interested in growing these seeds should contact us to receive a packet at no cost or to have it refunded from your order.
GROWING TIPS: Direct seed in May or June, or transplant healthy plant starts around this time. Plants should be spaced 30-36 inches apart in rows 5-6 feet apart. They really want to sprawl.