Northern Prairie Growers Wanted for Butternut Squash Landrace Breeding Project

Posted by Michalina Hunter on March 04, 2019 3 Comments

butternut breeding project

Northern Prairie C. Moschata Landrace Project

The Northern Landrace Project is seeking volunteer growers for 2019 to landrace/swarm breed some large, early, cold night tolerant, resilient Curcubita moschata (butternut squash) with the end goal of a loveable butternut flavor.

Learn more on Winston’s website

Volunteer to grow via the contact form. 

The Rationale

A good crop of butternut squash is a difficult thing to achieve in many northern Canadian gardens even with shorter season varieties. On top of that, shorter season varieties achieve this by breeding for smaller fruit but other species of squash can be grown in our climate without sacrificing size.

There is very little research into growing crops for northern Canadian zones and I would like to contribute. To try to find a solution to this I am starting a project to develop landrace/swarm bred butternut type squashes that are adapted to the cold nights and short summers of the northern prairies. I have acquired several types of grex/ landrace C. moschata seeds and I am hoping to mine genetics from them and other short season varieties based on their performance. These will then be combined and molded over a couple generations into at least one reliable landrace type crop. Selection or segregation for fruit shape and other qualities may take place in later steps. The first step is to trial different germplasm and I am looking for people in Canadian communities with short growing seasons who want to participate in grow out trials this year. I am generally looking for gardeners in zones 3 and below. 

butternut squash breeding project

The Goal

Through this exciting collaborative plant breeding effort, we hope to develop a better butternut type squash for Northern climates and bring some diversity to our food system. We aim for a butternut that produces tasty fruit reliably in a short season, is cold night hardy and is resilient due to the very diversity it contains. Large to medium sized fruits are preferred but highly productive, small fruited plants may be considered. Shape will be preferred to be the classic butternut shape but is of least importance.

The secondary goal of this project is to set the ball in motion when it comes to gardeners and farmers breeding and saving seeds at home. We hope to share the skills and expand the knowledge surrounding these tasks in hopes of restoring them to common practice.

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of 10 years, plant trees; if in terms of 100, teach the people. — Confucius

The People

A project like this would be nothing without the volunteers. Gardeners of all skill level are welcome and so far there are 20 people registered to grow for the 2018 season. These gardens span growing zones 2 to 4 and we will be growing out about 160 plants collectively. We have all sorts of gardeners participating from urban gardeners to farmers, to market gardeners. The diversity of their skill sets and locations will bring added strength to this landrace in the end. Participant count: 21 (so far). 

The Plan

Phase one- Summer 2018 Selection Trials (continued in 2019)

Seeds from various cold season varieties, grexes, and landraces will be distributed to be tested for their viability in our Northern growing zones. Visit this page to read more about the varieties involved.

Everyone will grow at least two different varieties to allow for cross pollination and new useful hybrids to add diversity to phase two.

Participants will be asked to self pollinate at least one fruit on each plant they grow to help encourage them to practice hand pollination and to allow for the collection of seeds that will carry the genes from the best plants. Participants will also be asked to attempt intentional hand pollinated crosses between their best performing plants.

Seed will also be saved from promiscuously pollinated fruits from the best performing plants at each location.

Phase Two- Summer 2019 -Swarm Breeding Begins (continued in 2020)

Seeds from the best performing plants will be pooled and distributed to grow as a single interbreeding population. Some seeds from unknown crosses will also be included for diversity.

At this stage, some decisions may be introduced to divide the population based on growth habit (bush vs vine), plant or fruit size, or fruit shape. This could create sister landraces with many shared genes but different uses.

The concept of selection and rogueing will be introduced at this stage. This will help participants learn how to improve and stabilize the landrace.

3 thoughts on “Northern Prairie Growers Wanted for Butternut Squash Landrace Breeding Project

  1. I live between Salmon Arm and Enderby, B.C., close to what was for many years the Northernmost winery. Larch Hills Winery. I’m not sure if you want some growers in this area, but would love to contribute.

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