When most people think of post collapse survival, one of the major topics that first comes to mind is food. The internet is full of articles and forums dedicated to canning, hunting, gathering, and of course, gardening. What I don't often find, are articles specifically dedicated to a particular item of food to be grown in a garden, explaining perhaps why it would be a beneficial plant to start growing now. For me and my own gardening, I have gone from complete and utter newbie, to successful builder of soil and harvester of many delicious edibles. Through out this period of trial and error, I just selected at random packets of seasonal and organic seeds from the local nursery, and while hoping for the best, I would continually return to the net for tips on how to deal with this pest or that fungus.
Having suffered more failures than successes, and now with several growing seasons under my belt, I have narrowed the field of which species I plant in my various garden beds. One species stands out as a new favorite of mine, and this species will be the focus of this article. It is a summer squash called Tatume.
I live in Austin, Texas and basically have a year round growing season. This past winter was mild, so by mid-March I had summer and winter squash already planted and sprouting in the garden. Like most people, I planted the usual suspects; zucchini, yellow crookneck, acorn, and sugar sweet pumpkins. After a nice early harvest began at the outset of summer, the dreaded squash moth arrived. Leaves began to wilt and turn yellow, and I started spending more and more time on my hands and knees wiping the moth's small red eggs from plant stems. Worse still, I started finding my self more and more often having to use a razor blade to cut small windows into the squash vines so I could exorcise the chubby, white grubs from within. Of course, my chickens loved the vine borers, but I was growing frustrated with fighting a losing battle. Even carrying a fly swatter and striking down the moths themselves when I could was not enough to prevent my entire planting from finally succumbing to the borers. What had been a great spring where I was pulling large quantities of squash every week, became a depressing summer of empty beds where so much green had once thrived.
In conversation with a fellow gardener, I mentioned my loss, and she clued me in to the Tatume squash. She had recently planted some herself after a similar loss of her own plants. According to what she had read, the vines of the Tatume are thinner and denser than those of most other squash, and make traveling within them more difficult for vine borers. She also had read that Tatume re-rooted themselves from their vines frequently, providing auxiliary points along the plant where nutrients could be drawn from the soil should the central vine be lost to pests. I had to try growing this wonder plant for myself after she ended the discussion by stating, "I hear the problem with Tatume isn't keeping them alive, it's controlling them!"
About a week later, my seed order from Baker Creek Heirlooms came through, and I had several packs of Tatume seed. As it was not (at the time) available at the local nursery, I figured I would make a large order for my personal seed bank, should the species prove to be as resilient as my friend claimed it to be. I went outside and pulled together several mounds of soil in three different garden beds, and in each mound I planted three seeds. The results have been nothing short of extraordinary.
First, the vines do indeed grow long and fast. Assuming an infestation of vine borers was inevitable, and knowing that they can decimate the primary vine of a plant quite quickly, I wanted to make sure these plants laid roots in several places. I buried the nodes of each vine in several locations with rich soil, and watered these areas just as I watered the central vine. While I believe this practice helped, it may not have been specifically necessary, as the plants seemed fairly interested in re-rooting themselves of their own volition.
I noticed that the squash moth did still lay eggs on Tatume plants, but interestingly enough, they didn't seem to lay nearly as many eggs as they were laying on my hubbards, my acorn squash, or my remaining (and struggling!) zucchini. Out of the fifteen Tatume seeds I planted, I still have fifteen living and healthy plants, and I only had to cut two vine borers out of the entire group. This was early in their development when I noticed a bit of frass on the central vines. The borers I removed were small, and had barely damaged the plants, which I believe was in fact due to the tighter, denser nature of the vine structure. Most of the suggestions one finds on the Internet concerning how to deal with squash vine borers revolve around covering plants with netting or using some form of pesticide, including BT injections. For anyone planning a survival garden, relying on anything that needs to be purchased from a store is unacceptable. It makes far more sense to be finding workable solutions now, and that includes the selection of the most reliable and defensible plant species.
Of course, so many fecund and spawning squash plants in one area will draw in another pest; the squash bug. My own garden began to attract squash bugs once my Tatume were sprawling over many square feet of space and producing fruit. Early detection is not only key, but it's quite easy for the observant gardener. These little insects come in droves, colored an orangish red as young nymphs, then growing into large gray stink bugs if left unattended. Walking around with a jar of soapy water to knock them off of the plant and into, hand squishing, and a light coat of flour sifted onto the plants (and washed off three days later) was enough to rid me of their nuisance in under a week. I also suggest keeping various insect repellant herbs planted throughout the garden as well as members of the daisy family which will attract assassin bugs to your aid. I know of one gardener who makes a Tansy tea (Tansy is a flower in the Aster/Daisy family) which he then sprays directly onto his food plants, bringing the assassin bugs to live upon them in full force. The only drawback is that assassin bugs can kill pollinators such as bees, so use with discretion.
The fruit of the Tatume plant has the color and flavor of a zucchini but is shaped like a small pumpkin. Native to Mexico, the Tatume is used in a dish called "calabacitas" and is itself often referred to as "calabacita" (meaning "little squash.") We are suffering a hard drought here in central Texas, yet my Tatume thrive. I credit this primarily to my regular watering, but also to the possibility that being a native of Mexico has granted Tatume at least a moderate drought and heat tolerance. As temperature zones are shifting, with warmer weather sustaining for larger portions of the year further and further north, as well as the extension of drought conditions, and even the possibility of water supply disruption due to collapse related events, having seeds in your survival arsenal that can handle such conditions is a must.
Falling under the Curcubita Pepo grouping, this would mean that Tatume can cross pollinate with all others in this category, including zucchini and crook neck squash. As seed saving is crucial to those planning a survival garden, this means either not growing other C. Pepo, separating them by large distances, or hand pollinating. Personally, not wanting to deal with the pest issues associated with these other squash, I would elect to only grow Tatume as a summer squash. It should be noted as well, that C. Pepo can in fact cross pollinate with C. Maxima (Buttercup, Hubbard) as well as C. Moschata (Butternut) requiring the above mentioned precautions. Like all squash, the seeds are large and plentiful, so collecting, drying, and storing them for the next season's crop is extremely easy. I would imagine preparing the seeds as one would pumpkin seeds, would also yield a tasty snack.
The summer is now waning, and I'm seeing squash moths less and less. In the past week, I haven't had to make my regular rounds of plant inspections, obsessively removing moth eggs from the undersides of leaves. As I walk through the garden with my watering can every morning taking in the beauty of those bright orange flowers open to the rising sun, inviting in bees and ants, I am thoroughly rewarded for such diligence. I bend over to gently pull apart the still ever expanding network of dark green vines which are engulfing my garden beds to find softball sized, evergreen globes waiting for me. While I still struggle at times with other food plants, these struggles are a reward as well. While the grocery stores are still open, failure isn't critical, and these failures inform us of what plants we can reasonably expect to rely on when a crisis does arrive, and which will ultimately sap us of more energy than they will give us. After a wonderful and productive season, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you too begin experimenting with Tatume squash in your home garden and kitchen.