On Growing Trombocino Squash
Every year, I grow a few new things in the kitchen garden – be it a new cultivar of something I have grown before, or a brand new vegetable. You never know what success you may have, and how much you might like the plant in the kitchen. Some are failures such as melons (generally because I don’ t give them what they need or I plant them at the wrong time), but other stand out as plants to add to the annual garden. And this year, it was Zuchetta Tromba d’Albenga whose seeds I bought from Seeds of Italy.
I started the seeds late, in late June, and planted them outside the garden fence (but still protected from chicken, deer, & rabbits) in the location of last year’s compost pile because I had read that they grew very large – and like all cucurbits they really appreciate sol fertility. In fact I have 2 friends who grow them in their garden, and the sight is impressive. Mostly, what attracted me to them was that they were resistant to squash bugs & borers, yet one could eat them as a summer squash. I struggle growing zucchini because of those pest pressure, so was really curious to try out Tromba d’Albenga (also called trombocino). I thinned my hill to 2 plants: It was several weeks before they really took off, lost as they were between a banana tree, an eucalyptus tree, and a mass of perilla. But grow they did.
By mid-August, I was harvesting the first summer squash – just about the time that the last zucchini had expired. By early September, it was strongly growing over the fence, and the first fruit were well on their way to winter squash. By mid-September, it was growing over the tomato cages inside the garden… which was fine as the tomatoes were succumbing to blight.
Unlike other squash, the plant ovaries are huge compared to the flowers, so the suggestion to harvest the squash when they are 5-6″ (12.5 -15 cm) long means that you would harvest the unfertilized fruit. I waited till they were about 18″ long (45 cm) to harvest as summer squash. At that point they were firm, tasty, with a nutty flavor, not as watery as many zucchini, and the seeds were still undeveloped. They sauteed and grilled really well, and also held their own in curries and other summer stews.
There was the promise of a lot of fruit: you could just see all the tiny fruit at each leaf nodes, most of them female… but many did not get pollinated properly (at least that is what I surmised) and rotted away. It is strange, though, as we have plenty of pollinators, including bumble bees. Maybe the plant just knew how many fruit it could carry at once, since I let the first few grow for winter squash. Anyway, I was never “drowned” in summer squash, something I was actually looking forward too.
I also let more fruit develop into winter squash than I should have. Easy to say in retrospect… It’s possible that if I had kept harvesting the young fruit, the plant would have kept producing more. A better strategy (if one has the space) might to grow plants in 2 distinct areas of the garden (so you can tell them apart), and use one as summer squash while letting the other become a winter squash. As it turns out the winter squashes are spectacular looking, but the flavor is a little blah, and much more watery than I would have expected given how firm the summer squash was. They are fine in pureed dishes (pie, soup, souffle, cheese cake, ravioli, etc) but the texture is rather mushy when they are roasted, because their cooked flesh has “strands” – not as much as spaghetti squash, but similar to a Musquee de Provence (another C. moschata that I should grow again). I prefer butternuts for roasting or sauteing as they are much firmer.
Oh! if you want those trombone’s shapes, then let your squash touch the fence or the ground and they will curl up. If they have space to grow straight, they will grow into 5 foot long fruit, with a long narrow neck.
The flowers of course are edible – like any other squash – but I did not get that many that I felt that I should pick on a regular basis. The shoots are also said to be edible, but they looked really hairy to me, almost like a thorny stubble. The leaves actually are slightly spiny – not something I want to bite in. I prefer to eat the shoots of chayote squash.
Another thing I had heard was that the vine was frost resistant and that I could expect squashes till Thanksgiving. Not here! Or not the strain I had: they frosted at 32F (0 C) and died at 28 (-2 C).
So next year, I plan to grow them again. I plan to start the seeds earlier and to pick all the fruit as summer squash… or until the vine succumb or we get tired of them. A healthy vine resistant to squash bugs and borers that produces a good amount of fruit is surely something I want to grow. Just make sure to give it room to grow!