Weird abundance, or peacetime in the Hopper Wars

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With the cooler weather and shorter days, we have moved into an uneasy peace in the “Hopper Wars.” I can’t seem to pinpoint the exact day when the number of grasshoppers was noticeably reduced,and I timidly uncovered some of the plants in my vegetable garden. But it seemed safe to risk them being devoured by the diminished hordes. It was a bit of a horror to find what had survived the hopper invasion. The plants that made it were obviously stunted by the millions of hopper chomps. About half the plants, particularly potatoes,cooked underneath my linen closet of plant coverings and died. I probably should have invested in the professional lightweight row cover. But there was one true survivor, in fact it has thrived in these hot, dry, and insect-ridden conditions – the squash plants.

I have never have been successful at growing squash. Whether it was not enough water or too much shade (we finally took down the offending shade tree), I could only muster a few spindly plants that produced one or two measly squash. Sometimes a fruitful zucchini plant would put out one summer squash a week. A polite thing to do when your family consists of two people. This year, however, is a whole other story.

During the hopper wars, my husband insisted that I cut the squash plants back because they were harboring hoppers. The hoppers used the squash vines as a refuge but were not inclined to eat the hairy, prickly leaves and stems. I just couldn’t trim the only thing that was growing in the garden without cover. It would be admitting defeat too early. So, I left the squash plants alone and uncovered to fend for themselves. And fend they did.

This year, I planted my usual assortment of squash varieties from the seeds I dutifully saved from the previous year’s bounty or from farmers’ market purchases. Really, squash seeds are a no-brainer when it comes to seed saving – you’re scooping them out before cooking anyway and all you need to do is dry the seeds and find an envelope or container large enough to safely store them. I am especially focused on saving banana-squash seeds – a local favoritewith seeds that are surprisingly difficult to find in the catalogs. My purchase of two large orphan banana squash at the last farmers’ market in the fall produced plenty of seeds for this spring’s planting. I even started the banana-squash plants early – another one of my usual squash failures – and transplanted them in early May under the cover of Wall-o-Waters. I also planted a few hills of zucchini and acorn-squash seeds in hopes that with a diversity of squash species, at least one type might grow and produce something to eat.

After the hopper invasion and subsequent uncovering, the garden was mostly bare, but fertile dirt. Not anymore. The squash plants have roamed over the entire garden expanse. In fact, I am afraid to go near them as I can feel the tendrils curling around my ankle. They have even grown through the perimeter fence towards the house. So, if I don’t write next month… you know where to start searching for my remains.I should stop watering them, but I am cultivating a morbid or rather fertile curiosity about the types, number, and size of squash fruit that these enormous plants can produce. I am also discovering something about the “open-pollinated” seeds that I saved. They result in some weird produce. I know that if I save sunflower seeds – even from the most brilliant orange or red flower – they will grow out yellow-colored as the local pollinators cross my orange flowers with the wild yellow sunflowers and yellow is the color that dominates. I did not realize that this is also possible with the squash flowers.

It turns out that my carefully preserved banana-squash seeds have resulted in a mutant cross of banana squash and zucchini – kind of a hybrid winter/summer squash. An autumn squash? Its good attributes are that it is a true survivor of drought, grasshoppers, and heat. It has a beautiful yellow color and a banana-squash shape and shall-we-say ample or goddess size. The taste is okay, kind of a bland banana squash. Oh, and did I mention, it is an abundant producer. I have banana squash dripping out of my garden. I also have green pumpkins, giant zucchini-like fruit with hard skin, and yellow Hubbard-shaped squash growing in the patch.

So instead of complaining about rhubarb – this year it is squash I can’t figure out what to do with. I have frozen quarts and quarts of calabacitas –a New Mexican succotash made with squash, corn, green chilis, onions, and garlic. This has been the side dish with every meal for the last month and the standard potluck entrant. I fired up the spiralizer – a scary contraption – and made zoodles, squash pie, and zucchini bread. I suppose I could dry the shavings, but the resulting flavor and calorie content is not worth the effort for backpack trips. I can’t even save the seeds because I don’t even want to imagine what the double crosssquash would be. I suppose I could adopt the approach to processing this vegetable that I witnessed in the countryside of Turkey during squash harvest one year. They feed the squash flesh to the animals and save the seeds for the people to eat. On a caloric basis, this is what makes most sense. But the seeds of my autumnal variety are kind of soft, more like a zucchini than a pumpkin and not suitable for roasting.

I can’t even seem to give the stuff away. My friends have stopped responding to my invitations to get together as every time I see them I bring one or two or six squash with me. In my desperation to do something with all this weird abundance, I may have to resort to some sort of reverse-theft and aggressively offer them to strangers. It is possible that in this unstable and Curcubita-addled mental state, I may not be responsible for my actions. I recommend that my neighbors and City Market shoppers keep their car and house doors locked as they may find a squash or two on their driver’s seat or in their mud room. You have been warned.

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From Carolyn Dunmire.