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The Incredible Giant Gourd

We love growing things. This summer we grew a baby human (who is now quite large indeed) instead of our typically large garden. In May, we welcomed our sweet boy, Jon. While I'd take him over veggies any day, we are excited to get back into the garden next year.

Last winter we created a pen that was about half an acre in size for our cows and donkeys in the place where we wanted to plant our larger squash and pumpkin garden. All winter the livestock enriched the ground, and by spring we had a beautiful plot of composted hay that made fertile soil to work with. On top of that (literally) we had a layer of mulch that was a few inches thick, holding moisture during the worst parts of the drought. Aside from a few tomato and pepper plants we grabbed from the Amish greenhouse, we just threw some watermelon, pumpkin, sunflower, and zucca seeds in the ground and let the strong survive.

We didn't have as severe of a drought this year, thankfully, however we did have a late frost that wiped out a few plants. Even with extremely limited attention after planting the seeds, we were happy and grateful to have a bountiful harvest. Zero weeding, zero watering! This speaks to the manifold benefits of focusing on your soil, but that's another post entirely.

We enjoyed our first ever really successful batch of watermelons (we really like pickled watermelon rind), several sunflowers, one 50 pound pumpkin and... 815 pounds of Zucca gourds! Here are a few that we harvested:

Known formally as the "Giant Zucca Melon Gourd", it is one of the few edible gourds and is an ancient, heirloom variety that has proven to be a hardy and practical staple in our garden (even if at times we feel like we're tending Audrey Jr. from Little Shop of Horrors, wondering if the vines will take over the entire county). They have curly vines with adorable tendrils and lovely white flowers, requiring night pollination. While ours like to hang out around the 35lb range, they can get up to 100lbs!

Genus: Lagenaria

Species: Siceraria

Subspecies: Zucca

Common Name: Zucca Gourd

I've seen a few places where you can buy zucca seeds, but several are sold out which is amazing, since they are insanely prolific! We want to sell the seeds we've saved from our biggest and hardiest zuccas. We've saved the seeds for 2 years and will continue to keep the best and brightest, specifically adapted to the southwestern Missouri weather, but we will have to wait to do so. In 2022, legislation was passed in Missouri regarding the sale of seeds:

So now I need to figure out what a germination test is, how to administer it, learn about hermetically packing seeds, make sure we comply with the other rules, and call my legislators to explain that small family farms need support. Reviving the small family farm, in my personal opinion, is one of the most important things that can be done to support the land, our health, and future generations. Too many legal restrictions can put us out of operation. Not just limit profits, but make it impossible to operate a small farm. There are already so many regulations including the sales of raw milk, beef, livestock, collecting rainwater, and now saving and selling vegetable seeds. The list continues to grow.

Maybe you're wondering why anyone would want over 800lbs of edible gourds, but we have lots of applications: We like to eat them- they have almost no flavor profile and are incredibly versatile. We put them in soups, sauté them in stir fry, add them to quiches, pizzas, and I cut them up julienne style as a perfect baby weaning snack. I prefer to eat them while they are about the size of a zucchini. At that size, the seeds haven't developed and the skin is still soft, edible, and most importantly, doesn't require a pickax to cut into.

We feed them to our livestock- our Silver Appleyard ducks may be the most passionate about them out of all the animals, but our cows and donkeys will snack on them as well. After the first freeze in late October, we let the cows back into their winter pasture/our summer garden and they quickly ate up all the smaller zuccas still on the vines.

They can be shaped into useful containers- you name it: water containers, compost storage, birdhouses, grain bins. Anything that needs contained can be stored in a hollowed-out zucca. And the zuccas will grow around or inside of any shape they are bound by, so we plan to get more creative with that next summer. You could turn them into boxes if you let them grow inside of a square form! This isn't only fun, it's much better (for the environment and you) than storing everything plastic.

We like to share them- some of our good friends, local Amish neighbors, and complete strangers received zuccas as a gift. You had a baby? Great, here's a zucca! You are having a party? Zucca for you! We are coming to your house? ZUCCCAAAA. We actually want our community to start keeping these on hand and growing them more and more because they're reliable and versatile and should be kept on hand in case of an apocalypse. We enjoy the convergence of novelty and practicality, something sorta like this:

We started an annual harvest festival for friends and family (although we got rained out this year, sadly) with prizes for best zucca recipe and most creative use of a zucca. You can start a similar idea in your community- get some seeds (from someone legally allowed to sell them 😅) and see what happens!

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