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image - calabaza - cuban pumpkin from UF IFAS TREC research with Dr. Meru

Fall may be prime for specialty pumpkins, but June is just right for growing calabaza

  • Looking to grow your own pumpkins? Then don’t let the summer go by without planning for calabaza in the ground.
  • If you live in the south or central Florida growing zone, June is prime time. Northern Florida counties need the hotter months of the summer for a bountiful yield.
  • Learn in less than an hour the key points — from seeds to vine — with a gardening guide and video led by scientists and agents of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
Geoffrey Meru at UF IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in the greenhouse with calabaza cultivars.

Geoffrey Meru at UF IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in the greenhouse with calabaza cultivars.

MIAMI-DADE, Fla. —  For some, the pandemic brought with it an unexpected interest in all things gardening and growing, including cultivating herbs, growing vegetables and planting fruit trees. If you are planning your garden for fall, then don’t let the summer go by without including the specialty pumpkin of the calabaza in your edible garden.

New crop on the block, Calabaza Pumpkin in Florida is the latest video led by Geoffrey Meru, a vegetable geneticist at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center. The video guides homeowners and interested growers with the background and necessary steps to promote a successful calabaza planting season.

In 60 minutes, he covers a wide range of areas, including the origins and production of the calabaza, the current research on the crop, steps to locating seeds, breeding and growing calabazas, as well as how to monitor and manage disease and pest problems. Originally presented and recorded in Hernando County, Meru goes into additional detail on the nutritional value of this specialty pumpkin, which in Florida is referred to as the Cuban pumpkin or Cuban squash.

“The calabaza is a nutritional powerhouse that is easy to grow, is almost pest free, and is an excellent crop you can use in rotation with others,” said Meru. “It is adapted to Florida’s tropical climate with minimal irrigation requirements.”

Calabaza is a summer squash that is grown extensively in Latin America and throughout the tropics and subtropics. It is known as “ayote” in Central America and “zapallo” in South America. The edible fruits are produced on running vines up to 50 feet long.

In his calabaza research, Meru looks at the gourd as the next pumpkin of choice for those working in the brewing, food, agriculture, manufacturing and health industries. With a two-year, nearly $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he will research whether the calabaza provides the right combination of profit, wider consumer demand and usefulness for many industries. In 1991, calabaza production in South Florida stood at about 2,500 acres, valued at over $5 million. The consumer interest for the webinar serves as a testimony to its growing popularity in Florida.

Living in Florida has its perks with the hot summers providing the ideal time and climate for homeowners and growers to start potting for vivacious vines that will produce several calabazas to enjoy down the line.

If you live in Central or South Florida, June is a great time to start setting seeds in pots. If you’re looking for more specific information on what to plant and when, UF/IFAS provides a yearlong regional calendar website to reference that includes a South Florida Gardening Guide, a Central Florida Gardening Guide, and North Florida Gardening Guide.

 

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
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