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Lakota Squash: Vine With A History

The Lakota squash is a delicious winter squash that can add to any fall menu. Once mature, the nutty fine-grained flesh is popular for baking, and the seeds are a tasty snack. 

This pear-shaped squash has a beautiful orange rind with green streaks, which makes it a delightful fall decoration.  This plant can be huge, with each plant requiring a bare minimum of 4-6 feet of space in the garden. 

Despite it being a form of winter squash, you will need to harvest before the first fall frost hits your garden. And you’ll want to; they’re tasty squash! But it has a definite history – one that doesn’t actually involve the Lakota tribe. Let’s talk about this lovely squash hybrid and how it came to be!

Good Products For Growing Lakota Squash:

Quick Care Guide

Lakota squash
The deep orange and green streaks of Lakota squash are beautiful.
Common Name(s)Lakota squash
Scientific NameCucurbita maxima ‘Lakota’
Days to Harvest85-100 days
LightFull sun
Water:Consistent, even moisture, about 1” per week
SoilWell-draining, loamy, fertile
FertilizerBalanced 5-5-5 or a 5-10-10 NPK periodically through the summer
PestsSquash vine borer, squash bug, cucumber beetle, aphids
DiseasesBacterial wilt, mosaic virus, powdery mildew

All About Lakota Squash

Squash blossoms
Like other squash flowers, the Lakota’s are edible. Source: Dinesh Valke

The Lakota squash, Cucurbita maxima ‘Lakota’, is a winter squash with thick orange skin and green streaks.  It is pear-shaped, closely resembling the Hubbard squash. It’s a close relative of the pumpkin, as it shares the same species if not the same shape or size.

This plant takes up a decent amount of space in the garden and vines can spread up 10-20 feet.   The green leaves are large and round, and the flowers are a vibrant yellow.  When ready to harvest, the fine-grained squash weighs approximately 4-8 pounds.

When planted from seed, germination takes about a week and 10-15 days for seedlings to emerge.  Late summer you will see a burst of growth in vines, leaves, and flowers.  Squash will start growing once it’s pollinated and will mature in mid to late fall. 

This winter squash is valued for its sweet nutty flesh. The seeds can be harvested and roasted, or even pressed for oil. Like all other squash plants, the flowers are edible.  Harvest the male blossoms and leave the female flowers to produce the fruit.  

History

The history of the Lakota squash is a fascinating one. It is not a true Native American heirloom as proclaimed by many seed distributors! Instead, it’s a hybrid that took over a century to create.

The original seeds from which this squash was grown are documented as having been grown at Fort Atkinson in Nebraska in the 1820s. They had acquired them from unnamed tribal members who lived throughout the Missouri Valley region. Later, the fort traded some of their seeds to Fort Robinson so that they could also grow the squash.

A civilian employee of Fort Robinson, Alfred Iossi, took some seeds and shared them with his sister, Martha Newman. She grew them in her garden alongside other squash varieties, saved the seeds, and planted them again the next year.

Eventually, the Newman family moved to Alliance, Nebraska. The seeds moved with them and continued to be planted on their homestead every year. While the original produce was described as elongated and cylindrical with green and orange streaking, the variety she produced alongside her Hubbard squash began to change. No longer long and cylindrical, they more resembled the teardrop shape of the Hubbard, but with the streaked coloring of the original produce.

A woman named Alice Graham was given seeds from this cultivar by Mrs. Newman. She donated some seed to the University of Nebraska. Only one of the 200 plants that the university planted produced fruit, and they began to inbreed that fruit to produce further seed. Six generations of plants later, they came up with a specific inbred cultivar referred to as NE IS-88-12. 

Because of the seed’s history, University of Nebraska breeder D.P. Coyne opted to recognize the origin of the original landrace seeds by referencing one of the tribes that traditionally lived in the Missouri Valley and named it Lakota. He was quite clear to state in his report that it was an honorary name for the squash. Lakota Sioux people had no hand in its production.

Many seed distributors have erroneously claimed that this is a traditional food grown by Lakota tribal people, mostly because of its name. It has become quite romanticized, in fact, as people often want to grow old heirloom varieties and often search for tribally-grown seeds. But the final research paper on the history and origin of the Lakota squash was published in the early 1990s, and the field trials they ran were throughout the 1980s. But to summarize, what we now know as Lakota squash is a hybrid between an unnamed squash and a Hubbard squash that took over a hundred years to create.

Care

Lakota on the vine
href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicolas_schwab/49622715468/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Source: Nicolas Schwab

This requires similar care as other winter squash varieties. It is easy to grow and is a beautiful addition to the garden. 

Sun and Temperature

This plant requires full sun, with a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight and up to 8-10 hours of direct sunlight.  It thrives in warm USDA growing zones 8-10. 

Winter frost can be damaging, so you will want to wait to plant in your garden until the last frost has passed in your region. If you have a long winter, consider starting your seeds indoors. The minimum soil temperature is 60° F, with ideal soil temperatures ranging from 70-85° Fahrenheit.  Its flowers may get damaged in extreme heat and slow production. 

Water and Humidity

During the germination and seedlings stage, the soil requires frequent watering and must be consistently moist but not soggy.  Once established, this plant is somewhat drought tolerant. Water when the top 2-3 inches of the soil feels dry.  Focus on watering the base of the plant where the roots are concentrated.  Avoid watering the leaves, vines, flowers, or produce.

The ideal time of day to water is in the morning. Provide a deep watering with the top 1” of the soil saturated once a week.  Soaker hoses can make the process easy. High humidity is not ideal and increases the spread of pests and diseases. 

Soil

This plant has shallow roots that love rich loamy well-draining soil.  To create ideal soil conditions, loosen the top 6-12 inches of soil and integrate fertile organic matter.  Soil should absorb moisture but not retain a puddle of water, which can rot the roots. 

Mulch can be spread around the base of the plant to minimize evaporation on hot summer days.  The pH range is not a big concern but the ideal range is between 5.5-7.0. 

Fertilizing

Focus on fertilizing one week after true leaves have developed, and one week after blossoms bloom.  Then apply a light dose of fertilizer once a month.  An organic fertilizer of 5-5-5 or 5-10-10 NPK is ideal, applied about 4 inches from the base of the plant and worked in.  Liquid fertilizers can be applied once a month, whereas slow-release granules can be applied once or twice a season. Be wary of nitrogen-heavy fertilizers which can stimulate leaf growth and take the focus away from the maturity of your fruit. 

Pruning/Training

Wait to prune until you identify which vines are growing fruit. Then, selectively prune off vines that are not growing fruit, redirecting the plant’s energy towards production.  Prune when the plant and soil are dry, as this will minimize diseases.  Be gentle when pruning. Vines can easily snap.  Keep pruning minimal since the big round leaves provide important sustenance for squash production.

If you are crunched for space, try vertical growing options such as using a trellis.  You will want to apply a 5-8 feet support system as soon as you start planting.  Consider utilizing individual slings on your trellis to provide additional support for the heavy fruit. 

Propagation

Seed propagation is the predominant method of cultivation. If you are planting outside directly into the soil, sow 2-4 seeds one inch deep.  Space each planting 3-6 feet apart.  

If you have a short growing season, start your plants 2-4 weeks indoors.  Keep in mind that seedlings are delicate and do not like their roots to be bothered, so be gentle when transplanting!

Another option is to grow your winter squash in a 5-10 gallon pot for container gardening.  

Some have had success in propagating through cuttings.  If you are feeling adventurous, encourage an individual vine to root by anchoring it to the soil with a stake, cover with soil, and cut from the parent plant once roots form.  

Harvesting and Storing

Ripe Lakota squash
This hybrid has nutty, fine-textured flesh.

You have spent time and effort on caring for this winter squash, and it’s a joy when it’s ready to harvest!  Let’s go over the basics of harvesting and storing so that you can enjoy your delightfully sweet and nutty squash throughout the winter.

Harvesting

The Lakota squash matures within 85-100 days.  It can take as long as 140 days to reach maturity on the vine in some regions.  But how do you know if it’s mature and ready to harvest?  Press a fingernail into the hard skin. If it leaves a dent or mark in the skin or exposes flesh, it is not ready.  You can also knock on the hard shell, you want a hollow sound and no soft spots.  

Harvest before the first frost sets in.  Using a knife, cut the stem 2-3 inches above the squash but do not carry it by the stem.  Let the winter squash cure in the sun for 1-2 weeks, or in a sunny location inside.  This will harden the skin and allow it to store longer. 

Storing

For long-term storage, you will want to locate the cured Lakota squash in a cool, dark, dry area. They will last for 6 months, and you will want to check for any soft spots, rot, or decay. 

You can also cook and freeze or can for storage options.  The squash will last 3 months in the freezer, whereas canned squash will last 1-2 years.  Dehydrated squash can last up to 5 years if properly stored.

Troubleshooting

Powdery mildew on squash leaves
Powdery mildew is a common sight on squash plants. Source: Starr

You may need to pollinate by hand.  Male blossoms bloom early and are located on thinner stems.  Female blossoms will have a small fruit bulge located below the flower head. Take pollen from male flowers and swab it into female flowers with a cotton swab or paintbrush.

Wilting leaves can be deceiving.  When squash leaves wilt during hot weather, it is their plant adaptation in conserving water.  The leaves should spring back up during the cooler evening temperatures.  If the leaves are continually limp and wilting, this is an indication that they need a deep drink of water and/or require an application of fertilizer. 

Other problems may include pests like the squash vine borer, squash bug, cucumber beetle, or aphids.  The Lakota squash can be resistant to the damaging effect of the vine borer since it tends to put roots down where the vines lie. Floating row covers can minimize these pests from invading your garden.

Common winter squash diseases like bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, or powdery mildew may find their way into your garden.  Moist and humid conditions can add to this, to reduce this possibility you will want your soil to dry between waterings and do not water foliage and you can place squash on top of wood or plastic to lift it off the soil.