The Long Island Seed Project

Cucurbitaceae: Hubbard Squash  (Cucurbita maxima)

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Breeding Hubbard Squash

Revised Dec., 2007

Hubbard Squash   


The original Hubbard Squash was transported by sea trade to coastal Marblehead, Massachusetts probably from Argentina or Chili via the West Indies. It was a heavy, hard shelled 25 to 40 pounder and was given the name "Hubbard Squash" by farmer and teacher, James Howard Gregory after the lady who introduced he and his father to the "sea" squash, a respected housekeeper, Elizabeth Hubbard.  Gregory released seed of it to neighbors in 1844 and it became a favorite New England baking squash.  Believed to have originally been a green or variable greenish colored skin, the Hubbard apparently was the catalyst that prompted James Gregory to enter the seed business.  He released the variety, "Marblehead" as an improved, more stable selection of his green Hubbard in 1867. 

The popularity and quality of the hubbard across 19th century America caused a flurry of breeding work using the hubbard as a parent.  Similar tapered or football- shaped squash were developed such as a darker green, much warted "Chicago" hubbard released by Vaughan Seeds of Chicago, Illinois in the1890's and the Golden Hubbard that was introduced by the Ferry-Morse Seed Company at about the same time.  Soon after, in 1909 the Gregory Seed Company released the Blue Hubbard, which remains best known in the hubbard squash category. The Blue Hubbard is the largest squash of all the Hubbards sometimes attaining a weight of 50 pounds.  By James Gregory's own account, "Blue" was a chance cross between his green "Marblehead" and "Middleton Blue" which appeared in his Hubbard production fields as early as 1870.  

By 1900, J.H. Gregory produced 400 acres of seed crops and was one of the largest seed growers in America.  He is remembered as a great American Seedsman and philanthropist who introduced many kinds of vegetables suited to the New England growing region and had a reputation for maintaining and improving variety quality.  He was also the first to develop the "picture" seed packet with instructions. One of the historic buildings of Marblehead, Mass. was the "squash shed" located downtown. This is the place where the squash was brought from the production fields. I remember reading accounts of Gregory's Squash Shed. Villagers would line up at the shed to receive the emptied squash after Gregory and his seed staff cleaned the seeds out. The squash halves were given out to any families who wanted baking squash and it became a squash season tradition that lasted decades.

Miniature Hubbard Series         

Scaling back the size of the Hubbard Squash to modern family needs is something that other breeders have been working on for many years.  Something like 5-8 pounds would be a nice sized Hubbard. There are some open-pollinated baby blue kinds and hybrid types of orange and green.  My work on Hubbards has been to expand the color range and create a number of stabilized open pollinated kinds.  Above, you can see some of the variation in my Hubbard Series grown in 2005 and 2006. 

I wish it was so simple to produce the miniature hubbards that I do get on occassion.  The truth is breeding is a bit time consuming especially if you aren't so disciplined (like me).  It's nice to know that it wasn't until 1867,  23 years after growing the original green Hubbard Squash that Gregory finally felt that he had a pure, stable line to name and release (as Marblehead) and that it wasn't until 1909 that the pesky blue trait that resulted from a chance cross around 1870 and contaminated the Marblehead variety came into it's own as a stable purposeful variety, Blue Hubbard. Hmm, it took over 60 years after Gregory gave the name Hubbard to his "sea" squash before he released the "Blue Hubbard".

Just when I think I've got it right after revisiting my hubbard breeding project from the 1980's and devoting the last three years...with a nice selection of colors all in the size I desire, everything goes astray.  Each of the above colors were grown in separate plots in 2007.  It seemed like by pollinating within the plots of separate hubbard colors, I would soon have a nice stable series to release. But stability can be elusive.

This year's harvest of squash was more diverse than I would have expected.   There were very small one pounders as well as very unhubbard looking fruits from oval and long to crown shaped.  I am tempted to place the blame on Mendel as if he had anything to do with this.  But I know it was me. 

As a breeder, I have many faults. My Hubbard patches were neglected last year and instead of the careful, labor intensive routine of isolating blossoms and then hand pollinating to produce inbreds, a critical part of achieving stabilization, I was occupied by some other project. I'll blame the bees. Another fault is that I just can't leave well enough alone.  I grew other C. maximas. I shouldn't have. I figured that I could add more variation to my hubbard colors by introducing a small white maxima into the mix.  Who would think the roundness would be such a big deal? I grew Bonbon F1 and Sunshine F1.  Sunshine was a 2004 AAS Winner and Bonbon was a 2005 AAS Winner for Rob Johnson of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine, one of the very talented breeders of my generation.  These two squash, a dark green maxima and a bright orange maxima are not only great producers in the home garden, they are also among the finest flavored squash around.  Who could lose with such great genetics? Let the pollen fly.

So, I just lost a year that I could have used to increase the stability of my Hubbard breeding lines by the looks of this past years crazy diversity at Flanders Bay Farm.  Maybe, maybe not.  I prefer to think that I'll have something really great to offer in maybe 60 years.

Last Modified:  Dec, 2007