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Little Gem is a vining squash from South Africa. Don't confuse
the name with the new little C. maxima of the same name; this is
a C. pepo. It's vines sprawl across the ground producing a
vigorous mass of leaves. Look close for the tiny green ball
shaped gems. They produce in large numbers especially when you
keep picking them young to use as a kind of eight-ball squash.
They will produce squash through the summer and into the fall. In
fall the fruit develop hard shells and you could use Little Gem as a
baking squash although it is not a sweet squash like today's acorn
squash tend to be. It does store well and maintains it's dark
solid green color. You can go online to sites maintained by those
who have grown up eating the gem squash and who share the varied ways
that they remember them being prepared; mostly baked with
breadcrumbs, garlic, grated cheese and olive oil or in other ways
similar to the way the British prepare their marrow squash.
I have to devote some time next summer to produce a new seed crop of
the Gem since it appears to be one of those varieties that are becoming
difficult to find in commerce. Although you could use zucchini or
acorn squash in place of the squash (it is used both as a tender summer
squash as well as a winter squash or marrow), the Little Gem squash are
especially adapted to adversity. Vining squash seem more
vigorous, more resilient to disease, drought and insects.
Little gem was crossed with two different round yellow summer squash to
produce an interesting assortment of squash that look more like gourds
than edible squash when mature and ready for harvesting seed.
When immature and tender they are quite good; the plants are
always quite vigorous and can be bush to sprawling vine in habit.
The crosses are very productive and free of pests.
Tatume has a growing fan club because of it's resilience. There
are some folks who have a difficult time growing summer squash. A
common concern are diseases and insect pests. I received seed of
Tatume from the Porter Seed Company in Poole, Texas. At the time,
it was one of the last of those small family owned regional seed
companies that had a number of unique varieties adapted to their
growing area. The "Porter" tomatoes remain a legacy to the
dedication of the founder and his family to develop good regional
varieties. Tatume had developed a following in the southwest but
it's origin is unclear. For a while Tatume was available
commercially by a wholesaler apparently as a summer squash for the
Mexican market. More of a pumpkin than a squash; it's preparation
is always in the green stage before it matures.
The vines ramble on and on producing little light green pumpkins so
quickly that it is difficult keeping up with the harvest. Before
you know it, there are big thin skinned orange pumpkins showing up in
the patch. Like other vining squash, these will establish roots
at their nodes and therefore keep exploiting new sources of water and
nutrients as they sprawl across the garden.
Tatume when mature is a pumpkin; not quite like your Jack-O-Lantern,
not very orange, not very ribbed, not very hard shelled and not very
round. It is productive and disease resistant though and that
characteristic as well as being easy to carve could make it of use to
pumpkin breeders. The fruit stays in good condition for a very long
time. I would say the ripe fruit could be used as holiday
luminaria. Dig out the seed and put in one of those short candles that
are used by caterers to keep a hot dish warm. Best, it is a very
nice summer squash when you catch it in the green stage.
We have F1, F2 and F3 Tatume crosses: Tatume x Black
Zucchini, Tatume x White Zucchini, Tatume x Cocozelle and
others. The first generation didn't sprawl and produced
surprisingly good looking zucchini. Subsequent generations which
have been allowed to cross as a mass have become diverse and produce
fruit that can be long or short, sleek or bloated. Think,
anything between the two extremes of the parents.
Here you can see the immature Tatume Hybrids and the mature seed crop
of third generation Tatume Crosses.
Last Modified: Nov, 2009