Oregon State University Extension Service

Developing Oregon’s winter vegetable market project fills need

Winter squash is a delicious and nutritious vegetable. Pacific Northwest retail winter squash sales peak in October/November and decline through April when almost all the squash sold in Oregon is imported from California or Mexico. However, consumers shopping in natural foods stores increasingly prefer local sources, so there is a local organic squash sales opportunity for Oregon farmers from December through April potentially worth an additional $250,000 in gross sales each winter.

While smaller farms are increasingly focusing on winter marketing, many struggle to grow crops for sale in January through March. They have trialed varieties and experimented with storage to extend the squash season with little success as they don’t have reliable information about squash varieties and storage. Identifying high-yielding varieties with excellent winter culinary quality that are reliably long storing under fluctuating farm conditions is a research priority for these farmers.

In response, Alexandra Stone, an Oregon State University Extension Service vegetable crop specialist, led a research project to identify winter squash varieties that grow well in western Oregon, store well so they can be sold from December through March, and taste good. The project team grew 16 squash varieties in four trials and stored them in two storage environments – a barn bay with fluctuating temperatures (but always above freezing) and in controlled environmental conditions.

Several varieties were found to be both long storing and rot resistant, including the interspecific hybrid "Tetsukabuto," and the types "Winter Sweet" and "Crown." Zero irrigation (dryland farming) significantly reduced the incidence of storage losses due to rot; however, the reduced rate of loss has to be weighed against the reduced initial yield at harvest under dryland conditions.

The research findings were shared with farmers at multiple workshops and field days, and farmers are growing longer-storing squash varieties such as Sweet Mama, Small Wonder, Crown, Winter Sweet, Gill’s Golden Pippin, Early Remix, North Georgia Candy Roaster, and the star of this project – the delicious and extremely long storing and reliable Tetsukabuto. The project built consumer demand for these less-well-known varieties through the Squash Festivals in Portland and the launch of the consumer-facing website eatwintersquash.com. The squash varieties were evaluated by chef Timothy Wastell through two storage seasons and he produced information on the best varieties and how to use them, including novel ways such as raw in salads. Five chefs contributed squash recipes to Eat Winter Squash.

The project demonstrated that winter squash stores as well in a barn maintained above freezing as it does a controlled environment, and at much lower cost and energy use. Oregon farmers are now successfully selling rot-resistant winter squash varieties into January and later. Farmers are pointing customers to eatwintersquash.com recipes and videos, and these are helping customers learn new ways to cook squash. Farmers are increasingly growing and storing Tetsukabuto for profitable deep winter sales (January – April), with almost no storage losses.

A peer-reviewed publication – "Winter Vegetable Production on Small Farms and Gardens West of the Cascades" – published in June 2022 to help anyone growing winter vegetables the information they need to be successful. It includes information about choosing a site and field management, farming and gardening techniques and culinary and health benefits for over 30 crops. The publication won the 2022 state award for Best Extension Publication from the National Association County Agricultural Agents (NACAA).

To help introduce the publication, a companion series for gardeners highlighting winter vegetables was produced for social media. The five-week campaign had a total reach of over 38,000 on Facebook and Instagram.

The research was funded by Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Western SARE), a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Portions of this story are reprinted with permission from Western SARE.

Photo of Nick in a vegetable field
Organic Vegetable Extension

Source URL: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/impact/developing-oregons-winter-vegetable-market-project-fills-need