North Georgia Candy Roaster Seeds

North Georgia Candy Roaster were originally grown by the native Cherokee tribes residing in present day North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia, and were an important food source to these tribes, making them an excellent variety for the deep south.

halvedThey are heavy squash with a weight range of 10-250 pounds (according to Slow Foods USA) though most fruit from the vines we grew ranged between 8-15 pounds. A pale orange color with greenish blue tips and some green striations and patches, they come in both tear drop and banana shapes. We found that most of the squash produced later in the season tended to be more banana shaped, and have more green coloration than fruit produced earlier in the season.

These store well and taste excellent cooked in any manner imaginable. They also make a great substitute for pumpkin pie around the holidays.

Ideal for three sisters planting, their large leaves help keep moisture in the ground and the weeds at bay, these massive vines can reach lengths of at least 25 feet. (There’s no telling how long they could get if you coax them along.) Twelve plants produced well over 200 pounds of squash throughout the summer with minimal watering once vines were established.

seedsExcellent cooked in a variety of ways, these squash store well in a cool dark room, and make a wonderful substitute for pumpkin in pies during the holiday season.

North Georgia Candy Roaster is of some concern as it is an open pollinated plant with separate male and female flowers that require a third party for pollination. Because of this necessity, it is important to make sure there are no other Cucubrita maxima varieties within a mile, or hand pollination must be performed to ensure seed purity.

North Georgia Candy Roaster
Cucurbita maxima
Long sprawling vines, with numerous 10-15 pound fruits.
20 seeds, $3.00 plus shipping and handling.
Email us to purchase some.

You can read more about how we came to pick this variety, or watch as I use the North Georgia Candy Roaster as a subject demonstrating hand pollination of the Cucurbitacae family.

A Winter Squash for the South

To purchase North Georgia Candy Roaster seeds from us, use this page.

Growing up in New England, winter squash were a staple in the garden – they were sweet by nature, but the cold falls brought the sugars out to perfection; their thick rind allowed them to sit in the root cellar all winter waiting to be used, sweetening as the days passed; their flowers are showy and easy to hand pollinate, and there is an endless variety to choose from ranging in flavor, shape, color, texture, size and plant habitat. I would often find myself perusing farmers’ markets looking for odd shaped and unique varieties to save seed from in the hope that something might come back true to form the following years.

When we moved to Georgia, the farmers’ markets were all but devoid of winter squash. The local nurseries could not suggest any specific varieties that would weather the heat, the squash borers, and, in the end, produce something remotely palatable. Initially, I went with a couple of my favorites: Delicata and Sweet Dumpling. Unfortunately, they did not work so well. By the time the weather started to cool, the fruit had been harvested and the vines long dead. Squash vine borers feasted, and the little squash we actually harvested was anything but sweet.

Not willing to miss out on one of my favorite garden delicacies, I went to the internet to search for some answers. I always learned that squash was a staple of Native Americans, and the Cherokee inhabited this land until they were driven to Oklahoma, so I started there and somehow ended up at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in search of something called the North Georgia Candy Roaster.

halvedUnlike my favorites – which are all varieties of Cucubrita pepo – the Candy Roaster is a Cucubrita maxima, which means it’s big: the vines are big, the leaves are big, and the squash is big, but it’s over sized leaves, lengthy vines, and ability to root at will from nodes along the vine make it an ideal candidate for three sisters planting, keeping weeds down and moisture in, a plus when it comes to gardening in the deep south. According to Slow Foods USA, the Candy Roaster was cultivated among the Cherokee tribes in what is today western North Carolina, north Georgia, and east Tennessee. We are in Middle Georgia, so our winters are incredibly mild, and our summers are hot, but based on the plants historical habitat, we had to give it a shot, and by mid-summer, we were not disappointed.

These squash did excellent in the garden, almost too well. By summer’s end we were inundated with squash. Throughout the summer we continually moved vines to grow back into the corn, but eventually just began trimming the ends of the vines that became too long and unruly. By the end of summer we had a couple of wheel barrows full of the orange squash either tear drop or banana shaped, all with a green tip and some with greenish blue striations. They were a marvel to look at, they tasted just as good, and to top if off, they produced all summer, though the second crop was much skinnier and smaller, they were just as tasty.

many pyramidThis squash was certainly a winner and one we will continue to plant for seasons to come. SlowFoodsUSA lists seed availability as concern, but fortunately, we have some seeds of this variety available. You can find these seeds here.

Using the North Georgia Candy Roaster as a subject, I made a how-to video demonstrating hand pollination of the Cucurbitacae family. You can watch it here.

Hand Pollination is a Must for Pure Seed

When it comes to saving seed for for future plantings, it is of the utmost importance that you avoid cross-pollination. We can accomplish this by bagging or caging individual flowers and plants, or we can hand pollinate flowers. One of the easiest garden vegetables to hand pollinate are squash and other Cucubritacae: squash, melons, cucumbers, calabash, and luffa. In this video I walk through the process of differentiating male and female flowers, and eventual hand pollination using Cucubrita maxima v candy roaster: North Georgia Candy Roaster.

We also have some seed of this rare squash available, just ask!

Making Okra Pickles

What can I say? I hate okra. It’s slimy, and the flavor is simply not my favorite. Unfortunately, it grows really well in the summer heat, and so it ends up going into the garden. The food pantries take it, it can garner a few cents at the farmers market, and of course I have friends that will take it, and I’m happy to give it all away, that is, of course, after I make my personal batch of okra pickles. Nothing beats okra pickles; the hollow pockets inside the pods fill with delectable brine and the little immature seeds act almost like capers. My wife isn’t a fan, nor is my son, but my daughter – the one who would drown in kombucha – will eat them right along with me.

Before I get into the actual pickling process, a word or two about these seeds. I like to save my seeds, or acquire them from local sources. If a seed has been selected from a plant that has produced well and survived in my local climate, it is much more likely to do the same when it grows again in the same climate, than a seed that was saved from a plant in a very different climate. As I was new to the area, I asked around among some local farmers and found some okra seed that a guy from church had been growing for a number of years. He gave me some, and I was off. They’re a very long pod but remain tender up to eight inches, sometimes more.

Okra is also exceptionally easy from which to save seed. There’s no fleshy vegetation on the seeds so they don’t need any washing, and the pods ripen right on the plant, just make sure you pick them when they start to crack. I’m pretty diligent about not letting seed spill out into the garden, but I still have trouble with volunteers popping up all over the garden in the spring. If you do plan on saving seed, only grow one variety (unless you plan on caging or hand pollinating), but don’t worry about cotton or hibiscus (the flowers look very similar). The three are in the same family, but that’s as far as it goes.

As far as pickling goes, I use pods that will fit in pint jars after lopping off the stem. Quart jars will work, but that’s a lot of okra pickles and we don’t need to take up that much fridge space all at once. For four pints I’ll use 2.5 cups of apple cider vinegar and an equal amount of water, with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt. While that’s boiling, I’ll throw my spices in the jars. As you can see from the video, I like to use an eclectic variety and no two jars are the same. Then I pressure cook them for 10 minutes.

Give it a try sometime. They’re delicious and if you’re growing okra, you know you have extras to experiment with. Also, if you want some seeds, let me know.

Seed Vocab and Thoughts on Saving

Seeds, seeds, seeds! I love seeds; I think it has to do with all the possibilities that a tiny dot the size of a pin head can hold (think brassicaes: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.). Or maybe I love them for all of their different shapes and sizes – beans with their beautiful patterning and a cool, smooth skin. Even Cucurbitaceae – squash – with their bland, brown, traditional tear drop shape have their differences from variety to variety that are simply awe inspiring when carefully examined. There’s also some bit of a thrill that comes with saving your own seed from year to year: you get to know the plants, know the heritage of the seed, and it’s one more step to self-sufficiency. But before you can just go saving seeds for next year, there are some things to consider.

Often times when we look at a seed catalog, or seed envelope, we will notice some verbiage that may or may not make sense. Typically this verbiage pertains to the seed and the plant that will develop from it.

Open Pollinated: A plant that is open pollinated means that when a female flower is pollinated by the male flower of the same variety, the seed produced thereafter will resemble the parent plant. When the pollination occurs between male and female parts of the same plant or even the same flower (tomatoes, beans), this is called self-fertilization. Plants that have individual flowers that are self-fertilizing are inherently open pollinated. Some varieties of plants will produce flowers that are specifically male or female. If you notice a squash vine, the first flowers to come out are typically male and later on down the vine, the female flowers start to come out. These are still considered to be open pollinated.

Heirloom: Seeds of an heirloom variety are also inherently open pollinated. The term heirloom simply implies that the seed-line has been kept true for a number of years. Heirloom varieties tend to be less friendly to the commercial market, but can come in many different color, size, taste, and other variations. (Essentially, heirloom is a subset within open pollinated.)

Hybrids: A hybrid is a seed that comes from two different varieties of parents: it has been cross-pollinated. Often times hybrids are produced to create faster growing plants, larger yields, or to create a plant that is less susceptible to certain diseases. A hybrid is the first generation of a new lineage and is considered “F1” in nomenclature and all plants in the F1 generation will look and produce the same. However, if you save seeds from a hybridization – accidentally or on purpose – the following generation (F2) will have a large number of physical differences if the seed from the F1 is even viable.

Saving seeds helps us save money, and it gives us further insight into our individual plants. In a sense, by selecting plants that are growing well in our gardens, we’re doing our own genetic modification by selecting plants that are amiable to our soil, temperature, water and light conditions. The problem with saving seed is that it needs to be precise. The easiest way to be precise is only grow one variety of each type of vegetable. There are many books out there that deal with seed saving methods (my favorite is Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed), and can give you statistics on cross-pollination. For example, corn pollen is very light and can travel by wind up to two miles! It is also important to save seed from a number of different plants as inbreeding depression – a lack of genetic diversity – can occur. Some plants are more susceptible to this than others.

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Squash on the top, beans on the bottom.

In short, if you want to save seed, get a good book, stick with one variety of each species, and go for the open-pollinated varieties. If you don’t care about saving seeds, plant whatever.

Push the Little Daises!

While some parts of the country are still locked into frigid temperatures and snow, the south has managed to climb it’s way to spring. The nights have warmed into the 40-50°F range. The skies have turned gray and the waters have started to fall. Some of the field grasses have started are beginning to pick up a slight green hue. The dock is unfurling fans of worship. Undoubtedly, we will still have a haunting of the ghost of winter-past, but spring is here. And with spring comes seedlings.

It wasn’t long ago we received our package of seeds from Baker Seeds and some new seed trays from Amazon. They sat for a few days on the foldable tables in the guest room we use for as a make shift greenhouse, longing for some soil and a bit of life. They got their wish last week. It’s still early, but it’s not too early. When I lived in Upstate, NY, I would plant tomatoes and peppers at the end of February and by the end of May, I would have sturdy little seedlings, ready to go as soon as they got in the ground. If we followed the same schedule here, our season would no doubt be cut short as the heat sets in and causes the flowers to abort. Solanaceae – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants – like it warm, but extended periods of daytime temps in the upper 80°F’s and nighttime temps in the 70°F’s will cause flowers to abort, and in the south, those temps come by June. In truth, we may have been able to get some of our pepper and tomato seeds in a little earlier, but too long inside and they start to get spindly, and really need to be repotted more than once. As it is, we submit to transplanting once, twice doesn’t seem worth it.

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Empty tubes.

Over the years we’ve saved our plastic six pack seed planters, many are split down the side and crumpled miserably from poor storage and abusive removal. I was planning on reusing them this year, but not two days before I was about to start planting, my son filled all but a handful with chives he dug up from the yard and is now attempting to sell at the end of the driveway, and while I should have quashed his dreams and taken back my six-packs, I didn’t. I had to find something else.

I had seen on Instagram – not sure where – that someone cut and used paper towel tubes. So that’s what I did. I cut a bunch of paper towel, toilet paper, and wrapping paper tubes (we collect them for home school crafts) into 2-3” pieces, stuffed a square of brown paper grocery bag into the bottom and filled them with dirt. They paper bag holds the dirt in, and the cardboard acts like a peat pot and wicks water up from tray keeping seeds and soil moist without soaking them from the top. When it comes time to transplant, we should be able to just drop the tubes into new pots and not have to disturb the seedling roots at all. (As a side note, it seems like the toilet paper tubes kind of unroll

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Paper towel tubes can be difficult to separate when you have different varieties, but there are ways.

when they get wet – not so much with the wrapping paper and towel tubes.)

With the arrival of out foster kids, we were unable to get our fall garden going on time, and with a couple of really prolonged cold snaps, everything but the carrots, brussel sprouts and cabbage died. That included all of our cauliflower! So along with our tomatoes and peppers, we have a few cauliflower six-packs. The literature says we started them too late and they won’t mature before it gets too hot, but we’re going to try. If nothing else, we’ll be able to eat the greens like collards.

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Thought not a lot, this room gets the best light.

It’s an exciting time. Everyone loves the turning of winter to spring; the cliched rebirth of the world, but for me it’s the planting of the seeds that gets me excited. All winter the ground has been too cold to work and sometimes buried under snow. Planting seeds gives a reconnection. It lets me get my hands dirty. It fills the room with the smell of dirt. And it reminds me to get going and plan out the garden.

Potawatomi Lima Beans

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Potawatomi Lima beans hail from the Potawatomi Indians of Southern Michigan. After numerous years of selective preservation of these seeds, the Potawatomis had a lima bean that could grow in colder climates and shorter seasons. These are a pole variety and easily cover 8-foot teepees before looking elsewhere to climb. The seeds can be eaten as a shelling bean, or allowed to dry on the plant and used as a dry bean.

These limas did well in Vermont where we were able to collect both dried and green beans. In Georgia we are able to get two dried bean crops off one plant per season. Sometimes the pods will shatter while still on the plant. The seeds that land early in the summer will often end up producing by the fall and we will have a new harvest of shelling beans.

Very prolific plants, these cream, maroon and black seeds all came from pods of four or more seeds. Over the last decade or so we have been selecting for plants with four or more seeds per pod and while the numbers are still low, the number of 4+ pods have been increasing.

Climbing vines up to 8 feet
Many three seeded pods
15 grams ~25 seeds, $2.50 plus shipping and handling, just drop us a line.

Read up on how we came to select this variety.

Picking a Bean

There is something oddly soothing about seeds. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve ever dug your hands into a garbage can size box of loose seeds at the local nursery or if you’ve managed to be able to keep and harvest your own seeds. (If you’ve never been able to do so, I suggest going to the bulk section of the grocery store and shoving your hands in the unpopped popcorn bin. Just don’t let anyone see you…). I can’t place if it’s the actual texture and feel of hundreds of cool seeds gently caressing your skin, or if it’s the growth and food potential packed into all those seeds, but something about hundreds of tiny seeds is just awe inspiring.

And beans are further spectacular for all their intricate patterns and designs. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet that like a snowflake, no two non-single color beans are patterned the exact same way. They may have a general pattern, but when you actually study each beans seed coat, the differences are amazing.

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Just like snowflakes, but so much cooler!

The main staple bean we have chosen to grow is a Potawatomi Lima bean. It’s of the pole variety, easily climbing an eight foot pole, while continuing to look for somewhere higher to grow. Originally, the Potawatomi Limas came from the Potawatomi Indians in Southern Michigan. Our choosing the Potawatomi Lima wasn’t random but a calculated choice with multiple factors:

  1. Their location of origin was key. While we are in Georgia now, we were living in Vermont when we purchased these seeds. If you’re familiar with Vermont, you’ll know that the summer is fleeting and the weather is cool and damp. Without a greenhouse, there are some definite constraints when it comes time for growing. So a Lima – which otherwise has a very hard time growing in New England – needed to be cold weather friendly, and it seemed like Southern Michigan was a good bet.
  2. Pole variety! We really wanted a pole bean as it would get off the ground and clear some space up for other crops – like potatoes. We were on 1/5th of an acre at the time.
  3. These limas provide two types of food. The beans could be eaten green as shelled beans or dried and used as a dry bean.
  4. It’s a lima bean! By growing a lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), it meant that we could grow a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) for green beans, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cross pollination.

In Vermont these beans worked out great. We didn’t have huge pulls of beans, but we had plenty to keep us happy and they made a great supplement to our CSA. It was also evident that while they don’t like the cold, they weren’t’ as fragile as some other beans I’ve grown when it came to cold nights.

close up
Soaked, sprouted, and ready to cook.

The Potawatomi Limas have done just as well, if not better, in Georgia. We’re able to get them in the ground early and we end up having two crops of dried beans. (We only save seed from the first crop.) We are also able to get a good number of green beans for shelling. And of course, because of the dry lima pods ability to pop open and shoot seeds everywhere, we always find random volunteers germinating some place we didn’t plant them. More often than not we let them grow, but even when we have to kill them, they make an excellent cover crop/green fertilizer.

Overall, we are very impressed with this variety. Over the last ten years, we’ve been saving seeds from pods with four beans. In the beginning, we had mostly two and three beans per pod with the occasional four-bean-pod. We still don’t have a plant with only four-bean-pods (that won’t be for another 20 years down the road, maybe…), but their prevalence is much higher and the number of two-bean-pods is significantly lower. We’ve tried a variety of beans in the garden, and while I never thought I’d fall in love with a lima bean, so it has become. Do you have a favorite vegetable variety you go back to every year?