Q: My curiosity has gotten the best of me. I opened my compost bin one day to find dozens of tiny sprouts. My mother, a farm-raised lady, recognized these as squash sprouts. Since my wife and I often eat yellow squash, zucchini and cucumber, we transplanted these seedlings to the garden. We now have several clumps of vegetables and I’m not sure what they are. The leaves look like my Granny’s summer squash but the fruit doesn’t. It is light green, somewhat round or heart shaped, with ridges. How can I identify these things?
A: Members of the cucurbit family (squash, cucumbers, gourds, Cushaw, etc.) are sexually indiscriminate – they breed readily with most other members of the family. Yellow squash can be pollinated by gourds, zucchini will cross with butternut squash, etc. Since cucurbits are pollinated by insects, the pollen could come from miles away. The source of pollen does not affect the flavor or appearance of the resulting fruit, which you purchased at the grocery.
The seeds, though, tell a different tale. The original fruit you tossed on the compost pile contained seeds that had dissimilar cucurbit parents. You are now raising hybrid plants, whose fruits won’t necessarily look like either parent. Chances are that they will be inedible but the results are often fun for the family to speculate about their origin.