SUMMARY: What happens when you poke squash seeds into cow manure pats in pristine Alpine meadows? This experiment documents 27 years of traditional squash cultivation techniques by farmers who have been practicing no-till agriculture since the Middle Ages.
EXPERIMENTAL LOCATION: Salzburg, Austria. 47.48 degrees North Latitude; 13.0 degrees East Longitude.
CLIMATE: Salzburg has a temperate mountain climate with cold winters. Elevation = 1,476 feet = 450 meters above sea level. Average annual temperature is 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit = 8 degrees Centigrade. Average yearly rainfall = 46 inches = 116.84 centimeters. Average snowfall = 39.8 inches = 101 centimeters. Average Last Spring Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 30 May. Average First Fall Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 30 September. Frost Free Growing Season = 4 months = 123 days.
PLOT SIZE: 1 hectare research plots = 100 meters long x 100 meters wide = 2.47 acres. 1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare.
CROP VARIETY: Hungarian Stock Squash (Cucurbita moschata) is a heritage variety noted for reliable yields and long storage life. Nowadays, stock squash are rarely planted. To save the variety from extinction, open pollinated seed was collected from 26 farms surrounding Lake Balaton in Hungary. 40 seeds from each farm were mixed and planted to provide landrace seed for this experiment. Traditionally, American farmers grew pumpkins and European farmers grew squash. (The reason for this is a historical mystery). Field pumpkins and stock squash were grown to feed cattle and other livestock over winter. Widespread use of agricultural machinery has made squash cultivation obsolete. Modern farmers now grow hay and silage for winter fodder. Most stock squash are now planted by small landholders who do not own tractors or draft animals.
DAYS TO MATURITY: 110 to 120 days from seeding, depending on sunlight hours, soil and air temperatures. Squash thrive in warm sunny weather.
PLANT SPACING: 4 x 4 meters ~ 13 x 13 feet apart = 625 plants per hectare ~ 253 plants per acre. 16 square meters ~ 169 square feet per plant.
TILLAGE: No plowing, disking, harrowing, cultivation, or tillage of any kind = 100% no-till. Note: Austria has had strict environmental regulations since the Middle Ages. Plowing or clear cutting slopes is banned to prevent landslides and avalanches from destroying valley homes and fields.
FERTILIZER: 25 metric tons cow manure per hectare ~ 11 American tons per acre. Squash were direct seeded into hills of cow manure ~ 3 bushels ~ 40 kilograms ~ 88 pounds per hill = mound approximately 60 centimeters diameter x 30 centimeters deep ~ 2 feet across x 1 foot high. 1 bushel = 8 gallons ~ 32 liters ~ 29 pounds ~ 13 kilograms of cow manure. Cow manure average analysis = 0.5% nitrogen : 0.5% phosphorous : 0.5% potassium by dry weight = 125 kilograms each of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium per hectare ~ 110 pounds N-P-K per acre = 200 grams N-P-K per plant ~ 6.95 ounces of N-P-K per plant. Note: Natural Alpine meadows are protected environments. Use of agricultural chemicals (including synthetic fertilizers) is prohibited to safeguard public water supplies.
PLANTING METHOD: Squash seeds were soaked overnight in warm water to speed germination. Seeds were hand planted, 3 seeds per hill, each seed set 2 inches deep. Hills were hand thinned to the strongest plant when seedlings developed their first true leaves. Note: Some farmers just poke seeds into individual “cow pies” = dung piles. Other farmers use manure forks (or their hands) to gather nearby dung into larger mounds. Farmers plant in both fresh and dried manure. Dried manure is crumbled by hand before seeding. Manure piles act like mulch to keep weeds at bay until squash vines start to run.
IRRIGATION: No irrigation was used for this experiment. Squash relied on natural rainfall. Salzburg gets 46 inches of rain yearly so crops rarely want for moisture.
WEED MANAGEMENT: No hand weeding, mulching, mowing, mechanical cultivation, or herbicides were used for this experiment. Squash vines were left to fend for themselves. Squash require no attention as vines climb over and smother broadleaf weeds and grasses. Squash are tolerant of light shade and weedy fields do not significantly lower yields. Largest fruits are typically found in fields with the most broadleaf weeds.
INSECT CONTROL: Agricultural chemicals are banned in Alpine pastures to protect water supplies and comply with organic certification. No insecticides of any kind were used in this experiment. Cold winters and broad biodiversity of mountain pastures keep pest populations below economic levels.
DISEASE CONTROL: This experiment was conducted in natural Alpine pastures. Synthetic chemicals are prohibited to keep the environment pristine. No fungicides of any kind were used for these trials.
PRODUCTIVITY: Traditional Alpine squash cultivation yields 12 to 29 metric tons per hectare = 5 to 12 American tons per acre. Fruit weight ranges from 25 to 60 pounds at wide spacing (13 x 13 feet = 169 square feet per plant) and 8 to 20 pounds at close spacing (2 x 6 feet = 12 square feet per plant). Average plants yield 2 or 3 fruits when widely spaced but only 1 fruit when seeded closely. Note: These yields may seem low by modern standards but they are obtained at no cost and with minimal hand labor. Alpine agriculture is ruthlessly practical because most work is done by hand and everything must be carried on your back or by dog or pony cart. Level fields are rare and small (about the size of a tennis court or 2-car driveway) so even midget tractors are impractical. On most farms the largest piece of machinery is a lawnmower or rear-ended rototiller. In some areas all internal combustion engines are banned (to prevent air and noise pollution, and to protect against winter avalanches). Strict environmental regulations support the market for natural Alpine cheese, the principal “cash crop” for mountain farmers.
DATA COLLECTION: Fields were hand harvested 120 days after seeding. Fruits were weighed on manual platform scales accurate to 1/100 kilogram = 10 grams ~ 1/3 ounce. All yields are rounded down to the nearest kilogram.
NO-TILL HUNGARIAN STOCK SQUASH YIELDS: 27 years of field data are tabulated below.
Year Yield in Kilograms per Hectare Yield in Pounds per Acre
2015 20,887 18,604
2014 25,394 22,619
2013 25,122 22,376
2012 18,375 16,367
2011 18,388 16,378
2010 18,940 16,870
2009 25,141 22,393
2008 24,310 21,653
2007 23,298 20,752
2006 25,108 22,364
2005 23,070 20,549
2004 20,945 18,656
2003 18,162 16,177
2002 16,830 14,991
2001 19,408 17,287
2000 27,001 24,050
1999 23,421 20,861
1998 20,643 18,387
1997 20,350 18,126
1996 15,398 13,715
1995 17,737 15,799
1994 18,212 16,222
1993 15,856 14,123
1992 16,185 14,416
1991 21,376 19,040
1990 17,132 15,260
1989 24,071 21,440
Total 560,760 kilograms 449,475 pounds
Average 20,768 kilograms / hectare 18,499 pounds / acre
Average 20.768 metric tons / hectare 9.2495 tons / acre
Lb/plant —– 73.11 pounds / plant
Kg/plant 33.22 kilograms / plant —–
Conversion Constants: 1 kilogram = 1,000 grams = 2.2 pounds. 1 megagram = 1 million grams = 1,000 kilograms = 1 metric ton. 1 American ton = 2,000 pounds. 1 pound = 454 grams. 1 hectare = 100 meters x 100 meters = 10,000 square meters = 2.47 acres. 1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare. 1 meter = 39.37 inches. 1 bushel = 8 gallons ~ 32 liters of air dried cow manure ~ 29 pounds ~ 13 kilograms.
COMMENTARY: Hungarian Stock Squash yields vary widely depending on management and climate: Squash planted 1 seed per cow manure pat (~ 4 to 4.66 pounds of manure per cow pat) yields only 5 to 6 tons per acre at 13 x 13 foot spacing. Squash spaced 2 feet apart within rows x 6 feet apart between rows ~ 3,536 plants per acre can yield over 30 TONS per acre when planted into Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), irrigated (1 inch per week), and fertilized (22 tons of composted cow manure per acre). Yields in northern Germany can be half the harvest of southern Italy or Sicily. Squash do best in climates with at least 4 months of hot weather and clear sunlight.
RELATED PUBLICATIONS: Stock Pumpkin Yield Trial 2014; Butternut Squash Plant Spacing Trial (1972-1981); Butternut Squash Mulch-In-Place Trial (1975-1986); Growing Butternut Squash in Weeds (1976-2015); Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish Primer; and Rototiller Primer.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE? Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need more information about Hungarian Stock Squash.
Please visit: http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com — or — send your questions to: Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America — or — send an e-mail to Eric Koperek = firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida over winter. (Growing 2 generations per year speeds development of new crop varieties).