Whitehorse Daily Star

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A BOUNTIFUL SUMMER – Ray Sears is seen with three of the 43 squash harvested at his Marsh Lake property this year.

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Photo by Photo Submitted

WARM AND THRIVING – Ray Sears’ squash set-up, which covers the plants with a tarpaulin, helps keep the soil warm, and plants succeed.

‘Squash whisperer’ celebrates his unprecedented harvest

Ray Sears may have unlocked the trifecta of successful squash farming: recycled seeds, translucent tarps and the power of song.

By Gabrielle Plonka on September 6, 2019

Ray Sears may have unlocked the trifecta of successful squash farming: recycled seeds, translucent tarps and the power of song.

Last week, Sears harvested 43 spaghetti squash from his six plants near Marsh Lake, approximately seven squash per plant.

Generally, spaghetti squash plants are only known to produce between three and five squash, making Sears’ harvest an unprecedented success.

“He’s pretty proud of his garden,” Ray’s daughter, Shawnalee Sears, told the Star. “He’s adamant on checking in on it, probably daily.”

Shawnalee said she spent every weekend this summer with her family at their cabin, where Ray tends his garden.

After this year’s bountiful harvest, she posted the haul to Facebook and received hundreds of reactions, with multiple commenters asking for gardening tips.

Ray’s squash live in a large plot protected by a translucent tarp, Shawnalee said, which helps to keep the plants warm. She posted pictures online for the benefit of the many curious gardeners.

The squash grew from the recycled seeds he’d saved from a “monster” plant several years ago.

According to Randy Lamb, an agrologist at the Gunnar Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest north of Whitehorse, those two elements were probably key to his success.

“It’s a matter of providing shelter, and getting the soil to warm,” Lamb said. “If you plan ahead, you can create that microclimate and avoid the frost and you can do really well.”

Lamb said he’s had similar success with pumpkins in his personal garden. The warmer a gardener is able to keep his or her soil, the higher the rate of success. The bout of hot weather in July was likely also a factor.

“There was one year over at the community garden where we had warm weather, and the compost pile took off like crazy. We had all this mysterious squash growing out of the compost,” Lamb said.

The hot Yukon summer may continue to favourably affect crops in the area, though Lamb said it’s too early in the season to see tangible results.

As far as saving the “monster seeds” goes, Lamb says this is good growing practice because it allows gardeners to replant the varieties that do well in their growing conditions.

“After several generations, you’ll get a crop that is a bit earlier, or a better harvest,” Lamb said.

“You’re selecting for a plant that has the traits you want.”

At the Yukon government’s Energy, Mines and Resources Library, there is a wide selection of seeds available to Whitehorse gardeners as a way of promoting seed recycling.

Anyone is welcome to open a library account at the Elijah Smith Building, and each card holder is entitled to 10 free packets of seeds per year.

If gardeners experience a successful harvest, they’re encouraged to donate seeds back to the library.

“If something performs well, (gardeners) can donate to the seed library, and it helps everyone share in the success of that seed selection,” Lamb explained.

A full catalogue of more than 50 seeds is available online and is comprised of vegetables, herbs, flowers, wheat and tobacco. Of those 50 varieties, 30 were donated from local gardens, while the rest are purchased from organic seed companies Outside, like West Coast Seeds.

Lamb added that when recycling seeds, gardeners should be careful to start with an open pollinated plant, and not a hybrid, to ensure the plants are consistent.

Shawnalee described her father as “the squash whisperer,” but added he grows a little bit of everything: tomatoes, potatoes, swiss chard, beet greens and herbs.

Because their family enjoys canning and preserving, Ray is known to slice and dehydrate his tomatoes which Shawnalee says are “delicious to eat, like tomato jerky.”

Next to his expansive garden, Ray recently built a processor for his haul of vegetables.

Even with the warm growing conditions and recycled seeds, Shawnalee said there is one more element to Ray’s process that may have contributed to the successful harvest.

“When I was a kid, he played lead guitar and was a singer. He sounds like Willie Nelson, and the old country guys,” Shawnalee said, describing Ray’s tendency to frequently break into song.

“He always jokes, ‘that’s why my vegetables grow: because they love my voice.’”

Lamb said he has often heard of gardeners swearing by singing (or talking) to their gardens.

“I think, indirectly, the truth to that statement is people are paying more attention to their plants, watering and noticing if there are any weeds,” Lamb said. “So, indirectly, I think it’s true.”

Comments (1)

Up 1 Down 0

Bill Williams on Sep 9, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Yummmm.Do you deliver?

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