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Barbara Hughes
Seminole County Extension Services Manager
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Sanford, FL  32773
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Extension Services

Calabaza: The Tropical Pumpkin

Al Ferrer
Seminole County Residential Horticulturist

Calabaza is a name commonly given to several types of pumpkins and squashes grown in tropical America. In Florida, calabaza refers to the Cuban pumpkin, or Cuban squash, grown in most Latin American countries. Calabaza is used primarily for food, both for humans and animals.
The plant: Calabaza grows on a very long vining plant similar to other winter type squash. Leaves are mottled grayish-green in color. Fruits vary in size, shape and color due to natural crossing and strain selection. Average fruit weight is about 5 to 7 pounds, some are even larger. Fruits are round but flattened a bit on top and bottom and mottled grey and buff-cream color. The light yellow colored interior is firm, meaty, and relatively thin due to a fairly large central cavity containing the seeds.
Culture: Calabaza tolerates hot weather conditions as well or better than other members of the cucurbit family. It is a tender crop easily injured by frost and freezes and should be planted early in the spring as soon as the danger of frost is past. In Central Florida, fall production is possible in most years. Calabaza is started from seed, plant 2-3 seeds per hill. Vines grow very large, requiring a considerable amount of growing space. Rows should be spaced 6 to 9 feet apart, with plants spaced 4 feet apart within the row. It takes about 3 months from seeding to harvesting the fruits. Fertilization, liming, and soil preparation are similar to those for other more common kinds of squash for a given area. Use about one or two gallons of well-rotted compost or animal manure under each planting hill before seeding, mixing it with the soil. Use a complete fertilizer such as 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 at the bottom of the hole, and cover it with 1-2 inches of soil. Side dress with the same fertilizer after fruits are formed.
Pollination: Like most other cucurbits, bees are needed to transfer pollen from male to female flowers of calabaza. If insect pollination is poor, hand pollination may be necessary.
Pests and diseases: Foliage diseases such a powdery and downy mildews can become serious problems. Stem and fruit borers are the most important insect pest of this crop.
Seed sources: Seeds of calabaza are rarely found in seed company catalogs. Calabazas can be bought in any local Hispanic market to obtain seeds. Considerable variation in fruit size and colors is expected from such seeds.
Uses: In Latin America, it is boiled and mashed like winter squash. Calabaza is excellent in pies or baked. It is high in vitamins A and C, plus a good source of potassium.
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