Meet Brûlée, Our 2023 Innovation Crop

At the Wegmans Organic Farm and Orchard, innovation is at the core of what we do, and it comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trialing new varieties, different growing techniques, or sustainability practices. This growing season, the innovation we’re most excited about comes in the shape of a mini butternut squash that tastes like honeynut and goes by the name brûlée.

“I was first introduced to the brûlée squash at the Canandaigua Farmers’ Market by Porter Hunt, owner of Hunt Heritage Farm, and who previously worked at the Wegmans Organic Farm. He knew all about my love for honeynut and winter squashes,” explains Alison Hayes, Wegmans Organic Farm ambassador. “With its smooth and creamy texture and incredible flavor that’s less sweet than honeynut, but not as mild as butternut, I fell in love with this delicious squash!”

Alison brought her new discovery back to the farm team and the merchant, and in October 2022, brûlée squash was identified as the major innovation crop for the 2023 growing season.

“Growing healthy, great-tasting, exceptional food is at the heart of what we do, and we’re excited to bring this new offering to our customers,” says Jack Timerson, veggie coordinator at the Wegmans Organic Farm. “This particular variety of squash is unique, not just for its flavor, but also because it was bred to be powdery-mildew resistant, which is something pretty much every grower around here struggles with. It’s also been bred for longer storage, which means it will be available to customers for longer.”

As soon as brûlée squash was identified as the innovation crop, Jack set to work learning about the crop and planning for the growing season, plotting out everything from the number of seeds to order and raised beds to create, to outlining the timeline for sowing seeds, hardening off the plants, transplanting, and harvesting, to determining what the label will look like, how the squash will be stored, and everything in between.

The growing season for the brûlée squash officially kicked off in May, and Jack anticipates a September harvest. How many and which stores will receive the squash depends on the yield, but the hope is to get it on as many shelves as possible.

As a first-year innovation crop, only time will tell what the future holds for brûlée squash in the coming years. If all goes well during the growing season, resulting in healthy, great-tasting fruit that is well received by customers, then we could expand to a two-acre plot next year, or select a partner grower who can grow it for us on a larger scale.

“I like being part of the back story of how food is grown. From the initial decision to grow a crop, to the time it arrives in stores, there is so much time and effort put into achieving a successful harvest that most people don’t even think about,” says Jack. “As we grow brûlée squash for the first time this year, we’re excited to share what that journey looks like with our customers as it unfolds.”

From Seed to Shelf

We’re following the journey of our innovation crop from the moment the seeds were planted until it arrives in our stores. We invite you to follow along with us below, as we provide updates throughout the growing season.

May 10 – Jack plants brûlée seeds in plug trays. The plants stay in the high tunnels for approximately 3 weeks before getting transplanted in the field.

May 24 – The team creates raised beds in a one-acre plot at the orchard property as they prepare to transplant the brûlée squash. The black agricultural plastic helps with weed control in the beds.

May 30 – The brûlée plants are removed from the high tunnel to harden off, or acclimate to outdoor conditions, prior to being transplanted in the field.

June 1 – Transplanting day arrives! The team plants more than 2,000 brûlée squash plants into the raised beds. With roughly 95 days until maturity, the plants will shoot up quickly as we look forward to an early-September harvest.

July 11 – The brûlée squash plants are growing nicely out in the field! The wide, lobed leaves shade out weeds, meaning less upkeep for the team.

July 20 – The appearance of baby brûlée squash indicate we’re getting closer to harvest.

August 15 – As the brûlée squash continue to grow and change color, the team prepares for harvest.

August 27 – With the field filled with brûlée squash, Jack is working toward a September 7 harvest.

September 7 – Harvest day is here! The farm team spent the day in the fields, harvesting brûlée squash that will arrive in all our stores next week!

Thank you for following the journey of our 2023 innovation crop, brûlée squash!