Photo by Flickr/missbossy
Butternut squash is one of the many different kinds of winter squash such as pumpkin. Characterized by a distinctive pale yellow color and a pear-shaped fruit, the squash is a valuable crop with high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. In particular, it’s relatively high in beta-carotene (characterized by firm orange flesh), which is converted by the body into Vitamin A.
Butternut squash is relatively easy to grow. Its growing season begins during summer for harvest in autumn. This means that the soil should be well warmed by the sun, approximately 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit (15-18 C) at a 4-inch depth. The warm temperature is extremely crucial because butternut squash plants are tender and the seedlings will basically freeze with the slightest frost and seeds will only germinate in warm soil.
Sowing Squash Seeds and Transplanting
Butternut squash seeds will only germinate in warm soil, so it’s best to plant through summer. The butternut growing season is approximately 110-120 days for fruit maturation. Thus, if your season is a bit short, you can start the seeds indoors and direct them outside once the weather warms up. However, you need to do so before the last frost in your region. The seeds are relatively easy to sow and won’t take up much of your time or energy.
• Make planting pockets, approximately 3 feet apart. Do this by making a hole about your garden spade’s depth, width, and height.
• Fill the holes with a mixture of compost or well rotted manure and soil and sprinkle fertilizer over the soil. Use a small tiller to turn the soil and mix in compost and fertilizer. The soil should be amended and fertilized as butternut squash plants are heavy feeders.
• Plant one plant on top of each planting pocket, approximately 1 inch deep and cover with soil.
• Water the plants gently with a watering can or spray with a garden hose.
Photo by Flickr/SummerAndStephen
Planting Squash Seeds Directly in the Garden
If you are planning to put seeds straight to the garden, be sure to plant them the same time as you would put out the transplants. The ideal space for growing the plants is a hilly part of the garden and so if your garden has several small hills, plant 4 or 5 seeds on each hill.
After they sprout, thin down to 2 or 3 plants. The reason for taking out some plants is because butternut squash takes up much space as they produce extensive vines and might seem overcrowded if more than 3 seeds are planted in a small space.
Growing Butternut Squash in a Pot
If you do not have a kitchen garden and really want to have some butternut squash growing around the house, well, you can use a pot. However, you should know that not all butternut squash varieties are ideal for container gardening.
Trailing varieties are best grown in gardens while compact bush varieties such as ‘Barbara’ do quite well in pots. Use the largest pots you can find, say, those with a minimum of 18 inches diameter and just as deep.
• Prepare the soil by adding well-rotted compost and fertilizer. Mix well.
• Place the plants 1 inch deep in the pots and cover well with soil.
• Water gently with a watering can or a gentle spray of a hose immediately after planting. Make sure the soil is moist but not soggy.
Caring for Butternut Squash Plants
When taken care of properly, healthy butternut squash can grow a lot bigger. Regular feeding is crucial as it will produce the most abundant crops. Here are some tips for caring for butternut squash.
Water regularly. Butternut squash plants are heavy feeders and drinkers too. So you need to provide them with adequate water throughout their growth period up to maturity. Watering will prevent the plants and compost from drying out.
Spray the plant gently with a garden hose or a watering can. Don’t put too much water as the soil will become soggy, and too much water may cause stunted growth. Just put enough water to keep the soil moist. This is precisely why you need to water regularly, about three times a week. If the weather is hot, make it four times a week.
Note that you should water the base of the plants rather than the leaves to prevent sunburn or powdery mildew.
Fertilize. Fertilize the plants throughout the growing season. Putting adequate fertilizer will produce a bumpy harvest for sure.
After the first fruits start to swell, feed the plants with high-potash liquid fertilizer for squash every 10-14 days.
Cultivation. In a few weeks, weeds will have started growing. You need to get rid of them before they start sucking all the nutrients from the soil. Cultivation should be done by hand or with a hoe. Do not cultivate too deeply to avoid damaging the roots — butternut roots are quite shallow.
Keep the bugs and diseases away. Healthy butternut squash can give you a good harvest, but only if you take proper care of the plants. Like many other plants, butternut squash is susceptible to pests and diseases. If you want a bumpy harvest, then you’ve got to keep the bugs and diseases off your plants.
The leaves can be attacked by squash bugs as well as striped cucumber beetles. Thoroughly inspect your plants for these bugs before they cause extensive harm. You will need to spray them on a regular basis with a pesticide to get rid of them.
Also, pay close attention to powdery mildew, another common threat to the butternut squash plant.
Photo byUla Gillion
How to Harvest Butternut Squash
The squash will be ready for harvesting when the skin becomes hard and is extremely difficult to pierce with your thumbnail. Waiting for the skin to harden is important, because the squash can be stored for months without going bad.
• Harvest the squash before the first frost of the season. Do not wait too long to harvest as they might rot too quickly if they get exposed to frost.
• Cut the squash from the vines and leave a few inches of the stem intact. The stem prevents the squash from rotting fast.
• Store the inside right away — if you need to store them for a longer time, you can leave them outside to “cure” for a couple of afternoons.
• Store in cool, dry place.
Butternut squash is a valuable crop for eating during cold winter months. There are numerous recipes you can use to make incredibly delicious meals. They are even great for soups. They can either be boiled or roasted and are a great substitute for pumpkin in pie.
Ann Katelynis a homesteader in Alabama whohas dedicated most of her life to gardening and botanical study with growing interests ranging from the popular, world-class roses to the rarest and most exotic orchids. She is currently trying her best to become well versed on plants found in desert areas, the tropics, and Mediterranean region. Connect with Ann onTwitterand her website,Sumo Gardener.
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