Nothing suggests the arrival of autumn but a steaming bowl of butternut squash soup. A type of winter squash that grows in spring and summer but lasts well into winter on a storage shelf. Butternut squash can be made into any number of dishes, from roasted and added to tacos, mashed and made into cakes. For any gardener or home cook who grows butternut squash, patience is key.
Like all pumpkins, butternuts are native to America and have a long history there. Butternut squash is a modern variety of winter squash as pumpkins have been cross-pollinating and spawning new varieties for millennia! Today's butternut squash was developed in 1944 by Charles Legget of Stow, Massachusetts. Since then, even more variations of this one type have been grown, including miniature versions like the honeynut squash and butterbaby.
Pumpkin plants produce incredibly nutritious fruits, and butternut squash are full of vitamins A, B6, C, and E while being low in calories. In fact, when the seeds are eaten, they are believed to be useful for calming the nerves. With a wide variety of uses and long storage times, many gardeners and home residents will treat this as a staple in their pantry.
Good Products for Growing Butternut Squash:
Brief instructions for care
Growing butternut squash brings you long lasting products. Source: JeepersMedia
|Common Name (s)||Butternut squash, butternut squash|
|Scientific name||Cucurbita moschata|
|Days to harvest||110-120 days plus curing time|
|Water:||1 inch of water per week|
|ground||Rich, well-drained, with a pH of 5.5-7.0|
|fertilizer||A balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) for planting, flowering and setting|
|Pests||Wine borer, pumpkin bugs, cucumber beetles|
|Diseases||Powdery mildew, downy mildew, anthracnose|
Everything about butternut squash
Butternut squash plants or Cucurbita moschata are one of the most popular and well-known winter squashes. Known in Australia as butternut squash, this American vegetable has since been introduced to the rest of the world, with each nation putting its own twist on how it is used!
Butternuts are a variety of winter squash along with acorn, kabocha, and spaghetti squash. They are cousins of summer squash like zucchini or patty squash. While they grow during the same growing season, the differences between the two are in the thickness of their skin. While summer squash has thin skin and a short shelf life, winter squash's thick skin means it can be grown in summer, harvested in fall, and eaten in winter. Depending on the variety, the winter squash can be stored on a kitchen counter or a cellar shelf for between 2 and 6 months!
Even within the butternuts, there are quite a number of types to choose from! While the grandfather of them all is the Waltham butternut, probably the one you think of when you hear butternut squash, there are numerous sub-types. For home cooks who cook for you, there is the honeynut or butterbaby squash, which are miniature butternuts. For those who cook the whole block, there's the giant Tahitian melon squash, which can weigh as much as a toddler!
A garden full of butternut squash plants can look a little overgrown. The pumpkin vines can snake through plants and fences, and sometimes even up small trees. Large spade-shaped leaves appear to shade the fruit of the plant and keep the soil moist. Yellow flowers emerge from the vines to pollinate the pumpkin. Baby butternuts with a flower are the females, and flowers on long stems are the males. Depending on the variety, you can expect between 3-15 pumpkins per plant.
You don't have to be a skilled gardener to grow pumpkin! Pumpkin seeds germinate very easily under the right conditions. Often grown as part of the Native American farming tradition called The Three Sisters, seeds were sown in mounds of earth along with beans and corn in the spring. Because the soil warms up faster in hills, the seeds germinate quickly and suppress any weeds that soak up nutrients.
Plant butternut squash
A young butternut seedling is establishing itself. Source: Lucy Crosbie
Butternut squash plants are annual plants that grow in spring and summer. While they only take about 110 days to grow, they will take about 2 weeks to heal in the sun if you want to store them. So count backwards from your first frost to make sure you have enough growing time.
When starting pumpkin seeds in cooler climates, start indoors and transplant them out once the threat of frost is over. In warmer climates, you can sow directly in an area of the garden where the soil is warm enough to germinate. Ideally, sow in mounds several feet apart, with 4-5 seeds per mound. Make sure they have been mulched well, preferably with well-rotten compost as these plants can be heavy feed.
Pumpkins are vigorous growers and can surprise you and your neighbors with how quickly they can take over your garden. Because of this, they need full sun and well-drained soil. If you are growing in containers make sure the container is big enough (18 inches wide, 18 inches high) and has enough room for these space pigs!
Once the seeds have germinated, dilute them to 2-3 plants per mound and pour water at the base of the vine once a week. Be careful not to get the leaves wet as this can cause pests. After a few weeks, small butternuts appear where flowers once stood and grow quickly. Place a barrier between the pumpkin and the ground to keep pill bugs from eating the underside. Cardboard acts as a great barrier. Let the pumpkin grow and slowly change the color. Do not rush to cut them off, they must be completely browned and their stem must dry out completely before you can harvest.
Butternut squash flowers are large and bright yellow. Source: Kentbrew
Butternut squash plants almost grow by themselves in the right conditions. All the home gardener has to do is find the right spot in their garden and watch these vines take off!
Sun and temperature
If you want to grow butternut squash, you will find the part of your garden with the most sun and warmth. Butternuts require full sun not just where the seeds are sown, but all of the large area they ingest. These plants don't stay alive until the frost threat is over and the days have reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
A single frost can kill even an established plant. During the summer heat, excessive heat can cause the leaves to wither during the day. Be careful not to over-pour as they will recover later in the evening. They grow well in Zones 3-10, but have a longer growing season the further south you go.
Water and moisture
It is best to water at the base of the vine once a week throughout the growing season, preferably on a drip line or soaker system. Each plant needs at least 1 inch of water per week during early growth and 1 to 2 inches of water once large fruit is set. Be careful not to water too often as this can cause cracking as the plant will absorb water faster than it can create more skin. Once the pumpkins are browned and begin to dry, stop watering to avoid further cracking.
Pumpkin needs well-drained, loamy soil as it is a plant with shallow roots. Try to keep the soil moist but not wet, especially when the pumpkin is young. The plant can survive poor quality soil but can produce fewer pumpkins. You're not too picky about pH, which needs something in the 5.5 to 7.0 range. Mulch well to provide nutrients and maintain soil moisture.
At the base of the female flower is the future fruit. Source: wsmoak
To grow butternut squash, you need to fertilize three times throughout the growing season. They are heavy feed and need a good amount of a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer to support them at a young age, and then a low-nitrogen fertilizer when they are fruiting. Nitrogen promotes leaf growth at the expense of fruit formation. So be careful not to put too much nitrogen into the soil.
Pruning & Training
If your plan is to let your pumpkin roam free in the garden, you probably won't need to exercise your pumpkin a lot. Once a vine has 3-4 fruits, cut the end of the vine to stop further production. The quality of the butternut squash produced can degrade if too many squash grow on a single plant.
One way to save space in the garden is to train your pumpkin on a trellis or arch. This is also a great way to keep the vines off the ground where they can come into contact with more diseases and pests. At a young age, train the vines to form a trellis and anchor them with string or wire. Make sure you do this while the plant is still small, as moving larger plants can cause them to break and slow down growth. Once the butternuts begin to form and begin to hang, give them extra support so they don't break off. You can help them by tying them up with tights, old t-shirts, or kitchen towels.
Most butternut squash are grown from seeds. Unless you live in a warmer climate or have a large greenhouse, starting seeds is the only viable method for starting butternut squash.
Rarely do people try to root a clipping. This happens when an attempt is made to preserve an heirloom variety or to revive an accidentally damaged vine. Use a root hormone and place the end of the cut in soil mixed with vermiculite.
Harvesting and storing
Butternuts are green when they form and grow. Source: Ula Gillion
Butternuts are valued in the garden partly because they are well stored in winter! They make it possible to have a taste of summer when there is a layer of snow outside!
Butternuts are ready to be harvested when the stalk that connects the fruit to the vine is completely dry and the skin of the butternuts cannot be pierced with a fingernail. Cut the stem about an inch away from the fruit and let it dry in the sun for about two weeks. This is a process called curing. If you plan on long-term storage, once the skin has hardened, wipe it with a solution of water and bleach to kill mold spores and insect eggs that can destroy your pumpkin if stored for long periods.
Once the butternut squash has been properly cured and cleaned, the squash can hold for 2-5 months at 50-60 degrees or in a well-ventilated basement or pantry. Do not stack pumpkins on top of each other, they need air circulation. Check for rot regularly, as one rotten pumpkin can cause others to rot.
You can also dice the butternut squash and pressurize it with a tested and safe recipe. Freezing is also a great option; Dice your butternut and place it frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then store them in a freezer bag. It is also possible to dehydrate cooked pumpkin, although the texture may be strange afterwards.
As butternuts ripen, their skin gradually turns yellow. Source: CarrieA
From loose fruits to withered leaves and a white matter covering the leaves of the butternut, you can face a variety of problems during the growing season.
One of the most common growing problems is that Failure of female flowers to set fruit. Small butternuts appear, but then turn yellowish-brown and fall off, which disappoints gardeners. This happens when the male flowers fail to get their pollen into the female flower in time. Pollinator insects usually do this, but sometimes they are nowhere to be found. You may need to hand pollinate to make sure your pumpkin grows!
Split up happens when the plant receives too much water in a short period of time. The plant tries to absorb too much water all at once, and the insides of the plant expand faster than the skin. If it is far enough in the growth process, you can still eat it within 48 hours.
One of the most annoying parts of growing vegetables is dealing with the pests that they want to eat too! There are a few major insect-shaped predators to watch out for!
Pumpkin Borer attacks any pumpkin plant and bores its way into the main stem, sucking out the juices and eating the plant. This leads to small holes in the vines and deposits of debris, a sawdust-like matter, around them. You can discourage wine burs by spraying neem oil, which will kill the eggs. If you wrap the base of the vines in aluminum foil, they will not have full access to the vines, thus protecting your seedlings from serious damage.
Squash bugs are small gray or brown beetles that travel in packs. They lay their eggs on the underside of a leaf and suck the juices out of the plant after they hatch. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to smother their eggs. Pyrethrin works well for killing adult beetles.
Cucumber beetle are small insects with yellow and black spots on their backs. In particular, they chase seedlings and can carry wilted diseases with them. Both pyrethrin and spinosad work against these beetles.
Most butternut squash diseases can be avoided by choosing varieties that have been shown to be disease resistant. In addition, it helps to weed the garden well and promote air circulation to drastically reduce disease.
Anthracnose first appears on butternut squash leaves as small circles or depressions, but can soon spread and cover an entire plant. Treat early with a copper fungicide as it can kill an entire plant quickly. Make sure that affected plants never end up in a worm bin or compost heap!
Wrong mildewLike most mushrooms, it thrives in damp conditions and can be fatal. This disease shows up as light gray or yellow spots on the leaves and is best prevented with the use of a copper-based fungicide. Neem oil is a great remedy for this annoyance.
The tell-tale sign of mildew is a white, powdery growth that covers the top of the leaves and stems of butternut squash plants. This growth spreads to the entire plant and, if not kept in check, slows the growth of the entire plant. Remove infected leaves and spray with neem oil.
frequently asked Questions
Butternut and Uchiki kuri squash plants. Source: LoopZilla
Q: How long does it take to grow butternut squash?
A: It will take anywhere from 100 to 120 days to grow, but another 2 weeks to heal if you want to store it long term.
Q: How many pumpkins do you get from one plant?
A: Depending on the strain and growing conditions, you can expect between 5 and 20 butternut squash per plant.
Q: Do I need to dry butternut squash seeds before planting?
A: Yes. Butternut pumpkin seeds must be fully ripened before planting.
Q: Can I plant seeds from the store-bought pumpkin?
A: However, you may find that the seeds are cross-pollinated as they grow and grow to produce a different type of pumpkin.
About the writer Elizabeth Cramer:
Elizabeth Cramer is a cook, plant lover and potter. She loves teaching others how to cook and growing their own food. The native Californian, who spent her childhood within earshot of the orangutans at the San Diego Zoo, now lives on the beach, where she fights against powdery mildew and farmer's tan.
Her love for food and where it comes from stems from her time in Spain as a teenager, where she lived in an olive oil factory against the wind, drove to school among olive and orange groves and ate fresh local food. Right after college, she joined the community gardens and really fell in love with growing plants. As an obsessive plant, she recently started canning in an effort to achieve her goal of living 100% on her own land.
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