The ABCD of growing Butternut squash
Butternut squash or squash farming is gaining currency especially as demand for the product increases locally and internationally.
As a plant that has its origins in Mexico, the butternut squash has become a culinary delight for many Kenyans who love its nutty taste.
Mothers especially, love using it to wean their babies since it’s easy to cook, mash or blend.
The produce has the triple benefits of vitamins A and B, and potassium.
Its origins and health benefits aside, Butternut Squash farming requires farmers to understand the climate where the crop does well, and the soils well suited for growing it. (Expert advice states that butternut squash grows well in well-drained and fertile soils)
Additionally, the crop needs about six hours of sunlight daily. To supplement soil nutrients, farmers need to use organic or compost manures in their farms.
Once land preparation has been done, the farmer needs to acquire hybrid seeds from certified seed distributors and plant then in rows that are 90 centimetres apart.
Spacing between plants in the same row should be 45 centimetres, while the seeds should be covered with at least two centimetres of soil.
The seeds take a maximum of 10 days to germinate, during which time, the farmer needs to moderately water them.
Farmers need to be aware of one more thing; that though the crop produces both the male and female flowers (otherwise known as the staminate and pistillate flowers), they do not self pollinate. As such, the crop needs pollinators (such as bees) for pollination to occur and hence have fruits.
Another interesting fact about the butternut squash is that the flowers open for one day only, and as such, farmers need to position pollinators (e.g. bees) near their squash farms during the flowering stage.
In order to ensure that bees visit the squash farm regularly, it is recommended that farmers should farm the crop, and maybe place bee hives, where the squash crop is the only resource for the bees.
It is inadvisable to have flower patches near the butternut squash farm because bees would naturally prefer the flowers.
All cucurbits are warm- season crops. They grow best during hot weather and cannot tolerate frost.
Seeds will germinate at 15°C (60°F), but germinate best at 29-32°C (85°F-90°F).
Pumpkins and squashes grow best at temperatures of 23-29°C (75°F-85°F) day and 15°C-21°C (60°-70°F) night.
Growth virtually stops at temperatures below 10°C (50°F) and the plants may be severely injured and maturity delayed by temperatures below 5°C. (40°F) for several days.
Plants are usually killed by one hour or more of frost (temperature below 0°C, 32°F).
Therefore, plant cucurbits in the field when soil temperatures are high enough for good germination and all chance of frost has passed.
For early summer squash production, plastic mulch and/or row covers will raise soil temperatures and provide some frost protection.
Low temperatures also have an adverse effect on flowering and fruit set.
Cucurbits are monoecious plants – that is, each plant produces both male and female flowers. Normally, several male flowers form before female flowers develop.
During periods of cool temperatures (below 22°C, 70°F) most pumpkin and squash cultivars respond by producing primarily male flowers.
Male flowers do not form fruit. By contrast some cultivars of summer squash appear to form mostly female flowers in response to cool temperatures.
Without male flowers to provide pollen, however, the female flowers do not form fruit.
Maturity and harvesting.
Butternut squash maturity period is between 75 and 120 days after germination. Mature butternut squash are beige to light tan color with shriveling drying stems and extremely hard skin. Butternut squash with green color still on it is not yet mature. Harvest ripe fruits by cutting the stems about 2.5 cm up from the fruit. Don’t handle the harvested fruit by the stem, as the stem cannot bear the weight. Butternut Squash has a long storage life of up to 3 months and they should be mature and free from injury and decay when stored. They should be kept dry and provided with good air circulation.
Pests and diseases
These plants are prone to various pests and diseases. In case you notice signs of pests and diseases, contact agriculture extension officer, for correct technical advice. There are many pesticides in the market including organic pesticides. If you need to apply pesticides or other such products, do it in the evening, to avoid interfering with bees which are important for pollination.
Butternut squash market in Kenya
Butternut squash has market value and demand both in Kenya and abroad. You can sell to market traders from Nairobi and other major towns. Youth groups can link their members with exporters’ to by-pass middlemen for better returns.
Butternut squash growing is an excellent choice for small scale young farmers. It is a simple task which beginners in farming can cope
Butternut squash has a sweet nutty taste. It is rich in,
- Vitamin A,
- Vitamin C