Butternut is one of many different kinds of squash that produces small to medium pear-shaped fruit with deep orange flesh. This flesh is sweet but you can’t eat it raw. They belong to the cucurbit family and their plants have a vine-type habit and extensive root systems.
Butternut pants produce male and female flowers. The males appear on long stalks and the females on shorter stalks that are closer to the stem. The plants rely on pollination, usually by bees for normal fruit to develop. Sizes of the fruit may vary, but the most common shape is the elongated pear-shape. Some varieties produce fruit with thin, curved necks. Most varieties grown commercially have tan-coloured skins. Butternuts are increasingly becoming more popular than pumpkins and are also being used more important in food processing.
For germination to occur, the ideal soil temperature should be 20 – 25 C and for growth the ideal temperature is 18 – 24 C. Butternut plants require fertile, well drained soil and pH 6.0 – 6.5. Low salt level and high organic
matter content are preferred. The plants take 5 to 10 days to germinate and 90 to 100 days to be ready for harvest.
The soil has to be be thoroughly prepared and deeply loosened before planting. Any residue from previous crops should also be well-rotted. In case of high rainfall which can lead to waterlogging, use of raised beds. Butternut performs at their best in a deeply dug bed that has had plenty of compost and well-rotted manure turned into it.
You can use a variety of spatial arrangements. However, you need to target a final number of 14 – 18,000 plants per hectare. Also try to use in-row spacing of 40 cm and between rows of 1.5m.
Most butternuts are planted directly in the soil. Early in the season, some farmers use seedlings to establish an early crop. However, you have to plant seedlings before they become root-bound in seed trays. Plant the seed in soil of about 450mm in diameter and 1m apart and grow 3 to 5 seed per portion.
To use fertilizers accurately and effectively, a soil analysis is needed. Butternuts like other squashes respond very well to organic fertilization but will most often also need supplementary inorganic applications to get the best results. You will need:
N – 130 Kg. 50% pre-plant, remainder applied equally as 3 top dressings at 3-weekly intervals.
P – 50Kg. All applied pre-plant.
K – 150 Kg. 30% pre-plant, 30% at 4 weeks, 30% at first flower, 10% after fruit set.
This is an approximation of how fertilizer is applied. An exact programme will
have to be tailored according to the soil analysis.
Caring for your plants
Keep the soil constantly moist until the seeds sprout, and then water deeply whenever the soil starts to dry out. If possible, water by flood irrigation as this reduces the chances of fungal attack. Butternuts can be grow in dry land, but will produce much better results where there is irrigation. Furthermore, the water requirement varies with soil type, season and growth stage. However, you have to avoid over-irrigation and water-logging. The amount of water you need for your plants is generally 25 – 40 mm per week.
In you grow your butternut in winter, use plastic mulching to increase soil temperature and speed growth. This also helps control weeds. In the rainy season, control weeds by hand especially early growth stages. You should also consider adding windbreaks around August. And, remember to rotate your crops every four years.
Only harvest your butternut once the skin has lost its shine and hardened. It is important to use a sharp knife to cut the stem about 50mm above the fruit. If you snap the stem off at the base, a wound might be opened which will be susceptible to bacterial attack, drastically reducing storage potential.
You can sell most fruit fresh or you can store it. If you harvest in wet conditions, the fruit may have mud and should be washed and thoroughly dried before storing. Butternut stores very successfully. It’s best to store and and sell it when it’s not in season. You will get better returns due to the flesh colour which improves in storage. To store the fruit, place it on straw in a protected environment and inspect it frequently for any decaying fruit. Also ensure rodents are kept under control.