Monday, 6 November 2017

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata 'butternut')

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata 'butternut') is an herbaceous vine from the Cucurbitaceae family. It is also known as winter squash, crookneck pumpkin, cheese pumpkin, gamma and bell squash. Believed to have originated in Latin America, it is easy to grow and store. It is a popular winter vegetable in the UK and is available to buy in the shops now.

Butternut squash growing in a polytunnel
Butternut squash growing in a polytunnel

Growing methods

Sow seeds 2.5cm deep in April or May under cover. Seeds can also be sown in situ in May but only after the risk of frosts has passed. Place seeds on their edge to avoid rot. Since the seeds and the emerging plants are large, it is best to use one seed for each pot.

Once the seedlings are a decent size pot on into a larger pot or outside into their final position. Plants are large and easy to handle but can by easily bruised so should be handled gently. Ensure the soil has been well fed with a few spades of home made compost.

Plants are sprawling so need to be spaced at least a metre apart. Alternatively, they can be grown up a sturdy stake or trellis. We now grow ours up rather than along the ground to save space in the polytunnel.

Butternut squash growing up a cane
Butternut squash growing up a cane

When main shoots reach just over half a metre long pinch the tips out so that the plant concentrates on producing fruit rather than a lot of foliage. Allow insect pollinators to visit to encourage pollination of the flowers. Once the butternut squash fruit fill out ensure they are well supported if they are growing up a stake or trellis. If growing on the ground place them on straw or a clean piece of wood so that they don't get too wet or succumb to any pests or diseases. Keep plants well watered, but do not over water, and feed every two weeks with a high potash feed. We use a liquid feed made from home made compost.

Once fruits are the required size cut the stem leaving around 5cm of stem. Fruits for use immediately can be cut smaller. For winter storage, leave the fruit to grow on the plant until the foliage dies down but ensure fruit is cut before the first frosts. Avoid cutting or damaging the skin at all which will prevent them from being stored for any length of time. Store in a cool dry airy place and butternut squash will last for months.

Plants are susceptible to powdery mildew or grey mould. To deter disease ensure optimal growing conditions. Keep well watered, a good air circulation, especially if grown under cover, and feed well. Pick off any infected leaves or fruit to thwart infection early on.

Other uses

Butternut squash has some medicinal uses. The seed has been used as a remedy for tapeworm.

Raw edible parts

All parts of the plant are edible raw. The rich orange flesh of the butternut squash fruit is probably the best bit. It can be grated or sliced finely in salads or blended to make a raw soup. The inner flesh of the seed is also good although fiddly to remove from the hard outer shell. An oil can also be obtained from the seed.

New butternut squash leaf growing on plant
New butternut squash leaf

The leaves and stems are very hairy and might be a bit rough for eating raw unless very finely chopped. The new growing tips are more tender. The yellow flowers can be used in salads or for decoration.

As a point of interest, all parts of all squash plants are edible raw.

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