Winter squash are tender, warm-weather crops very similar to summer squashes. But, winter squashes—unlike summer squashes—must fully mature on the vine before harvest.
Summer squashes can be picked and eaten immature; they have a succulent texture. Winter squashes are drier and more fibrous than summer squashes.
Winter squashes include acorn, banana, buttercup, butternut, cushaw delicious, Hubbard, marrow, and pumpkin.
Sow winter squash indoor 4 to 3 weeks before the last expected frost in spring. Sow winter squash outdoors when the soil temperature has warmed to 70°F (21°C). Protect squash in the garden from cool temperatures with row covers.
Summer squash mature 60 to 100 frost-free days after sowing.
- Winter Squash Sowing and Planting Tips
- Winter Squash Planting Calendar
- Winter Squash Recommended Varieties
- Growing Butternut Squash Plants – Butternut Squash Cultivation In The Home Garden
- Planting Butternut Squash
- Growing Butternut Squash
- Growing Pumpkins
- When and How to Plant Pumpkins
- What Pests to Watch For
- How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins
- Simple Pumpkin Soup Recipe
- Pumpkin Muffin Recipe
- How to Grow Giant Pumpkins
- Sowing and planting butternut
- Caring for butternut
- Harvesting butternut
- All there is to know about butternut
- Smart tip about butternut
- Read also
- Waltham Butternut Butternut Squash Seed
Winter Squash Sowing and Planting Tips
- Grow winter squash from seeds or seedlings.
- Seed is viable for 6 years.
- Direct sow winter squash in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to 70°F (21°C). In warm-winter regions, sow squash in midwinter for harvest in early summer.
- Winter squash seeds will not germinate at a soil temperature below 66°F (18°C).
- To start plants indoors, sow seed in peat pots 4 to 3 weeks before the last frost in spring. The indoor temperature should be 66°F to 85°F (18-29°C) until germination.
- Sow seed ½ to 1 inch (1.3-2.5 cm) deep.
- Seeds germinate in 4 to 10 days at 85°F (29°C) or warmer.
- Transplant winter squash into the garden after the soil has warmed to at least 70°F (21°C).
- Space plants in the garden 12 to 18 inches (30-45 cm) apart in all directions.
- Winter squash will benefit from the warm soil created by planting on hills or mounds; raise the soil 12 inches (30 cm) tall and 20 inches (50 cm) wide and grow individual plants on hills. Space hills 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) apart.
- Water to keep the soil from drying.
- Fertilize with fish emulsion or a soluble complete fertilizer at half strength.
- Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of transplanting.
- Winter squash prefer a soil pH range of 5.5 to 6.8.
- Grow winter squash in full sun for best yield.
- Avoid planting winter squash where cucumbers or melons have grown recently.
- Common squash pest enemies include aphids, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers, slugs, and snails.
- Common diseases include bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, downy mildew, powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic.
More tips at How to Grow Winter Squash.
Interplanting: Plant winter squash with bush beans, corn, dill, eggplant, lettuce, cucumbers, summer squash, and tomatoes.
Container Growing: Squashes are not a good choice for container growing. They require significant room to spread and grow.
Winter Squash Planting Calendar
- 4-3 weeks before the last frost in spring: start seed indoors for transplanting into the garden later.
- 2-3 weeks after the last frost in spring: transplant seedlings to the garden.
- 3 weeks after the last frost in spring: direct sow seed in the garden; minimum soil temperature 65°
Winter squash will benefit from the warm soil created by planting on hills or mounds;
Winter Squash Recommended Varieties
There many types and varieties of winter squash; here are a few:
- Acorn: acorn-shaped, dark green fruit to 2 pounds.
- Banana: smooth gray-green skin, light orange flesh to 18 inches long.
- Butternut: tan-yellow skin, orange fleshy pulp; elongated pear-shape with a bulbous compartment of seeds at the blossom end
- Buttercup: squat acorn shape; blackish-green rind with yellow-orange flesh.
- Cushaw: green-striped gourd to 15 inches long.
- Hubbard: bluish, gray, orange or dark green, smooth and warty skin.
- Pumpkins are winter squashes.
- Turban: bright-colored, turban-shaped shells 6 to 7 inches in diameter.
Botanical Names: Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita pepo.
Winter squash are members of the Cucurbitaceae family; other members cucumbers, melons, watermelon, and pumpkins.
More tips at Squash and Pumpkin Growing Tips.
Growing Butternut Squash Plants – Butternut Squash Cultivation In The Home Garden
Butternut squash plants are a type of winter squash. Unlike its fellow summer squashes, it is eaten after it reaches the mature fruit stage when the rind has become thick and hardened. It’s a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber as well as high in potassium, niacin, beta carotene and iron. It stores well without refrigeration or canning and each vine will yield from 10 to 20 squash if properly maintained. How to grow butternut squash in the home garden is both easy and rewarding if you follow just a few basic steps.
Planting Butternut Squash
The butternut squash growing season begins when all danger of frost is past and the soil is well warmed by the sun, about 60 to 65 F. (15-18 C.) at a 4-inch depth. Butternut squash plants are extremely tender and the seedlings will freeze with the slightest frost and seeds will only germinate in warm soil.
Like most other vining vegetables, butternut squash cultivation begins with a hill. Draw your garden soil into a hill about 18 inches high. This allows the
soil to heat around the seeds and roots. Your soil should be well amended and well fertilized since butternut squash plants are heavy feeders. Plant five or six seeds per hill about 4 inches apart and 1 inch deep. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. In about 10 days, the seeds will sprout. When they’re about 6 inches high, thin out the weakest leaving three plants per hill.
The butternut squash growing season is about 110-120 days for fruit maturation, so if your season is short, it’s best to start your seeds indoors to give them a head start. To grow butternut squash indoors, you’ll need to start about six weeks before the last frost in your area. Plant as you would most vegetables, in good soil in a sunny window or greenhouse and transplant to the garden after all danger of frost is past. Please remember to harden off the seedlings before transplanting.
Growing Butternut Squash
Butternut squash cultivation takes up a great deal of space in the home garden. Each hill should have at least fifty square feet for growing. Butternut squash seeds can send out vines up to 15 feet long.
Fertilize well throughout the butternut squash growing season. Regular feeding will produce the most abundant crop as will keeping the hills weed free. Butternut squash cultivation should be done by hand or with a hoe. Don’t cultivate too deeply since the roots are shallow. Watch carefully for bugs and when the need arises, use insecticidal soap or apply insecticides in the evening when the bees have returned to the hive since bees are essential to growing butternut squash successfully.
Your squash will be ready for harvesting when the skin turns hard and is difficult to pierce with your thumbnail.
Butternut squash can be roasted or boiled and makes a particularly tasty substitute for pumpkin in pie. Once you know how to grow butternut squash, the possibilities are endless and your neighbors and friends will appreciate sharing your bounty.
The three species of squash that we offer represent a wide variety of shapes and colours. Each will cross-pollinate readily within their species. For instance, all C. pepo will cross-pollinate with each other, but not with C. maxima or C. moschata. For people who want to save their seeds, this is a very important consideration. The fruits themselves will not be affected by cross pollination, but the seeds inside will be, so squash need to be grown in isolation from other members of their species if seed saving is the goal. Follow along with this handy How to Grow Squash from seeds Guide and grow food.
Cucurbita maxima, C. pepo, & C. moschata
Easy, but all squash plants take up space, and some can be huge.
We Recommend: Squashes are so different from one to another that it’s hard to make a recommendation. First Taste Kabocha (SQ732) stands out, in our opinion, among many other squash varieties. We love the flavour and the keeping potential, and the plants don’t get out of control. Gold Nugget (SQ744) also comes to mind, as it can be super-productive in a very small space – it’s fruits form at the base of a single vine, and we’ve seen as many as 10 fruits per plant, which is a very sweet return.
Season & Zone
Season: Warm season
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: Not winter hardy. Compare the days to maturity to the length of a typical summer in your area. Days to maturity are from transplant date.
Direct sow or transplant in late May or early June once the soil is warm. For transplants, start seeds indoors during the first two weeks of May. Make sure plants are in the ground no later than June 15th. Optimal soil temperature: 25-35°C (77-95°F). Seeds should germinate in 7-14 days.
Sow seeds 2cm (1″) deep. Sow 3 seeds in each spot where you want a plant to grow, and thin to the strongest plant. Space summer squash 45-60cm (18-24″) apart in rows 90-120cm (36-48″) apart. Give winter squash and pumpkins even more room with a minimum of 90-120cm (36-48″) apart in rows 120-180cm (48-72″) apart.
Ideal pH: 6.0-6.8. These big plants need lots of food. Use 1 cup of complete organic fertilizer worked into the soil beneath each plant. All squash grow male flowers first, at later female flowers. The female flowers have tiny fruits at the base of their petals and require pollination by bees mostly. Incomplete pollination often happens at the beginning of the season, and results in misshapen fruits that are withered at the flower end. Just discard these damaged fruits before they begin to rot.. You can encourage bees to your garden by growing Phacelia or Buckwheat for improved pollination.
Summer Squash: pick when small, if fruit gets big the plant stops producing. Check the plants regularly!
Winter Squash: Fruit is ripe if your thumbnail doesn’t mark the skin and the stem is dry and brown. Cut the stem about 4cm (2″) from the fruit. Squash survive a light frost, but store better if harvested before frost.
Storage: Field-cure for 10 days in the sun, or cure indoors in a warm room for 4 or 5 days. To prevent mould sponge the skins with a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part chlorine bleach. Store at 10-15ºC (50-60ºF) with low humidity with good air circulation. Try on a shelf in the garage.
In optimal conditions at least 80% of seeds will germinate. Usual seed life: 2 years. Per 100′ row: 180 seeds, per acre: 15M seeds.
Diseases & Pests
Bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila) – Remove an destroy infested plants. If striped or spotted cucumber beetles appear, control as early as possible. Powdery mildew – avoid wetting foliage if possible. Water early in the day so that above ground parts of the plants dry as quickly as possible. Avoid crowding plants and eliminate weeds around plants and garden area to improve air circulation. Viral disease – remove and destroy entire infested plant along with immediately surrounding soil and soil clinging to roots.
Companions: corn, lettuce, melons, peas, and radish. Avoid planting squash near Brassicas or potatoes. Borage is said to improve the growth and flavour of squash. Marigolds and nasturtium repel numerous squash pest insects.
More on Companion Planting.
If you’d like pumpkin seeds without the hulls, you might try Lady Godiva (110 days). This yellowish pumpkin usually has green stripes or markings and weighs about six pounds, but — as the seed catalogues say — “its meat isn’t of table quality.” Other varieties prized for their hull-less seeds are Trick or Treat, Triple Treat and Streaker, all of which take around 110 days to mature. Triple Treat’s sweet meat is excellent for pies. Though technically squashes, both Sweetnut (a compact bush variety) and Eat-All (with 5-foot vines) produce seeds that are small but deliciously nutty, and the flesh of both is very tasty.
Not surprisingly, the best Halloween pumpkin is called Jack-O’-Lantern. These 10-pounders mature in 110 days, and their smooth skin cuts easily. But if your ambition is to take the prize for the biggest pumpkin at the county fair (keep reading), plant Big Max. This blue-ribbon winner, however, requires 120 days to mature and has a shell that is hard to carve and pale flesh that is coarse and somewhat stringy. Furthermore, a single one of these giant pumpkin plants — alone and unaided — can cover an area 10 to 20 feet in diameter!
For the unusual, try the large, buff-colored, box-shaped Large Cheese (its sweet meat keeps extremely well), the white-skinned Little Boo or the Green Striped Cushaw, whose long, curved neck is full of fine-tasting flesh. (This cushaw does best in warm climates.)
When and How to Plant Pumpkins
Because many pumpkins are slow to mature, gardeners with short growing seasons should pick a 90-day variety or start plants indoors in April or May. For early starts, place two seeds each in 3-inch containers or peat pots. (There are 100 pumpkin seeds to an ounce, and the seeds remain viable for five years.) Push the blunt end of the seed into the growing medium. When the seedlings are big enough to handle, cull the weakest of the two. Harden off the young plants by exposing them gradually to the outdoors before planting them in the garden. Four to six weeks after the last frost, transplant the seedlings without disturbing their easily damaged roots. Seeds can also be started earlier outdoors by simply sowing them where they are to grow and placing upturned glass jars over them.
To sow seeds directly in the garden otherwise, wait until mid to late spring (about the same time you’d plant beans) when the soil has warmed to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. (Cold-area gardeners sometimes speed up the soil-warming process by covering the pumpkin patch with black plastic.) Crops planted in early May will mature around the end of August. If you want a later crop, plant during the first week in June.
Pumpkins can be grown in hills by sowing four to five seeds per mound, then thinning to two plants; or in rows, by planting two or three seeds together, keeping only the strongest seedling. Space pumpkins according to the directions for the variety grown. Generally speaking, allow 10 to 12 feet between hills of vining types. Hills of bush varieties are usually spaced at a distance of four to six feet. Vining types planted in rows should be three to four feet apart with eight to 12 feet between rows. Plant bush types on two- to three-foot centers with rows set four to six feet apart. (Bush types usually do best in rows.) When sowing vining pumpkins in the corn patch, plant in every third row of corn, allowing eight to 10 feet between the vines in the row. Once the corn is harvested, knock down the stalks to allow the pumpkins to bask in full sun. (Pumpkin yields in the corn patch might not be as high as they are when the vines are given a private spot of their own, but such intercropping saves a lot of space. And space can be critically important to a gardener.)
Another efficient way to grow pumpkins is to create a pumpkin-vine “house” — a hideaway that children will love. To do this, cover a five-foot-square frame with chicken wire on three sides and the top. Plant seeds of one of the smaller pumpkin varieties 12 inches apart in prepared strips along two opposite sides. Water regularly and support the maturing fruits with slings made of old pantyhose.
When planning your garden, keep in mind that, while pumpkins won’t cross with other vining cucurbits like cucumbers and watermelons, they will cross with some types of gourds, squash and zucchini if planted too close to them. Such cross-pollination won’t show up in the current harvest, but if you save your seeds, next season’s crop may contain some strange vegetables.
While considered easy to grow, pumpkins do require fertile, well-drained, neutral soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7. Early-maturing types thrive best in sandy and sandy-loam earth. Pumpkins need a lot of water, though, and heavier soils help hold this essential ingredient. The big vines are heavy feeders as well, so plenty of well-rotted manure should be worked into the site prior to planting. (Dig a hole where your vine is to grow, fill it with a shovelful of manure or compost, and sprinkle dirt on top.)
Cover the seeds to a depth of one inch, and tamp the soil lightly. Thin the seedlings when they have two or three leaves. If you have a problem with surface crusting, which can prevent the seedlings from emerging, scatter a thin layer of loose soil over the seeded area. Once their rapid growth begins, pumpkins can compete well with weeds. Until then, do shallow weeding to keep from damaging the seedlings’ roots, and mulch between hills and rows with straw, hay, grass clippings or leaves.
Make sure pumpkins get a lot of water, and apply it slowly so it can soak down to the feeding roots two to three feet beneath the surface. Try, however, to avoid wetting the foliage, since this can encourage disease. Side-dress the crop at midseason with more well-rotted manure or compost. Once the fruits begin to fill out, water the plants with fish emulsion or manure tea every 10 to 14 days.
Pumpkins have both male and female flowers and must be insect-pollinated to set fruit. If such flying friends are in short supply, do this job yourself by using a camel’s-hair brush to transfer the pollen from the males to the females. The latter can be recognized by the immature fruit lurking below their petals. Another pollinating method is to strip the petals from a male flower (which has no embryo beneath it) and push the yellow anthers into the female flower.
Pinch off the growing tip of the main stem to encourage more fruit-bearing side shoots to emerge, then help these form their own roots by heaping fertile soil over them. To prevent long vines from wandering out of their planned growing space — and getting into no end of trouble — pin them to the soil with staple-shaped pieces of soft wire. Otherwise, pinch off the fuzzy ends of too-rampant vines. (These trimmed-off stems can be cooked like spinach.)
When the pumpkin babies reach two or three inches in diameter, remove all but three or four fruits on each vine, culling those growing near the ends of the plant while saving those nearest the base. Any small pumpkins that form too late to mature before the first heavy frost should also be picked off — as painful as the process may be.
What Pests to Watch For
With the exception of scab, a fungus that mainly attacks cucumbers, pumpkins are susceptible to the same diseases and insects common to other cucurbit crops. In fact, squash bugs (also called stink bugs because of their obnoxious odor) and squash vine borers prefer squash and pumpkins to other members of the cucurbit family.
Squash bugs (brownish black and about 3/4-inch long) feed on plant tissues until the vines wilt and die. They can be handpicked, as can their brick-red eggs found lying in clusters on the leaves. These pests can be controlled by sowing repellent plants, such as radishes, nasturtiums or marigolds, around the patch. For severe infestations, trap the bugs under boards, dust them with diatomaceous earth, or—if necessary—use rotenone. Squash bugs are generally more of a problem with the smaller bush-type varieties, so if you can’t spend much time in your pumpkin patch, you may want to plant one of the field types, which are less attractive to these insects.
Squash vine borers (white, one-inch-long caterpillars with brown heads) tunnel into stems, causing the plant to wilt. To keep ahead of this problem, look for small holes with sawdustlike droppings. If you spot one, slit open the stem, pull out the pest, and put the stem back together with masking tape or cover it with dirt at the rupture point so it will reroot. Bacillus thuringiensis, lime dust and wood ashes also discourage these destructive borers.
Cucumber beetles (1/4-inch long with black heads and yellow or green wings with black spots or stripes) can chew the leaves off the vines. Even worse, they spread bacterial wilt, which begins with the wilting of a single leaf, followed by the gradual demise of the entire plant. Again, radishes planted nearby will tempt the disease-spreading beetles away from the pumpkins, or you can control the bugs with pyrethrum or rotenone. Other defenses are to cover the young plants with cheesecloth and to mulch them heavily. If a plant is struck down with bacterial wilt, destroy it to keep the disease from spreading.
To prevent anthracnose (a soil-borne fungus which shows up on leaves as hollow, water-soaked spots that become large and turn brown) and downy mildew (irregular yellow or purplish spots on leaves, which later curl up and die), plant a resistant variety of pumpkin and practice crop rotation on a three- or four-year basis. And while you’re at it, eliminate perennial weeds around your plot, so downy mildew will have no place to overwinter.
How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins
A few weeks before the first fall frost, cut the tips off the plants and pick any small fruits to encourage the growth of the remaining pumpkins. The pumpkins are mature when you can’t pierce the skins easily with a fingernail. Another sign is that the vines of ripe pumpkins usually begin to wither and the stems become dry. Cut the stems a few inches from the fruit with a sharp knife, and cure the pumpkins in the sun for a few weeks. As the stems dry, they form a barrier to the bacteria and molds that cause pumpkins to rot. Be sure that those you intend to store are harvested before the first frost, to prevent the shells from growing soft. Store them in a dry (60% to 75% humidity) basement, storage room, shed or attic at about 50 degree to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and they will keep from three to six months.
You can preserve your pumpkin harvest for longer periods by canning, freezing or drying the meat. To can or freeze it, wash the whole pumpkin, cut it into pieces, and cook it until tender in boiling water, steam, the oven or a pressure cooker. Scoop the pulp from the skin (removing seeds and strings), and mash it or press it through a ricer, sieve or food mill. For canned pumpkin, place the mashed pulp in clean jars topped with canning lids, and process them — 65 minutes for pints and 80 for quarts — at 10 pounds of pressure. The results will be a bit mushy, and frozen pumpkin is more like fresh. To freeze, completely cool the cooked meat by stirring it in a saucepan or bowl set in ice water. Pack the pumpkin in containers, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space for pints and a good 1/2 inch for quarts. Seal, label and freeze.
To dry pumpkin, select only those fruits that are mature and firm. Cut them into chunks, scrape out the seeds and strings, peel, and carve into thin, one-inch-wide slices. Blanch these in boiling water for about one minute or in steam for two-and-a-half to three minutes. After draining and patting dry with paper towels, place the slices in a single, even layer on cookie sheets or on racks. Dry these in the sun, over a woodstove, in a dehydrator or in a low oven from four to 12 hours until no moisture remains. (Thinner slices may be brittle.) Store them in a dry place or airtight container. Rehydrate each cup of pumpkin in three cups of boiling water for about one hour.
To dry pumpkin seeds, first wash them thoroughly in cold water to remove all pulp and strings. Rinse and drain them well, and pat them dry with towels. Spread the seeds in a single, even layer on paper towels on cookie sheets, and place these in a warm, dry spot for 12 to 24 hours. Such seeds can be used for planting the next season, or they can be sprouted. To do so, place one-and-a-half cups of seeds in a one-quart jar or a sprout tray. Let them soak for 10 hours, then rinse the seeds two or three times daily for two to three days. Harvest the sprouts when they’re an inch or so long. This should yield about a quart of sprouts to use in soups, salads and stir-fry dishes.
For snacks and garnishes, roast washed and dried seeds in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes or until crisp and light brown.
Cooked pumpkin is surprisingly nutritious. One-half cup contains about 7,500 units of vitamin A, along with an assortment of B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and iron — but only 27 calories. It’s also known to help elevate low blood pressure.
The following pumpkin recipes are favorites of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff:
Simple Pumpkin Soup Recipe
2 tablespoons margarine
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Parsley sprigs for garnish
Melt margarine in a large pan. Add green pepper and onion, and sauté until vegetables are soft but not brown. Blend in flour and salt. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thick. Garnish each serving with a sprig of parsley. Serves 6.
Pumpkin Muffin Recipe
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin or pumpkin purée
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup raisins
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in butter to consistency of coarse meal. Stir in pumpkin, milk and raisins. Stir in egg until lightly blended. Grease and flour muffin tin. Fill cups 2/3 full, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 to 20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.
How to Grow Giant Pumpkins
According to the Guinness Book of World Records , the biggest pumpkin ever grown weighed 612 pounds and was 135 inches in girth. You may not be able to top this 1984 giant from Chelan, Washington, but any county fair worth its salt will sport entries topping 100 pounds. Here’s how pumpkin growers achieve greatness:
First, choose a jumbo variety like Big Max or King of Giants, and put a whole bushel of aged manure covered with dirt in a pumpkin hill. Sow three to five seeds, and when the seedlings have two or three leaves, remove all but the strongest plant. Let the vine produce two or three pumpkins, removing any flowers that appear later. Next, pull the fuzzy tip off the end of the vine, and — once the pumpkins reach baseball size — pick off all but the largest one. Give the plant plenty of water every day. Some gardeners even slit the vine and insert a wick that rests in a dish kept full of milk. Just be sure to have some help handy when it’s time to cart this behemoth from the field.
These plants are very sensitive to frost and heat, so you’re better off starting the seeds indoors and transplanting them outside when the frost danger has passed.
First off, purchase your seeds from a greenhouse or online. When your seeds arrive, start planting them two to four weeks before the last frost of the spring. Use peat pots because they don’t like to be disturbed once planted.
Fill a bowl full of your potting mix and work water through it until it’s damp but not soaked. They aren’t that picky when it comes to soil, but they do like it slightly warm.
Add your moist soil to your peat pots and gently tamp it down. Don’t pack the soil too hard though: your plants should be able to breathe. Fill your peat pots almost to the top lip and poke a hole in the center around two inches (5 cm) deep in the center of each peat pot.
Drop one seed into each hole and backfill it with soil. Water it thoroughly and set it in either a bright south-facing window or four inches (10 cm) under fluorescent lighting. Add a plastic cover over your peat pots to ensure that your soil stays warm and your seeds germinate.
Water your seeds enough to keep the potting soil moist but not saturated. Watch for leaves to push up through the soil. You can move them outdoors once the final frost of the season recedes.
When it comes time to move them outdoors, you’ll want to prepare your garden plot. Scout for a place that gets a lot of sun throughout the day. This will ensure that the soil stays warm enough for the plants to grow properly.
Work the soil with a roto-tiller or with a shovel until you have three to four inches (7 to 10 cm) of earth turned up. Add in your potting soil and mix it together thoroughly until you have a nice moisture-retaining mix.
Form mounds for your plants to grow in. You can also plant them on flat ground, but they do best in mounds. Make mounds out of your potting medium up to around twelve inches (31 cm) tall, and make sure that each mound is five to six feet (152 to 183 cm) apart to give them room to sprawl out.
Dig holes in your mounds, so your peat pots are about one inch (3 cm) below the ground. Space each peat pot roughly five to six inches (13 to 15 cm) apart, all around the mound. Add one peat pot per hole, and gently backfill it with soil. Water each mound thoroughly.
The final step before you move onto the growing phase is adding a layer of mulch around each plant. This will protect the plant’s roots, and help you combat weeds which would compete for space.
Butternut gourd, also called simply butternut, is one of the most popular squash varieties.
Basic Butternut facts
Name – Cucurbita moschata
Family – Cucurbitaceae or gourd family
Type – vegetable
Height – 8 to 20 inches (20 to 50 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rich and well drained
Harvest – September to December
From seed to harvest, here is everything you need to know to grow your butternut well and have great harvests.
Sowing and planting butternut
February-March to April is the right time to start sowing butternut gourd in a sheltered place in nursery pots, followed by transplanting when the last frosts are past, or you can also wait for direct sowing starting from the month of May.
- Butternut gourd loves heat, and requires warm to hot climates to germinate properly.
For sowing in nursery pots in spring, count more or less 3 weeks before transplanting them to the ground. That’s why there is no need to sow early.
- Lightly press down 2 to 3 seeds per nursery pot.
- Ensure that temperature doesn’t drop below 50°F (12°C) during germination.
- Once sprouted, keep only the most vigorous seedling.
- 3 weeks later, they can be set into their growing bed, provided that the last frost spells are past already.
- Provide for at least 6 ½ feet (2 meters) between plants.
Sowing butternut seeds directly in the ground
It is also possible to sow directly in the ground, starting from the month of May, if the area is prone to mild fall seasons.
- The richer your soil, the more abundant will your harvest be.
- Feel free to add fertilizer or manure upon planting.
- Loosen up the soil well before sowing.
Caring for butternut
Once your butternut plants have grown well, mulch their base to keep the soil moist and cool.
- Mulch helps keep the butternut from staying in contact with the soil thus avoiding the risk of rot.
Butternut gourd needs water to develop well, especially in case of heat and/or extended dry spell. The younger the plant, the more attention must be given.
- Water in the morning without wetting the leaves over the summer.
Hand pollinating butternut
When only two or three specimens are growing in a vegetable patch, a pollination problem may appear. Sometimes the plants will only produce male flowers for a few days, without any female blooms. Then only female flowers are blooming without any male blooms.
- This is also often because the lack of pollinators such as bees makes natural pollination more difficult.
Pollination cannot occur in this situation, and you need to intervene if you want fruits. Here is how to hand-pollinate a butternut plant.
- Squash pollen does not keep well at all. Within hours, it looses its viability entirely.
- The solution is to pick an entire male flower just before it’s fully developed. It must be stored in the cold to suspend its development.
- Keep the flower in an airtight jar in a refrigerator, upright with a moist cotton at the bottom to keep the flower hydrated.
- In this manner, the flower will keep for several days, even up to a week.
- When a female flower appears, pull the flower from the jar and let it sit in moist cotton at room temperature for an hour.
- The male flower will quickly mature and the pollen will remain viable for a couple hours.
- Collect a few anthers from the male flowers. This is the stem that is the centerpart of the bloom.
- Delicately rub the anther directly on the female stigma.
You can also use a soft, dry paintbrush to carry pollen from the male to the female flower, if both are open simultaneously.
- Butternut will readily cross-pollinate with other squash varieties. Children grown from mixed squash varieties will bear surprising new shapes and sizes. They might also be disappointing, though!
Fruits start to mature as early as September, but best is to collect your butternut when the stem has dried up and that foliage has turned yellow.
- That is why harvest usually takes place at the beginning of October.
- They must be harvested before the first frost spells when their color is a deep orange.
After the harvest, butternut can keep for several months, in a dry room with a temperature ranging from 50 to 60°F (10 to 15°C) maximum.
- Avoid storing the butternut in a moist room because this considerably shortens its keeping.
- As soon as any spot on the butternut softens up, remove it and eat it immediately.
All there is to know about butternut
We find butternut appealing for its subtle taste which is a bit sweet and buttery.
With low calorie levels and high vitamin C, B1, B6 and K content, butternut also has proven antioxidant properties.
Since it contains 92% water, and since it is potassium-rich, butternut is an excellent vegetable against hypertension.
This fruit / vegetable also has the advantage of keeping for a long time over winter, ideally at temperatures of about 50 / 55°F (10 / 12°C).
- Read also: health benefits and therapeutic properties of pumpkins, close cousins of butternut
Smart tip about butternut
Take care not to let too many fruits develop on a single plant (at most 5 or 6), or you risk reducing the quality of the overall harvest.
- How to grow and care for squash
- Another uncommon squash: red kuri
Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Growing butternut by a generous photographer under license
Young butternut by Alyse under © CC BY 2.0
Harvesting butternut by Ulrike Leone under license
Butternut Squash Seed
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cucurbita moschata
CULTURE: Fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0–6.8 is best. Plastic mulch and fabric row covers (AG-19 grade) can aide plant establishment and exclude insect pests during the seedling stage. Row covers should be removed when plants begin to flower to allow for pollination. Poor fruit development may indicate insufficient pollination.
TRANSPLANTING: Sow 2-3 seeds per 2″ container or plug flat about 3 weeks prior to transplanting. Thin to 1 plant/container or cell with scissors. Harden plants 4–7 days prior to transplanting. After danger of frost has passed, transplant out according to the spacing recommendations for each variety. Handle seedlings carefully; minimal root disturbance is best.
DIRECT SEEDING: Sow 2 seeds at the appropriate spacing interval for the variety’s vine length, 1/2-1″ deep. Thin to 1 plant per spacing interval after seedlings are established.
PLANT SPACING: Bush to short-vine habits generally require 6′ between-row spacing, while long-vine habits require 12′ between-row spacing. In-row spacing depends on fruit size as well as vine length and is generally: small fruit/bush or short vine type: 18-24″; medium fruit and vine length: 24-36″; large fruit or long vine length: 36-48″. Butterscotch PMR will produce smaller, 1-lb, “single-serving-size” fruits when grown at 6 sq.ft. per plant.
DISEASES: Common cucurbit diseases include powdery mildew, downy mildew, bacterial wilt, and phytophthora. Avoid problems by ensuring adequate soil drainage, good air flow, insect pest control, and crop rotation. If necessary, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service agent for specific control options.
INSECT PESTS: Cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and vine borers are all common pests for cucurbits. Protect young plants with floating row cover. Squash bug eggs found on the undersides of leaves may be crushed by hand. For vine borers, cut out of vines and hill soil over the wound. Keep field borders mowed and remove plant refuse in the fall; spring plow to bury pupae. C. moschata types are less susceptible to vine borers. Pyrethrin sprays may offer some control.
HARVEST: Fruits are typically ready about 50-55 days after fruit set, and should be harvested before any hard frosts. Cut fruits from vines and handle carefully. Sun cure by exposing fruits for 5-7 days or cure indoors by keeping squash at 80-85°F/27-29°C and 80-85% relative humidity (RH) with good air ventilation.
STORAGE: Store at 50-55°F/10-13°C, 50-75% RH and good ventilation. Repeated exposure to temperatures below 50°F/10°C may cause chilling damage. Different types of squash have different storage times and optimal eating periods. Refer to our Winter Squash Curing & Storage Chart for more detailed information.
DAYS TO MATURITY: From direct seeding; subtract about 14 days if transplanting.
AVG. DIRECT SEEDING RATES: (at 2 seeds/ft., rows 6′ apart) 1 oz./155′, 1 lb./2,500′, 3 lb./acre.
SEED SPECS: See individual varieties.
PACKET: 30 seeds.