Butternut. [David Gichuru,Standard]

Butternut squash is a type of winter squash that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes pumpkins, zucchinis, and cucumbers. It has a bell-like shape with a bulbous bottom and a long, cylindrical neck.

Butternuts and pumpkins are often confused because they belong to the same family and share some similarities in appearance but differ in shape, colour, flavour, texture and seed cavity.

According to Gilbert Kikwai, a farmer from Narok County, butternut squash has not been doing well in the market but it is slowly catching up. He says there are agronomy practices farmers must embrace when growing butternut squash.

Selecting a variety

Choose a butternut squash variety suitable for your climate and growing conditions. Look for varieties known for their flavour, disease resistance, and productivity. Varieties in Kenya include Waltham, Jupiter F1, Atlas F1, Agronaut hybrid and Viola F1. “Get your seeds from reputable firms like Kenya Seed Company or Simlaw seeds,” says Kikwai.

Preparing the soil

Butternut squash thrives in well-draining, fertile soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8. Before planting, work organic matter into the soil to improve its texture and fertility.

Planting seeds

Start seeds indoors for about three to four weeks before transplanting. Plant seeds one inch deep in small pots or seed trays filled with potting soil. Keep the soil consistently moist and warm until seedlings emerge.

Transplanting seedlings

Once the danger of frost has passed and seedlings have developed two to three true leaves, transplant them outdoors into well-prepared soil. 

Providing proper care

Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water at the base of the plants to prevent foliage diseases. Apply a balanced fertiliser or compost at planting time and again when the plants start to vine. Mulch around the plants to suppress weeds, retain soil moisture, and regulate soil temperature. Butternut squash plants can spread extensively. Providing support such as trellises or cages can keep the vines off the ground, reducing the risk of rot and pests.

Pest and disease management

Monitor your plants regularly for signs of pests like squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew. Handpick pests when possible and use organic pest control methods if needed.

Harvesting

Butternut squash is typically ready for harvest 75-100 days after planting, depending on the variety and growing conditions. Harvest when the squash has turned fully tan or beige and the skin is hard. Leave a few inches of stem attached to the squash. Cut the squash from the vine using a sharp knife, taking care not to damage the stem.

Curing and storing

Cure harvested squash in a warm, dry place for one to two weeks to harden the skin and improve flavour and storage life. After curing, store the squash in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. They can last for several months when stored properly.

Butternut goes for between Sh75 to Sh150.