How to Grow Butternut SquashHow to Grow Butternut squash
Squash vines are big boisterous plants that sprawl for meters in all directions. To save space, consider sending the vines up a trellis, fence or other support out in the sun. One “hill”—a circle of ground about a meter across, liberally enriched with compost and/or old manure and a palm-full of a bone meal—will hold a couple of squash plants: not much space taken up at a ground level, but lots above ground once the growth of the vines takes off.
Starting from seed
Wait a week after spring’s frost-free date before sowing five or six butternut squash seeds in each hill, with a view to removing all but the strongest two or three. Alternately, start seeds in 10- to 15-centimeter pots—two seeds per pot, thinning to one plant—in your sunniest window about three weeks before transplanting (on the same schedule as seeding above).
Protecting young vines
If yellow-and-black cucumber beetles threaten, protect young vines with a floating row cover until the big yellow flowers appear, then remove the cover to allow for pollination. If bees are few in your area, or simply to ensure that fruit will form, hand-pollinate by carefully transferring pollen from male flowers (those on thin stems) to female blossoms showing the squash-in-miniature just behind them.
For the best sweet taste, leave butternut squash on the vine as late as possible, cutting them just before a killing frost is predicted. The tan, hard-skinned fruit will keep for many weeks in a cool dry place.
Take the Chill off Winter with Warming Squash
A favorite winter vegetable
I have always loved squash. As a child, I got a vicarious thrill seeing my grandmother raise her ax to cleave open a monstrous ‘New England Blue Hubbard’ squash, grown on her three-hectare market garden farm in Churchill, Ontario. It was always a cold midwinter’s day when the leathery, green, warty hide was breached, revealing a glowing, golden interior. Glimpsing the tasty flesh was like a vision of pure summer sunshine, a wonderful surprise, kept hidden through the dreary months of late fall and early winter.
That was more than 35 years ago. Hubbard squash is still my favorite winter vegetable. Four years ago, I moved to a house in Ottawa with a large yard, where I hoped to recapture those childhood memories by cultivating my own ‘New England Blues’. Then I realized they might take over not only my garden but the entire neighborhood. I opted for the ‘Mini Green Hubbard’, training the vines along a chain-link fence. Fruit on this dwarf variety grew only to the size of a medium pumpkin, not the giant wheel-barrow-size specimens of my childhood. Still, the vines greedily clambered everywhere — even into the neighbor’s yard — in search of sun. The second summer, early butternut hybrids I had bought as nursery plants behaved much better, producing a few nice fruits on three smallish vines.
The word squash is derived from a shoot a squash, the Massachusetts Indian word meaning “eaten raw” or “uncooked” — one way the flesh was traditionally eaten. A staple of native agriculture, squash was one of the “three sisters” (the other two were beans and corn). Winter squash was particularly prized by natives and early settlers for its long storage life and delicious flavor.
Squash can be divided into two main groups: thin-skinned, early-maturing summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), such as zucchini and vegetable marrow, mini-pumpkins and gourds; and hard-skinned, late-maturing winter squash (Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata). Winter squash need lots of room, plenty of water and full sun, as well as warm earth to grow in and a long season. Along with pumpkins and melons, they rate low for garden-space efficiency but give relatively high yields because of the size of the fruit. Dig holes 15 centimeters deep, 60 centimeters around, and one to 2.5 meters apart, depending on the type of squash and expected fruit size, and fill with well-rotted manure. Mix a handful of 6-12-12 fertilizer with the soil you removed from the hole and put it back on top of the manure. When the weather is consistently warm and danger of frost is past, plant six to 10 seeds per hill. You could also start seedlings indoors in peat pots, four to six weeks before warm weather arrives. Thin the seedlings to three vigorous shoots when vines are 15 centimeters long.
Winter varieties include butternut, banana, turban, acorn (or pepper), Hubbard, buttercup, dumpling and larger pumpkins. Each variety has many cultivars, varying by size, color, maturity date, and disease resistance. Current varieties of squash have been bred specifically for small garden spaces. “Compact bush plants will not take over the garden like regular vining types; therefore, more plants can be planted in a smaller space,” says Kari MacInnis, field trials co-ordinator for Vesey’s Seeds Ltd.