Growing butternut squash - and all winter squash for that matter - is a great way to get your veggies well into fall. It is known as a winter squash because it is one of the last vegetables harvested before the fall frost. (Note: The advice on this page applies to most types of winter squash)
You'll find that its flavor is similar to that of other fall favorites, like pumpkin and other winter squash. It can be prepared in many different ways, from savory to sweet.
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Butternut squash can require 100 days or more to mature, so they must be planted in early summer in order to be harvested before the first frost. If they are left out to experience the first frost, the fruits will be damaged.
Butternut squash requires warm, fertile soil that must drain well, so some sand is required in your soil mix. Because of the long time to maturity and the fact that neither the plants nor fruits can tolerate frosts, you must plant your squash as soon as possible in many areas. You can also start seeds indoors before the last frost date and move the seedlings to the garden after the danger of frost has passed.
The long growing season of butternut squash – like all winter squash – produces huge fruits that require plenty of water and nutrients. When preparing the soil, be sure to use plenty of compost that’s tilled at least a couple of feed into the soil. Adding seaweed will give them an even greater boost.
Butternut squash’s size also requires plenty of room to grow. It should be planted in a way that allows enough space between plants to allow for trailing vines and large fruits – 18 to 36 inches depending on the variety.
If you’re not careful, butternut squash will take over your garden… it’s a vine, after all. To avoid this, plant it at your garden’s edge and keep the vines trimmed and angled in a way that they won’t affect surrounding crops.
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Butternut squash is not difficult to grow, but like other squash, the plants are subject to fungus and must be watched carefully during the growing season. They like hot temperatures and require full sun like most vegetables. As mentioned above, they will perform best in fertile, consistently moist and well-drained soil.
They should also be checked for pests such as pickleworms regularly. Simply pick the pests off the vines and fruits.
In order to maintain warm soil temperatures and to ward off pests and garden weeds, many winter squash growers use row covers made of black or IRT plastic or landscape fabric with holes cut out that allow the squash to come through.
Butternut squash will be ready to harvest between 75 and 120 days after germination. You’ll know its ready when fruits are between beige and light tan. If there is still a greenish tint to the fruit, it's not ready yet. Ready-to-harvest butternut squash also have shriveling and drying stems and extremely hard skin.
To remove them from the garden, cut the stems about an inch (2.5 cm) up from the fruit. The fruits are too heavy for the stem to bear its weight, so DO NOT handle the harvested fruit by the stem.
It is critical to harvest all the squash before the first heavy frost to avoid damage to the fruits. When you harvest your butternut squash, be certain to leave a little of the stem attached to the fruit if you plan to store them.
Once harvested, butternut squash and other winter squash keep for long periods of time. In fact, you'll notice that the squash have a sweeter and milder flavor after about two months of storage than they have just after harvesting.
Butternut squash can be stored for several months if kept in a moderately warm, dry place. If you plan to store the squash, leave a little of the stem attached to the fruit and let it lie out in the sun for a few days after harvesting. Do not wash squash that you plan to store.
Stored in a cool, dry place, they will often last for months.
The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Butternut Squash. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.
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