Growing butternut gourd

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 œ 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

A young butternut grows large when well cared for.You can pinch off stems after the 3rd or 4th leaf to stimulate plant growth, this will ensure better productivity.

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.

Watering butternut

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!

Harvesting butternut

Harvest of butternut in a wooden crate, six large pieces.The signal to start harvesting the butternut is when leaves have dried up. It is usually when the fruit itself takes on a beautiful beige color and that its stem turns brown.

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).

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.

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Growing butternut by a generous photographer under Pixabay license
Young butternut by Alyse under © CC BY 2.0
Harvesting butternut by Ulrike Leone under Pixabay license