By Albert Makendenge
Butternut is a very sweet and nutritious vegetable which belongs to the curcubit family of vegetable crops. It has a long shelf life and is popular top favorite for rice dishes and starter dishes such as soups. For those wishing to grow the vegetable on their own, below are a few farming tips that will help to get started.
- Although butternut can be grown a wide range of soils, it favors the fertile, well drained (high insensitivity to oxygen deficiency) sandy loam or silty loams which warm up rapidly.
- Water requirement is very high but high humidity encourages leaf disease and may affect flower production. The frequency of irrigation, however, depends on soil type and weather conditions.
- The crop is very susceptible to frost and favors night temperatures of 180 C to 210 C and day temperatures below 290 C. This restricts production to the summer months with winter production only possible in the lowveld areas.
- Around 10 to 15 tons/ha of compost or manure should be incorporated into the soil about a month before planting or alternatively 500kg/ha of Compound C basal dressing (5: 15: 12) and 100kg/ha of Ammonium Nitrate (34.5%N) top dressing which should be applied after the first fruits have formed.
- Planting, which can be done on hills, ridges or in furrows at a seed rate of 2.5kg to 3.5kg/ha, is usually recommended from March to August or late July to mid-November (summer) as well as from March to August during winter. Plants should be spaced 30cm to 40cm apart in rows that are 120cm apart.
- An integrated weed management which includes all the different weed management methods from mechanical, cultural, chemical and biological, is the most effective approach for a greater yield.
Disease and Pest Control
- Anthracnose, powdery mildew and Downey mildew are the most common diseases that farmers should watch out for whilst the threat of pest attack mostly comes from aphids and pumpkin flies.
- After about 110 to 120 days the fruit should be ready to harvest. Fruits must not be allowed to ripen on the mother plants as this stops development of new fruits. Cool and well ventilated areas are most ideal for storage and fruits showing signs of rotting should be removed.
Sorting and grading the fruit follows immediately after harvesting. Packaging varies according to size and market requirements.