How to Grow and Eat Butternut Squash

 in Garden

Better than a banana.

The first a foremost important things to know about butternut squash is how good it is for you. It’s full of vitamin C, A, E and fiber, but most important, it has more potassium than a banana.

I came across the magic and nutritional powerhouse of butternut squash when I was doing my year of the 100 miles diet. Winter was rapidly approaching and although I had a few preserved foods (I am not very good at canning) and we had some winter beds of beets, carrots and chard I wasn’t sure other than oatmeal and dried beans what I was going to eat through the winter. It was then I found salvation in squash and pumpkins of any kind.  They keep throughout the winter just for this reason.

I think since then, butternut squash seeds have been amongst my most prized possessions.

Nutrition
200 g has only 85 calories, but packs in a 582 mg of potassium as I said before, better than a banana.
The vitamin and mineral complex make it beneficial for lowering blood pressure.  Doctors recommend not only lowering sodium content in food but also raising potassium consumption. The World Health organization suggests 3510 mg a day for adults and the American Heart Association recommends as much as 4700 mg of potassium daily.

 

Beta Carotene:
Anyone who knows me, knows I am obsessed with beta carotene.  Pumpkins, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, anything with that glowing orange color is full of this mineral. In our bodies beta carotene is turned into Vitamin A and from there is most beneficial for skin health.  I believe our skin starts from within and eating a diet rich in orange foods is part of my health and beauty regime.

 

Growing the Plant:
This is a low maintenance vine plant, it grows well around flower beds and between rows of corn.
They like the sun, so don’t worry too much. Plant when the soil is hot and all signs of night frost has vanished.
The planted I sowed in May started ripening at the end of August.

In my tropical heat I have been growing these vines well in all months but the hottest ones. They tolerate heat well but do not like to dry out, if you try to grow these in extremely hot weather I would recommend twice daily watering.

These plants will grow long vines, and because I let them wrap around my unused space, I like to put a stick in where I seed them to remember where the base of the plant is.  The vine will grow small root runners but the majority of your watering sound be focused at the base where you planted.

You can also grow 2 vines in a container that is at least 18 inches deep and wide.

Honestly, this plant is so easy I’ve had vines grow and fruit out of the compost heap.

Pollinating

The largest concern with butternut squash is equal pollination.  It’s best to grow at least 2 vines, if not more, because you will need a lot of male flowers. Butternut squash are heavy producers of female flowers and it can sometimes be sad to watch them drop off from not being pollinated

If you don’t have a strong bee population, you are going to want to hand pollinate.
You will need a small flat paintbrush.
Carefully brush the yellow rod of a male flower and then brush the inside of the female flower.
You will want to brush a new male flower before you move to the next new female flower.
Uneven pollination will also lead to fruit drop off.

Worried you won’t be able to tell the female flower from the male flower?
I don’t think you will have any problem, as you can see above the female flowers have obvious mini fruit at the base of them.

Common Concerns
Once pollinated and growing your butternut squash should have little problems, or pests.
The leaves however, are prey for caterpillars and snails, so make sure you spray weekly to keep the pest population low.

If you are pollinating your fruits well and still experiencing drop off, you likely need more calcium in your soil.

Some people like to cut the end of the vines once the plant has 3-4 strong fruits. I would roccomend this if you have many fruits on a vine, but if you only have 1 or 2 consider letting it grow long to see if another fruit will form.

Skin split happens if you fruit was ready to harvest and the plant receive water. The fruit’s skin is hard and won’t have anywhere to expand causing the split. Don’t’ worry, these fruits will eat up well, but they are not suitable for storage. Enjoy them as soon as you find they have split open.

  

Harvest
The plant takes about 100-120 days to harvest, so plan accordingly to harvest before the first frost.
The skin sound be noticeable orange and no longer have any more green or white spots of color.
The stem will also start to turn brown indicating the fruit is ready.

Sometimes the leaves will start to dry off, don’t worry if this happens and your fruit isn’t orange yet, the fruit will continue to ripen. If it is late in the season you can also ripen off vine in the sun, but don’t eat the fruit until it has fully turned some shade of orange. The size of the fruit shouldn’t change once the skin starts to turn colors, so make sure you check them often to harvest and prevent skin split.


Storage
If stored correctly this squash will last all winter long providing a burst of color.
After harvest if you plan to store the fruit the first thing you will want to do is cure it. This means drying the skin out in a place with sunlight and good air circulation. This can be inside or outside depending on the weather and is usually best done on screens or netting. Leave them 14 days.

After cured butternut squash stores 4-6 months (amazing right, this is why I love this squash)
Store in a dry root cellar or at temperatures around 45-50 degrees for the longest lifespan.

Preparation:

Now it’s time for the best part, cooking with Butternut squash.
I almost always roast my squash before I use it in other recipes. But it can be boiled, cut into soup, stir fry by the strip, or even cubed and steamed. Always remove the skin before eating at it is tough.


Simple Butternut Squash Soup.

Ingredients:
2 medium sized butternut squash
¼ an onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped

1 t fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 pieces of bread without seeds
Water to cover
Salt and pepper to taste

 

Peel off the skin from 2 butternut squash and cut the fruit in half lengthwise. Cover in rosemary oil and roast at 375*F for 30 minutes or until soft.
Allow to cool

While the squash is cooling, saute onion, celery, ginger and garlic in a pan until soft and flavorful.

Blend saute mix with chunks of roasted squash, bread and water to cover.
This usually takes 2-3 blenderfulls.

Return to pot and bring to boil, adjust salt and pepper level.

Serve hot garnish with croutons if desired.

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