Newcomers to Agriculture: Is Farming with Squash from Seedlings Profitable in South Africa?
Crop farming is challenging but can be profitable and exceptionally satisfying. However, for newcomers to the world of crop farming, it is important to select a crop with high profitability potential. In this article, background is given on farming with butternut squash from seedlings, as available from bulk-supply nurseries, specifically to farmers across South Africa.
Squash is a popular vegetable in South Africa. It is also a fast-growing crop, with it being possible to harvest the fruits within 70 days from planting. When farming with the vegetable from seedlings, the period from transplanting the seedlings to harvesting is even shorter. This is beneficial as it shortens the risk period. It also means lower cost on irrigation, pest and disease control, and labour.
With the plugs first grown in special greenhouse facilities at the bulk-supply nurseries, the plants are protected against diseases and pests in the early days of growth. These plants also receive optimal nutrition and are propagated in temperature-controlled environments. Before delivery to the farmer, the plugs are chemically treated to protect them against diseases and pests. The farmer has one less chemical treatment to give, which helps to save on costs, while it also means a lower environmental impact of chemical use at the farm.
Starting with strong plant stock is essential for crop success. Buying squash seedlings from the trusted nurseries is an investment into crop success. For a newcomer to squash propagation, not having to grow the crop from seed also helps to increase the potential for crop success and farming profitability.
Besides buying the disease and pest-free squash seedlings from a trusted nursery, the farmer needs to follow sound farming principles and the general guidelines for propagating squash as a commercial farming crop.
More About Squash Farming
Butternut squash is a popular vegetable crop in South Africa because the plant does not easily suffer from sunburn. Given that large parts of the country experience relatively high temperatures, it is possible to grow the vegetable in many regions. The vegetable fruit is also relatively hardy. The fruit, once harvested, does not immediately have to be transported to a market. Since it can be left on the field for several weeks, it gives the farmer enough time to take it to the market once the prices are at optimal level. The crop is grown mostly in Mpumalanga and Gauteng, but propagation is not limited to these provinces.
As part of the cucurbit family of vegetables, it is best grown in summer when warmer temperatures are experienced, as the plant does not do well with frost conditions. The plant growth is best when propagated in an area where the temperature range is 18°C to 27°C, with warm temperatures together with low humidity levels being best for fruit setting. Growth is hindered when the plant is exposed to temperatures of 9°C and lower.
Optimal soil pH is between 5,6 and 6,5. Although plugs can be transplanted to most soil types, for best results, transplantation should be done to nutrient-rich, sandy loam and well-drained soil. The plant can be grown in clay soil, but it can be challenging to harvest the fruits when the clay is wet. The fruits can also become dirty and be difficult to clean for the market because of the clay residue.
Allow spacing of at least 2 m between the squash seedlings, as the plants form vines that spread out along the ground. Planting too close to each other does not leave sufficient space for growth and sunlight. It can also create the perfect conditions for pest and disease infestations. Regular pruning may be needed.
The seedlings should receive regular watering. The vegetable is relatively resistant to drought conditions, but prolonged periods without water will cause problems with fruiting. Too wet conditions lead to root rotting. Weed control is essential throughout the growth period. This can be labour intensive, and the farmer should thus factor it in as part of the crop management costs. Once the plants near maturity, their foliage cover most of the soil and shade out the weeds.
Harvesting time depends on the cultivar. Butternut and pumpkin fruits are harvested when the skins are hard and the fruits have completely matured.
Where to Purchase Butternut Squash Seedlings
Hishtil SA delivers high-quality and disease-free squash seedlings to farmers across South Africa. Enquire about the varieties available here.