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Commercial Farming of Butternut Seedlings

The Basics of Commercial Farming with Butternut from Seedlings  

Cucurbita moschata, or butternut, is a summer crop in South Africa. It is part of a group of winter squashes and is fast becoming an important commercial farming crop in the country. It produces a hardy fruit with a long shelf life. Its sweet taste and bright orange flesh make it a popular vegetable for a wide range of dishes. Farmers can now grow butternut from seedlings obtained from commercial vegetable nurseries.

Soil Requirements

Major growth regions include Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the Limpopo Bushveld, and the Western Cape. The crop can be propagated in many types of soil but performs best in organically rich soil with a pH of between 5,5 and 6,6. It is essential to transplant the seedlings to well-drained soil. Clay soil can be a suitable medium but waterlogging can lead to lower crop yield and dirty fruits. The plant is sensitive to frost and it is best to avoid planting it on fields at risk of experiencing frost.

Spacing

It is possible to grow up to 30 000 plants per hectare if spacing of 30 to 40 cm is maintained between the butternut seedlings and 1,2 m between rows.

Irrigation Needs

The plant has a deep root system, making it necessary to water deep and well. A certain level of drought stress can be handled, but it is best to keep the soil moist. Sufficient irrigation is needed during the growth period to ensure sufficient water around the root zone for optimal nutrient uptake and good fruit setting.

Flowers

Butternut flowers range in colour from lemon yellow to orange. The plants have male and female flowers, with the male flowers having longer peduncles.

Crop Potential

Farmers growing from seedlings can get around 20 and up to 30 tonnes per hectare with appropriate spacing and irrigation. Harvesting takes place a month after the fruits have set and once the fruits show hardening of the outer skins. The butternut fruits are harvested before they are fully ripe in order to ensure maximum yield. Leave a small part of the stem attached to the fruit, as it helps to prolong storage and shelf life. It is possible to harvest twice during the growth season with careful planning and this ensures a higher yield per hectare.

The vegetable can be stored for up to 90 days in rooms away from direct sunlight and with good ventilation between the fruits. To ensure a long storage life, it is important to cure the fruits. This can be done on the field for a period of about 12 days in warm weather without rain or in rooms using artificial heating to ensure temperatures of around 26 °C and humidity of 78 to 82%. To store long-term, the fruits must be kept in a room with a humidity level of about 68 to 72% and a temperature range of between 9 and 12 °C.

Top-quality, pest- and disease-free seedlings provide for the best possible yield capacity. Get in touch with the consultants of Hishtil SA for more information about the availability of butternut seedlings for commercial crop farming in South Africa.

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