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Squash Seedlings

Commercial Farming of Butternut Squash from Seedlings in South Africa   Butternut squash is a hardy vegetable grown mostly as a winter squash. Growing squash from seedlings bought from nurseries for commercial-farming purposes has several benefits for the farmer:
  • The seedlings are delivered to the farms ready to transplant.
  • The plants are uniform.
  • The plants are pest-free because they have been propagated in greenhouse facilities.
  • The plants are chemically treated to help them through the first few days on the field before the farmer starts with their normal chemical-treatment plan.
  • The plants’ time on the field is shorter; this lowers costs in terms of irrigation and chemical treatments.
  • Early-to-market potential.

The butternut squash is popular as a crop vegetable because it does not easily suffer adverse effects from exposure to the sun. It can be harvested over a long period of up to two months because of its hardiness. The vegetable’s flesh is yellow to orange and has a taste very similar to that of pumpkin. When it is ripe, the flesh turns a deep orange colour. It is a vine-growing plant with large fruit that vary in size and shape. The plant’s leaves are relatively round. The flowers have a yellow to orange colour and it has male and female flowers. The seeds are large and embedded in the tissue of the fruit.

Main Propagation Regions

The vegetable is grown throughout South Africa, but mostly in the Mpumalanga Lowveld and Highveld regions, as well as in Gauteng.

Cultivars Available

Several cultivars are available. Farmers interested in growing from seedlings (as opposed to propagating directly from seeds) can obtain more information about the varieties of squash seedlings available directly from their bulk-supply nurseries.

Climatic Conditions

Since most of the genera of the Cucurbita order are warmer-season vegetable crops, it is best to propagate them from seedlings during the warmer seasons. The plants are not very frost tolerate but, that being said, farming with this crop can be done during either the wet or dry seasons. The best temperature range is between 17 and 28 °C (monthly average). Low humidity is good for fruit development. The squash seedlings should best be planted when temperatures are above 10 °C, as the plants are likely to experience stress and damage if exposed to extremely low temperatures. The plants are at risk of dying when exposed to frost for a period of 60 minutes or more. As such, transplanting squash seedlings should be done when the soil temperature is high enough and the risk of frost has passed. When farming for early-summer production, it is best to cover the rows to increase the temperature of the soil because flowering is adversely affected by low temperatures. The male flowering normally precedes female flowering and only the female flowers produce fruit.

The Best Soil Conditions

Squash prefers growth that is medium to rich in organic matter and with a soil pH range of between 5,5 and 6,6. The soil should be well drained. Sandy loam soil is the best, though the plant also grows well in clay soil. That said, harvesting and the cleaning of the fruit are more difficult in wet soil. Planting should not be done in low-lying land, as the risk for frost in spring or autumn is too high.

Transplanting Squash Seedlings

It is imperative to prepare the soil before the squash seedlings are delivered to ensure that immediate transplanting can be done. Avoid root disturbance during transplant.

Irrigation Requirements

Sufficient moisture is needed for fruit development. The plant is relatively drought tolerant, but regular irrigation during the drier season is recommended to optimise its yield capacity. Avoid irrigation when the fruit is approaching maturity. With squash being a deep-root plant, it can tolerate short periods of drought, but prolonged dry periods cause poor fruit setting. Keep in mind that summer squash is less drought-tolerant than the winter variant. Winter squash can be grown without irrigation, but it is best to irrigate the summer type throughout its growth season.

Weed and Pest Control

It is imperative to follow a well-planned weed- and pest-control programme to minimise fruit losses.

Where to Get More Information and Seedlings

Seeds and seedlings can be ordered directly from Hishtil SA for delivery anywhere in South Africa.

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