The nutritional value of a large pear shaped golden yellow pumpkin has seen its come back in a grand way, with buyers expressing insatiable appetite for it. Butternut pumpkin an under estimated crop belonging to the family field of pumpkins is now recording unprecedented demand both in the local and international markets.
So what makes this crop tick? It grows easily, can be stored for up to three months, gives delicious food and is rich in vitamin A. Anyone consuming butternut pumpkin will also benefit from potassium, vitamin C, manganese and a large dose of fibre.
It requires less space than other horticultural crops - pumpkins are considered to be among the most efficient of vegetable crops when evaluated on nutritional yield in relation to land area and labour needed to grow them. Dried seeds of butternut squash are a source of protein. It's long shelf-life and small size make it especially attractive to traders. On average it takes 85 to 90 days to maturity and it produces good uniform fruits weighing about 650 to 1000 gm.
Moreover, it’s a hardy crop, which is able to tolerate moderately harsh environmental conditions and is resistant to many pests. Butternut thrives in warm, fertile soil, so farmers are advised to add fertilizer or compost when planting.
The crop requires enough sunlight to thrive and ample space for the vines to grow. Each hill should have 3 feet of space around it. Farmers are adviced to plant 4 or 5 seeds in a small hill, about three to five centimeters deep, and thin down to 2 or 3 when they sprout.
The crop should be watered after planting and then every two to three days until germination. Squash grows best in moderately moist Soil therefore farmers should be careful not to saturate the ground. Since they like rich soils, it is advisable to feed them regularly with liquid manure. To store for a longer period of time, farmers should allow butternuts to cure out in the sun after harvesting for a couple of dry afternoons before putting them into storage in a cool dry place with good ventilation.
Inorder to reap maximum yields, farmers are observed to observe certain farm management practices like practising crop rotation to reduce chances of pests and disease attacks on the squash.When a farmer decides to spray they should do it late in the afternoon or early evening in order to spare pollinators that are active during the day.
Market for the squash is on an unprecedented high, with supermarkets, and major produce markets in Kenya stocking it. The export market has also expressed appetite for the produce. In most local markets, the average-sized butternut squash fruit retails at Sh50. Squash seeds can be found in seed stores across the country.