Zucchini is often cited as one of the easiest homegrown vegetables. Ironically (for a so-called garden writer) I'm zucchini-impaired, and used to be butternut-challenged as well. But with a little know how I've developed a better relationship with squash and can now offer advice on how to grow a bushel of butternuts, and what to do with them too.

My bushels of butternuts start with bushels of leaves

When I first tried to grow butternuts I was disappointed. I naively assumed that my unspoiled, easy to dig, sandy/loamy soil would be naturally fertile. The first few crops proved me wrong; my dirt needed help. And where most cucurbits (squash, cukes, pumpkins) are concerned, help often means organic content in the soil. Adding that bulk organic matter where my squash needs it has become a gardening method that I practice each fall. This technique gives me a fresh planting area every spring, and over several years time I give my whole vegetable garden a dose of compost.

bushel of fall leaves, tree trunkEvery October one of my compost bins gets a new setting somewhere in the sunny garden. Then I fill the bin with chopped leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen compostables. Keeping the mixture moist and aerated gets it off to a good start in decomposition. When really cold weather sets in, I put the bin to sleep with a blanket of soil and a coverlet of cardboard. There lies, until spring thaw, my new squash bed.

'Waltham' is a winner

When the robins return, I have a readymade raised, and organic content fortified, planting spot for squash. Butternut is my favorite of the winter squash, and 'Waltham' is my butternut of choice. Vigorous 'Waltham' became popular after Bob Young introduced the variety in Massachusetts in 1960, and especially since 'Waltham' was named an All America Winner in 1970. It's been sold far and wide ever since.

Butternuts, like all squash, are one of the last crops I plant in spring. They need warm soil, lots of sun, and steady moisture. The compost based bed I have built really helps ensure that even moisture. Six seeds go in, and hopefully six seedlings come up, but in a few days I will cut off the three smallest ones. Then I'll mostly stand back as those three hearty butternuts seedlings grow ever bigger leaves and ever longer vines. This is not one of your new fangled space saving types. Last summer's squash bed was four feet wide and sixteen feet long, In that area I grew two "hills" of winter squash, a few bountiful yellow summer squash, and two (ill-fated) zucchini (and a Plumeria, but that's another story.)

Butternut baddies; happy harvests

Butternuts can be pestered by the classic cucurbit plagues (cucumber beetles, squash bugs, mildews) but are blessedly resistant to one: squash vine borers cannot seem to enter winter squash's tough vines. Starting my butternuts in a new spot each year, and having other more susceptible squashes growing (those darn zucchini) seems to keep my Walthams pretty carefree. I simply keep an eye on the watering needs and watch happily as little butternuts begin to form. Winter squash stays on the vine until it's fully ripe. When the vines dry up in late summer, cut the stems and gather the fruit. Winter squash keeps for months in a dry cool spot; my butternuts go in my basement.

How to eat a bushel of butternuts-- first get a really, really big pot...

... big enough to hold thirty pounds of squash. That would be silly! Winter squashes store well, so enjoy them one at a time, all winter. One 'Waltham' serves my family of five nicely for a meal. The smooth shape and solid neck of the butternut make for easy prep, although its hardness means you need some muscle to cut them. As in most of my cooking, I usually opt for a simple recipe. Peel the butternut, cut open and empty the seed cavity, cube the flesh, cook and season with butter and salt. "Cook" here could mean simmer in a little water, microwave or bake, depending on what else is happening in the kitchen that day. According to the recipes I'm finding, butternut flavor blends well with apple, onion, cinnamon or nutmeg. Last week I borrrowed the "smashed potato" concept and spoon--mashed the soft butternut with a hearty dollop of sweet cinnamon butter. The week before I enjoyed a delicious bowl (OK, two or three!) of butternut soup with nutmeg. My next butternut experiment will be a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden book, in which cooked mashed butternut is layered with sauteed onion and sliced apples, toppd with cheese, and then baked. The versatility and great nutrition of butternut guarantee that we'll use every one in that bushel!

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