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I'm keen to try growing some butternut squash for next year. My question is when do I sow the seed; and what is the best method to ensure viable plants? Do I need to start them off in a propagator? Also is it best to buy the seeds or can you use the seeds from a bought squash?
Sorry; I'm a relative newbie to gardening & a total newbie to growing fruit & veg
It is best to buy seeds for butternut squash.
I'm afraid you will have to bide your time until next year to sow the seeds.
Butternut squash is not the easiest to grow, as it needs a long season of good weather to mature. If you are inexperienced, why not start off with courgettes, they are easy, sometimes too easy? But all that family take up a lot of room so think what space you have for everything you want to grow, before you buy lots of seeds.
I agree - look for seeds which have been developed for growing in the UK and choose F1 types which are generally stronger plants. Sow in May or June, depending on the weather - they can't take any frost at all, so don't plant out until well after the last frost of the year. I start mine off in a windowsill propagator on a sunny windowsill - about £4 from Wilko. They also take up a lot of room - each plant is about 1m wide and will grow to at least 4 or 5 metres long. In a good year (like this one) you will get about 4 or 5 squash per plant. In a bad summer you can be lucky to get one.
For Squash If you are short of room use canes to support the plant and tie up as you do with any other plants . I find it is easier to control as it prevents the natural rooting of the plant . If they are on the ground the runners root at each leaf axel . which I find without controling with the canes they get into flower beds and will even attach themselves to an hawthorne hedge.
As regards when to grow and how ? Bob has it Spot On ! Once they have the first 2 proper leaves they grow very quickly . Maybe its the veg version of " mile a minuit plant !"
I hadn't heard about squashes rooting themselves Lucky. This year is the first year I have grown them and yes, they are very healthily spreading themselves. They are aboutone and a half metres long. Surely they would need something very substantial to support the weight of the squashes. Any ideas? An old pair of tights, one of those red mesh onion bags?
Also despite them spreading well, there doesn't seem to be any flowers yet. Are they self pollinating or will they need some help. If so how?
In answer to the original question, I sowed mine at the beginning of May in a heated propogator.
The flowers will come, usually males first, followed by females. Though my butternuts produced females first this year for some reason. Be careful of fertilising with anything nitrogen-rich. It will promote leaf growth alone.
You'll need insects for pollination. Or, failing insects, you can hand pollinate by removing a male flower, carefully stripping away the petals, and brushing the stamen over the female flower's stigma. Don't be too vigorous, though.
Try growing a variety especially bred for the UK, the old varieties take so long to mature that there are never enough sunny days to ripen the fruit before Mr. Frost arrives! Harrier or Hunter are good ones. Harrier is supposed to be the quickest ripening at 95 days from sowing. Read up all about growing winter squashes online, I found so much useful info there. They are great fun but are tricky as they hate the rain on their leaves and detest the cold, too. This year has been wonderful for them. I always start them off inside in little pots of compost and cover the pot in clingfilm until they germinate. Well worth the effort and fun to watch.