best-keeping ‘butternut:’ my squash adventure

'Butternut' squash after storing till springWHAT DO YOU WANT in a ‘Butternut’ squash (besides sweet flesh)? I wanted ones that really lasted, to keep me in “fresh” orange meat all winter long, and I got my wish, after buying seed from a catalog that said they’d been selecting their seed strain for just that quality. It really pays to read the details—to look for little specifics like this that make a big difference between one ‘Butternut’ and another (or any open-pollinated vegetable or flower variety you might be growing). My squash adventure.

The two individuals in the top photo (shot April 9) were cut from my vines in fall and stored in the mudroom closet since, both still heavy and firm and solid as can be. From the feel of them, they’ve got more life left—though I expect I’ll have at the dears well before they falter. The other half-dozen fruits I harvested from that hill last fall would have kept just as well—except I ate them.

I bought the seed at Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic seed company nearby, specifically because the description said that they’d been “intensively selecting for storage,” saving seed to sell from their ‘Butternut’ harvest each year with lastingness in mind. Another gardener or seed farmer might have selected for another trait—but Turtle Tree was intent on long-storing squash, and that they got.

Remember my story about Turtle Tree last year, an interview with co-managers Lia Babitch and Ian Robb? I had asked about this blend of art and science that is plant selection, and Lia told me a story of a strain of celeriac that was given to three breeders to work on. The assignment: It must have good leaves, and a big, round root that is white and smooth, and not pithy.

Years later, the results of the three breeders’ work was compared—and though all were experts and pursuing the same assignment, all three strains were different (with the one woman’s even different from the two men’s—hers more a mound of foliage than their leaves that jutted upright!).

How does this selection process work?

“We make observations all along the way,” said Lia, “from the moment of germination,” discarding any twisted or stunted seedlings, not by any means waiting until harvest time to select the best ones to save seed from for next year. (Advice that has me getting rid of any vegetable seedlings in my flats under lights right now that look less robust…in favor of the strongest ones…)

As I make myself a pot of ‘Butternut’ soup this week–in April!–I’m thankful for the extra attention special seed companies like this one put into every packet.

  1. Cary says:

    but darn it Margaret, now you’ve got me lusting after their Kindred Orange Buttercup, which thrives in short-season areas, which is where I am. You are responsible for my shallot seedlings under lights and now a winter squash, which is exactly what I needed to add. Thank you dear! Please tell me do you start your winter squashes inside or wait and plant seeds outdoors? Thanks indeed.

  2. Joan weed says:

    Margaret, I too, roasted two butternuts for soup this week. i wonder where my seeds came from? I didn’t grow these squashes but bought them from a local farmstand. They’ve been in my mudroom since fall. Still like new.

  3. Elizabeth F says:

    Interesting. I don’t grow my squash. I buy at the farmers market in fall. I never experimented to see how long they would last. I usually cook and puree up half and then use up the other half fresh by January or so. Now I will think to ask the vendors questions about what strain they are and their estimated keeping skills. Thanks for the info.

  4. Marlies Gierls says:

    Today I also made wonderfull squash-gnoccis from my own Hokaido and still 3 are waiting for eat. I have my own seeds since 4 years and they are perfect. I have every year more then 100 squashes and my experience is, that the duration I can store the squash depends on the summer they were grown, and this is every year in Nothern Germany very different. But this year the shelf life is exceptional.
    This evening I started with the squash seeding in house, and I bought a new butternut, now I am interested about the storage.

  5. june says:

    I finally cooked my last Waltham Butternut from last winter.
    But I didn’t get too many. Maybe a shorter season one would be better?
    I pretty much gave up on other squashes because the vine borers usually kill them.
    Even if I find and kill the ugly things, there are so many more I’ve missed because they lay and grow in more than just the base of the vine. I find them at several crooks in vines a couple feet or more up from the base, and then it’s too late.

    Butternut produces (and tastes, to me) the best!

  6. cintra fricke says:

    I have given up on squashes due to the vine borer…..I love my plants and then they get decimated. What do I do to ensure life in my squash plant?

  7. Elizabeth F says:

    My comment is is where are the comments? I can’t find them. I left a comment yesterday and don’t see it. After I entered it a couple other ones showed up, but now I can’t see any of them. I checked the Jerusalem cookbook area and those comments show up.

  8. june says:

    Sorry, Elizabeth but I don’t know that one, but cintra, Butternut squash doesn’t get the vine borer. That’s why I still grow it. A friend recently told me that planting squash after the Fourth of July also helps, but I haven’t tried that yet.

  9. JoAnn says:

    I just made butternut squash soup this week too!
    Have you tried the TROMBONCINO squash at Turtle Tree. The listing says it can be eaten fresh as zucchini or left to ripen as a winter squash. Very interesting?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, JoAnn. I have grown Tromboncino for many years and love it. And yes, you can eat it small like zucchini or later as winter squash. Be sure to give it plenty of time — I find that it takes longer to ripen up fully and cure than my Butternut plants.

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