Usually, most local buyers will get the butternuts for 20 shillings per Kilo when the market is performing dismally. This means that there is a chance to make more when there is shortage. You stand to make more money if you decide to sell the products directly.
Butternut is a delicious and highly nutritious fleshy fruit from the squash family. Its short maturity period and high yield makes it a viable cash crop for both small and large-scale farming. Butternut can be boiled, roasted, and served as a snack substitute to bread, mashed with potatoes, and served with rice or even pounded to make vegetable soup. A butternut plant consists of four parts; feeder root, feeder leaf, the vine which can grow up to 10 meters, and the reproductive parts which flower out to develop the butternut fruit. The butternut fruit is a yellow, elongated and pear-shaped fruit that is distinct from other cucurbits species. Butternut can be intercropped along with legumes and cereals as well planted with trees as it is a climber plant.
There are various varieties of butternut; Atlas F1, Pluto F1, Waltrum, and Jupiter hybrid seeds which are available at agro-vets or certified nurseries. Jupiter is the widely grown variety in Kenya due to its nice yield and nice flavor. Propagation of butternut is done by direct sowing in the field.
Butternut grows well in temperatures between 18-30 degrees Celsius, annual rainfall between 700mm to 1000mm, and moderate sunshine throughout the planting period. The soil should be deep, fertile, and welldrained loam soil with a neutral pH. The planting seasons are April to June, and August to December.
Land preparation starts by ploughing and re-ploughing the land within 7-10 days. Harrow the land to ensure the land is level, hardpan is broken and the soil has a smoothing tilt. Broadcast compost manure and slurry evenly on the land. This will aid the spreading of butternut vines and feeder roots will absorb nutrients as it grows.
The holes are dug between 0.6 to 1 feet, 1m by1m; compost manure or slurry from biogas is mixed with soil at 1 liter of slurry or 1kg of manure per hole with the soil a day before the actual planting. This will allow the heat generated by decomposing slurry to escape.
The seeds are then shallowly planted 1 seed per hole. Germination takes place after 7 days. The butternut develops a feeder leaf, feeder root, and a vine. One butternut seed can develop 4 to 5 vines. The plants should be watered every evening in cases where rain is scarce.
The butternut flower develops after 60 days. Topdressing and weeding are reduced gradually. Cross-pollination takes place. In some instances, female parts may sprout earlier than male parts, for effective pollination, it is often advisable to plant one line of butternut a week earlier or there be a presence of an existing butternut plantation within to facilitate the transfer of pollen grain during the flowering stage.
Mature butternut turns yellow after 90-100 days. Mature vine turns from green to brown while leaves might turn yellow. Harvesting is carefully done by plucking the fruit along with part of its vine (5-10 cm) that will aid in curing and longer storage.
Weeding is carried out every 14 days up to 60 days. Weeding is done using a hand hoe. Shallow weeding is done by removing weeds using hands to avoid uprooting the plant feeder root. The land should be leveled to allow the plant to spread freely across the surface. Compost manure is applied throughout the growth period to nourish the vines as it spreads on the soil surface.
Bio-fertilizers can be applied throughout plant growth stages. Tecamin by Agritecno is a liquid organic fertilizer with a variety of purposes; rooting, healing, leaf development, flowering, and fruiting. Butternuts can be top-dressed with Tecamin during its growth lifecycle to facilitate continuous supply of nutrients.
Pests and diseases that affect butternut include cutworms, squash bugs, aphids, squash vine borer, powdery mildew, and anthracnose. Bio-pesticides should be sprayed onto the butternut 7 days after germination to cub cutworms which destroy the roots. On fruition, butternut fruits that may develop black rot due to fungal infection are removed and isolated. The plant is then continuously topdressed using calcium-based biofertilizers.
Powdery mildew may attack the leaves during the cold season. Plant-based extracts; neem and garlic extracts can be applied to control powdery mildew. Foliar feed is also applied to aid the growth of vines, feeder leaves as well as control pests and diseases.
A ripe butternut fruit turns from green to yellow. One butternut plant can produce between 3 and 5 fruits. Harvesting can be carried out daily for up to 2 weeks. It is done by plucking the butternut fruit and a few centimeters of the vine that aid in curing. The fruit is stored stored in a bucket in an inverted position to prevent them from crushing each other. Clean the fruit by rinsing with water. The fruits are then weighed and graded according to sizes: large, medium, and small.
Butternut can be stored in cool dry places for up to 6 months. However, one month is the recommended period for storage before being transported to the market to allow for proper ripening and curing.
The prices of butternut fluctuate depending on locations. 1kg goes for Ksh40 - Ksh70. While pumpkins can be sliced and sold in pieces, butternuts are often sold whole
Food security in Kenya relies on long-term crops such as butternut and pumpkins. There is an emerging market for butternut. 1000 seeds of butternut grown on a 0.25-acre land can yield 2500 fruits of butternut. With a minimum input of Ksh30, 000 (seeds, labor, and inputs), a farmer can reap an income of Ksh70, 000 in under 4 months. Butternut farming is a venture that requires minimum input with greater returns within a short period.
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