The Squash Harvest: a case study on the benefits of organic gardening

img_0632Recently, we harvested our butternut squash from our backyard urban garden. The two plants had sprawled themselves out across the rain garden and looped around the blueberry bushes in this kind of beautiful ground cover. We could see that there were many squash on the vines, but we were in for a surprise with the number and size of our harvest.

I had planted a variety of squash called butterscotch. It is an organic seed sold by Johnny’s Select Seeds.  They characterize it as a mini-butternut with shorter vines, yielding on average 1-2 lb. fruit with 3-4 fruit per plant. After planting 2 seeds, I was expecting to harvest maybe 8-10 mini squash based on the description. Johnny’s does add to the description that soil, weather and spacing may affect the size of the squash and also that fruit development may vary based on pollination.

Once the vines began to die back and the fruit had all turned that nice tan color that butternuts display, we began the harvest. Squash should be harvested on a dry day and the fruit should be completely dry when handling. We systematically cut the vines back revealing all of the fruit. When cutting the fruit from the vine, we left about one inch of stem on the fruit.

We grouped the squash and weighed them to see our final results. I knew it was a lot more than expected, but I was very surprised by the final numbers.  Our yield was 25 total squash totaling 58 lbs. That is an average of 2.3 lbs./squash. We had 3 squash that were over 5 lbs. each.  All of them are beautiful, disease free, healthy, delicious squash (we tried our first one 2 evenings ago). We will cure these squash for 2 weeks in a warm, sunlit room to get them ready for storage. It is exciting to think that these squash will store for 3-4 months and give us food for the winter months.

My first takeaway on this whole experience is this: the reason we had such a bountiful harvest was simply achieved by following the principles of organic gardening.

We planted the seeds in a bed full of organic material that had been built up the preceding fall. We watered with rainwater only from our rainwater harvesting system. We provided plenty of flowers to attract pollinators to the yard. We used a method of planting called companion planting – interplanting the squash with garlic and kale. The garlic and kale use different resources out of the soil than the squash does so that each plant gets exactly what it needs to thrive. Most important, NO PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES OR INSECTICIDES!

My second takeaway: organic gardening does save money, time and health.

With very little effort on our part, we have secured a food source for the winter months. We have saved at least roughly $120 with just this one crop (with a very modest estimate of $2/lb. for butternut squash). We have saved potential trips to the grocery store when we are looking in the pantry for a quick meal. We are getting exercise working in the garden and contributing to helping our earth restore itself. Best of all, we know the source of our food is clean and full of nutrients.

We do this over and over again, year after year with many different crops. Think of how much that adds up over the years in money savings, time savings and helping our health. The investment upfront to start an organic garden may seem steep but it is really nothing compared to the ROI. Think of how happy you will be to walk out to your yard and gather up what you need to make a meal.




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