By the numbers: winter squash

The squash season is done here and my harvest is through, and the final numbers are in.  First, it’s been a very rough year with the incursions of pickleworm plus the regular damage caused by squash bugs.  I lost at least 1/3 of my crop to pickleworm alone including the last squash I was watching which was at least 25 pounds.  But that’s gardening.  You lose stuff, and you can’t calculate true value on wishful thinking and the harvest you could have had.  Final tally:

  • “Waltham” Butternut (C. moschata), 40 square feet – 33 pounds, .82 lb/sq ft.
  • “Nutterbutter” Butternut (C. moschata), 24 square feet – 14 pounds, .58 lb/sq ft.
  • “Upper Ground Sweet Potato” Cheese type (C. moschata), 24 square feet – 86 pounds, 3.58 lb/sq ft.

Square feet of the bed as a measure is a dubious one, since squashes climb out the bed and up any nearby fences.  But it is the amount of my “garden space” the squash used up that did not go to another vegetable.

By these numbers, the Upper Ground Sweet potato was by far the most productive per square foot at 3.58 pounds of fruit per square foot.  However, as I documented a few weeks ago, the harvest was mostly a few very large squashes which cannot be easily consumed in one or two days by a typical family, so they require processing either now or later on.  Winter squash do have the benefit of being able to sit on a shelf until you have time to deal with them, unlike many other vegetables which go bad quickly.

The Nutterbutter squash produces very small butternut type squashes which are ideal for a single person or couple.  Since generally speaking smaller squash fruits do not store as long as their larger specimens, that means they will really need to be eaten first.  And at .58 pounds per square foot, they are not a particularly productive version, especially since smaller squashes have a higher proportion of inedible skin.

Waltham butternut still reigns as my favorite.  At a respectable .82 pounds per squash foot in a size which is not too large to eat in a couple of days or use for pies and other recipes, but is large enough to store well, for my priorities it wins as an all-round good variety.  Butternuts in general also have a very high proportion of edible flesh with a small seed pocket unlike, say, a large pumpkin which is mostly rind, guts and seeds.

Now the financial numbers.  Cost of seed for a packet of squash is about $4, but the seeds store for many years and even the smallest retail packets have 10 seeds.  This year, I used Waltham Butternut squash seed I had saved from a previous year, but I can’t save any this year since I planted multiple varieties of the same species.  We’ll pretend I bought all new seed.

Seed: $12
Fertilizer: None.
Irrigation: Yes, twice this year, but usually I’d need to water 5 times or so ($1).
Pesticides: None.
Row cover and other tools: None.
Labor:  Really none other than planting seeds in the dirt, sometimes pushing vines into a better spot and a couple of sessions of end of year harvest.  I have an irrigation system but without it I would have had to spend some time with a hose or hauling water with out it.  That’s it; winter squash is easy.

Total cost to grow first year: $13

As of last week, retail prices for butternut squash was an average of $0.86/lb for non-organic and $1.03 for organic.  Bear in mind this is the lowest price point of the year, but a consumer certainly could purchase a winter’s worth of squash in the fall.  My price for home grown organic-ish squash?

Pounds Cost to grow Cost per pound
Waltham Butternut 33  $4.33 $0.1313
Nutterbutter Butternut 14  $4.33 $0.3095
Upper Ground Sweet Potato 86  $4.33 $0.0504
133  $13.00 $0.0977

That’s a huge financial savings for an exceptionally nutritious vegetable that requires virtually no labor to grow.  And that’s before we calculate the cost of roasted squash seeds, which can easily retail at $10/pound and are also very high in nutrition and calories.  Butternut squashes, if fully ripe and cured, can be stored at room temperature for months.  Mine usually keep until at least February, getting sweeter and richer the whole time.

If you have the space and growing season, winter squash can be a real financial winner.

(By Nicole Castle)


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