Discovering the Potentials of Squash
Another nutritious vegetable unfolds its versatility and multipurpose applications.
Squash is believed to have originated in South America, probably in Peru or Chile. It is a member of the cucurbit family, which includes pumpkins and gourds as well as cucumbers, muskmelons, and watermelons. However, the name squash is applied to certain varieties of the species Cucurbita maxima. Today, squashes are now grown in most parts.
Squash is loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients. It contains protein, carbohydrates, potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B, and C. Squash contains high potassium, which reduces urinary calcium excretion; people who eat high amounts of dietary potassium appear to be at low risk of forming kidney stones.
The nutrients found in squash are useful for the prevention of other conditions as well. High intakes of fiber-rich foods help to keep cancer-causing toxins away from cells in the colon, while the folate, vitamin C, and beta-carotene help to protect these cellsfrom the chemicals that can lead to colon cancer.
The squash’s antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene also have anti-inflammatory properties that make them helpful for conditions like asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation plays a big role.
In addition to the fruit, other parts of the plant are edible. Squash seeds can be eaten directly, ground into paste, meal, “nut” butter, or even a fine flour. The flowers, leaves, and tendrils can be eaten as vegetables. Unknown to many Filipinos, squash flowers are found to contain lutein, a plant phytochemical that prevents cataracts.
In recent years, processing has added value to squash. Fresh fruits are no longer simply cooked and served in households. It is now served as soup and pies in hotels, cafes and restaurants. Not only that, squash soup is now being canned and fruits are even processed into noodles.
Several potentials of squash have also been discovered. In Ilocos Sur, farmers are now producing canton-style noodles from squash. Actually, it is made from a mixture of egg, squash, and salt. A farmer places the fried noodles on wax paper, allowing them to dry. Others wrap the dried and crunchy noodles, formed into a square, in plastic and place them inside balikbayan boxes.
Yes, you read it right. Squash canton noodles are being sold abroad. Recent reports said that the nutritious processed squash have already started to gain ground in Filipino communities in the United States (particularly Hawaii and California) and Canada.
Another product that the Department of Science and Technology promotes is the squash bread. According to its line agency, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, squash breads are rich in vitamin A and iron, which would help fight the malnutrition problem among children in the country.
“Because of its variety of uses as food and the potential health benefits from eating squash fruits and flowers, demand for this vegetable may continue to increase and farmers should be prepared to meet this demand,” reports the Ramgo International Corporation.
What a farmer needs is a simple production guide plus a capital of about P40,000 to P50,000 per hectare. “On the average, net income from a hectare is estimated to range from P50,000 to P90,000,” states the Ramgo International Corporation.
According to the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), squash requires a relative dry, warm climate and a dry period for fruit setting. The optimum temperature ranges between 18 degrees and 30 degrees Centigrade. It may grow on many types of soil as long as it is will drained. However, it grows best on sandy loam or clay loam with pH between 6 and 6.5.
There are several varieties of squash that can be grown. The PCARRD recommends the Rizalina variety, which yields 38 tons per hectare when planted during the dry season and 26 tons per hectare when grown during the wet season. The flesh is thick, yellow orange, and suitable for baking and cooking. It is also tolerant to downy mildew and squash virus complex.
Here is the cultural management of squash growing as recommended by the Ramgo International Corporation:
Land Preparation: Squash can be grown with minimum tillage but for best result, plowing and harrowing the field two to three times is recommended. The field is furrowed and beds that are 0.75 to 1 meter wide and 2 meters apart are prepared. The prepared hole/hills are spaced one meter apart. Organic fertilizer or decomposed animal manure/compost is incorporated to the soil at plating time to improve soil structure.
Planting: One to two seeds per hill are planted. Rice straw or plastic mulch are applied to maintain soil moisture and minimize growth of weeds. The use of mulch also protects the fruits from coming in contact with the soil, thus preventing infestation by soil-borne pathogens.
Watering: Squash can tolerate drought but regular irrigation, especially during dry season enhances crop performance. Weekly furrow irrigation is best for squash. Irrigate also after every fertilizer application. Irrigation is stopped when fruit are already mature green.
Fertilization: Five tons per hectare of well-decomposed chicken manure and 3-4 bags of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) are applied at planting time. Every four weeks, the area is side dressed with one to two bags of 50-50 mixture of urea and muriate of potash. Fertilizers are placed at least 10 centimeters away from the plants to prevent chemical injury. The fertilizer is covered with a thin layer of soil to avoid nutrient loss through volatilization.
Weeding: Weeds may be controlled by hand pulling or by shallow cultivation. Weeding is started seven to 14 days after seedling emergence. The frequency of weeding will depend on the presence of weeds. Weed growth can be prevented by using plastic mulch.
Pest management: Squash is susceptible to squash and lady beetle, aphids, thrips, cutworms and to fruitfly. Cutworms and beetles can be controlled by spreading ash on the leaves while fruitfly can be controlled with the use of attractants. A fruitfly trap with attractant is effective.
Disease is commonly infecting squash are mosaic virus, downy and powdery mildew, and bacterial wilt. Mildews and viruses can be avoided by using varieties tolerant to so much diseases. Bacterial wilt can be minimized by applying compost or animal manure. Another way to avoid the spread of disease is to pull all diseased or infected plants then burying or burning them.
In case insect’s pests or diseases become serious, spray the appropriate chemical pesticide following the manufacturer’s guide on dosage, timing and frequency of application found on the product label.
One way of minimizing problems in pests and diseases in growing squash is to select the disease and pest-resistant varieties.
Harvesting: Fruits are mature or ready to harvest 30-40 days after pollination or when the rind becomes hard. Another indicator of maturity is when the peduncle starts to dry up. When harvesting fruits, it is best to leave a portion of the peduncle still attached to fruit because this will prolong storage life. If squash is to be cooked without peeling, it is best to harvest fruits that are still immature.
By Henrylito D. Tacio