Bush buttercup squash (Cucurbita maxima), a nonvining variety of winter squash, has a shorter growing season -- 75 to 85 days -- than other winter squashes. Originally from Central America, squashes have been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. The word “squash” is a Native American word meaning “eaten raw.” Although bush buttercup squash are known for their rich flavor, they are best eaten cooked.
About Buttercup Squash
Buttercup squash are sometimes called turban squash because of the distinctive gray cap at the blossom end of the fruit. The rest of the squash is typically dark green, such as with the “Emerald Bush Buttercup” variety. The flesh of a bush buttercup squash is fine-grained, sweet, dry and orange. A mature fruit will have a hard rind and weigh between 3 and 4 pounds. Unlike most winter squash varieties, the bush buttercup squash grows on a compact bush, like a summer squash (Cucurbita pepo). The plants can produce runners as the growing season ends in late summer.
Growing Buttercup Squash
Because of its nonvining growth habit, the bush buttercup squash is a smart choice for a small garden -- a 3-foot by 3-foot space is all that's required. Like all squashes, this winter variety is sensitive to cold temperatures. Plant seeds outdoors only after the last frost and when the soil temperature has warmed to at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In colder climates, start seeds indoors four weeks before the estimated last frost. The plants need a sunny spot, consistent water and well-draining soil.
One drawback to the bush buttercup squash is that, unlike the vining winter varieties, it produces all its fruit at once, which makes it more likely to suffer more devastating effects from pests. The three problem insects are cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and squash bugs. Because squash need bees for pollination, avoid using insecticides around squash plants. Fungal diseases are also a problem for squash. Anthracnose, downy mildew and powdery mildew cause spotted or distorted leaves, stunted growth and may kill the plants. Besides fungal infections, bush buttercup squash are susceptible to bacterial wilt and mosaic virus. Mosaic virus is spread by aphids and cucumber beetles.
Once the bush buttercup squash's rind, or outer skin, is hard, it is ready for harvest, usually in September or October. The plant may survive light frost -- some say this improves flavor -- but any squash left on the bush after a heavy frost should be composted. Bush buttercup squash can be stored for up to six months if keep in a dark room with a temperature between 50 and 55 F. A basement is a good place to store them, as long as it's not damp.
How to Cook
Bush buttercup squash are dense and have a sweet flavor, so they can be used in recipes similarly to carrots, pumpkins or sweet potatoes, such as in curries, soups, stews and baked dishes. After cutting the squash in half and removing seeds, it can be baked, boiled, steamed or microwaved. Frozen buttercup squash is good to use for up to one year.