A stunning heirloom grown for hundreds of years in Japan, 'Black Futtsu' produces fruits that are petite, blocky, deeply ribbed and extremely bumpy. For most of the season they are a gorgeous dark green to charcoal black, but in autumn they mature to a grey-bloomed dusty orange in a fascinating metamorphosis. Harvest in the midst of their transformation for funky autumn displays or wait for them to ripen completely for maximum flavour, which is nutty and sweet with hints of chestnut.
The thin skin is edible, so no need to peel before slicing it into thin golden-yellow-fleshed wedges and roasting until caramelised and crispy-sweet. Highly decorative, Black Futtsu keeps for months on end.
Black Futtsu is a small squash variety, ranging from the size of a grapefruit to about three times that size. On the smaller end, it makes a good full lunch for one; on the larger end, it will feed up to four folks as a side dish.
Once you cut it open, you’ll find bright orange flesh with a flavour crossed between a pumpkin and a chestnut — sweet, buttery, and slightly nutty. Unlike the thick skins on many other winter squash, the relatively thin skin on Black Futtsu remains edible.
Prepare the Site:
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with moisture retentive, humus rich soil. Improve the soil by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost. The simplest way is to dig a hole 30cm (12in) deep and 45cm (18in) across and fill it with well rotted compost or manure. Cover with a 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) layer of soil to make a raised mound that will provide drainage along with a rich source of nutrients. To get the best results ensure you have good, nutritious growing compost and that you feed them through the season.
Sowing: Sow indoors in pots in February to March
Germination of pumpkin seeds is about two weeks and requires temperatures above 20°C (68°F). If grown entirely in a heated greenhouse seed can be sown in situ in late winter, or early spring for transplanting to a cloche or cold frame. If you do not have any glass, then delay sowing pumpkin seed until late spring to avoid damage from heavy frost.
Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost and firm gently. Sow a seed on its side, not flat. (reduces the risk of damping off) 12mm (½in) deep and cover. (You may choose to sow two seeds per pot, and remove the weaker seedling later; the strongest plants are kept.) Label, water and put in a propagator or on a windowsill.
Germination should take place 10 to 14 days later. If temperatures are higher it may only be 4 to 6 days. After germination the young plants will grow very quickly and will need repotting almost at once. When roots begin to show through the bottom of the pot, transplant to a 12.5cm (5in) container.
Hardened off before planting them outside, around late May/early June and all danger of frost has passed. If seedlings are planted out too early, and exposed to a period of cold weather, it can set back their development for the whole growing season.
Transplant outdoors in April to May when the plants have 3 to 4 leaves
Space with 38 to 60cm (15 to 24in) between plants, providing good air circulation to avoid mildew. Protect seedlings from slugs
Sowing directly outdoors:
Early sowing outdoors is rarely of much benefit as the seeds may not germinate if the soil is too cold, or cold temperatures may damage young plants. Four weeks before the last frost is expected is about right.
Sow two or three seeds 2.5cm (1 inch) deep on their edges under cloches or glass jars with 38 to 60cm (15 to 24in) between plants. Remove the weaker seedlings later.
Hoe gently to keep the weeds down and do not let the plants dry out. Plenty of water is essential, especially when the plants are in flower and when the fruits have started to swell. Avoid splashing water on the stems of the young plants. Apply a mulch of about 12mm (1in) deep of grass cuttings or compost after watering. This helps conserve soil moisture and keeps the weeds down.
If you dig in plenty of manure before planting, additional feeding is unnecessary on heavy, fertile soil. On sandy or light soil, regular liquid feed will help boost production.
Plants under glass should be hand pollinated. The female flowers are distinguished by the swelling below the bloom. Male flowers have a prominent central core, bearing yellow pollen. The male flower is first to appear and the female flowers will follow. To hand pollinate, remove the petals from a male flower; push the core into the centre of the female flower. For a high success rate, use a different male for each female flower.
Harvesting: Harvest August through October. Around 100 days.
Winter squashes need as much as three to five months of frost-free conditions after sowing to reach maturity. They can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid colour and the rind is hard enough to resist being punctured by a thumbnail. Harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts. Fruits subjected to a hard frost will not keep, so harvest should be completed before cold weather. Store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween.
Cut the pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 7 to 10cm (3 to 4in) of stem attached. Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing 'handles'. Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Wear gloves when harvesting fruit because many varieties have prickles on their stems.
The Black Futtsu is quite the chameleon in the garden. The young squash begins as a deep, dark green, almost black fruit with heavy ribbing, bumps and warts. As it matures, the skin slowly turns dull with hints of yellow, then it takes on a rather strange and mouldy, mildew-like appearance. This is a natural process of toughening up the squash for storage, and once the skin has turned a greyish hue, it can be harvested and kept in a cool, dark larder around six months.
If you can wait another few weeks to harvest, the skin will transform again into patches of orange and it will keep even longer. In storage, the squash will eventually settle into a tan or light brown colour.
Leave the fruits as long as possible to ripen in situ, wait until the green skin has begun to turn burnt orange before cutting them free and place them on a table or stand in the warmth of the polytunnel or similar for a good month so the skins can harden.
Cut the fruit from the vine and place it in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight. Clean the squash in a very week, (10 percent) chlorine-bleach solution to reduce the chances of mould ruining the fruit.
Handle with care, and avoid damaging the stem, because if it breaks off, disease can move in and cause spoilage. After curing for two to three weeks, store at 10 to 15°C (50 to 60°F) with a relative humidity of 50 to 70 percent (dry basements work well) until you are ready to use them.
Futtsu Black Early have a sweet dry flesh and store well. Store only those fruit that are free of cuts, wounds, and insect or disease damage. Immediately after harvest, the fruit should undergo a ripening or curing process to harden the shell. A curing period of about two weeks at 24 to 30°C (75 to 85°F) with good circulation is desirable. They can then be stored at temperatures of around 10 to 20°C (50 to 70°F).
By the time it has been cured, the seeds are mature. Cut open, remove the pulp and seeds, and rinse off the pulp. Put the mixture in a bowl of water to remove the remaining pulp, the good seeds will sink. Remove the good seeds and spread them out to dry for 2 to 3 weeks, stirring them at times to make sure they dry completely. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place, they will remain viable for up to 4 years.
Winter squashes belong to the genus Cucurbita, they fall into four domesticated species groups: C. maxima, C. moschata, C. argyrosperma, and C. pepo.
Native to Central America and northern South America where it was first domesticated, Cucurbita moschata is a monoecious, creeping, vine-like annual that trails along the ground or climbs by tendrils. It produces a variety of fruits which vary considerably in size and shape due to large genetic variation within this species. Young leaves, flowers, shoot tips, fruits and seeds are edible. However, the fruits are usually not harvested when young, but are left on the plant to mature for eventual autumn harvest as winter squashes.
'Futtsu Black Early', also spelt as 'Futsu', is a variety of Cucurbita moschata, also known as the Japanese Black Winter Squash
The genus name Cucurbita comes from the Latin name for a gourd.
The specific epithet moschata means musky, it is given to a number of classes of plants that give off a mild scent (ie some rose species).
References to 'pumpkins' date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for 'large melon' which is 'pepon', which was nasalised by the French into 'pompon'. The English changed pompon to 'Pumpion'. Shakespeare referred to the 'pumpion' in his Merry Wives of Windsor. American colonists changed 'pumpion' into 'pumpkin'. The 'pumpkin' is referred to in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater and Cinderella.
The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 25 Seeds Common Name Black Futsu Winter Squash,
Heritage (Japan 1800's)
Other Common Names Musk Squash Family Cucurbitaceae Genus Cucurbita Species maxima Cultivar Futtsu Black Early or Synonym Futtsu is also spelt Futsu Hardiness Half Hardy Annual Flowers Creamy yellow flowers Natural Flower Time Summer Fruit A small variety, ranging from the size of a grapefruit to about three times that size. (1 to 2 kilograms). Position Choose a sunny, sheltered spot Soil Moisture retentive, humus rich soil. Time to Sow Sow indoors in pots April to June or sow direct from mid May to early June. Germination Germination of seeds is about 2 weeks Harvest Use pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 7 to 10cm (3 to 4in) of stem Time to Harvest Harvest August through October. Around 100 days.