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Gourds are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are related to squash, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers.
A variety of gourds
A bottle gourd fashioned into a cup with a straw.
Gourds have finished internal drying when they become light in weight and you can hear the seeds rattling inside.
Gourd plants are tender annuals that will easily adapt to your support structure. It’s best to keep developing fruit off the ground to prevent discoloration from the fruit coming into contact with soil.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Three years ago, we had our first experience growing birdhouse gourds. All summer, we fielded questions about the plant with dinner-plate-sized leaves.
Everyone wanted to know what we were growing and commented on how cool the plant looked. We enjoyed growing it as much as our neighbors enjoyed watching .
Many people say that if you grow gourds once, you'll be hooked. With a wide variety of gourds to be grown and such interesting uses for them after they are harvested, it's easy to see why this is said.
As plants go, gourds are fairly easy to master. If you have room, this is a fun plant to consider for next year's garden.
Types of gourds
Gourds are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are related to squash, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers. They have been grown worldwide for thousands of years for both ornamental and utility purposes. Native Americans cultivated gourds for their usefulness as utensils, storage containers and ornaments.
Gourds are often divided into three categories: the cucurbita , or ornamental gourd; the lagenaria , or large, utilitarian gourd; and the luffa , or vegetable sponge.
Cucurbita includes the colorful ornamental gourds that you often find this time of year in many interesting shapes. These plants produce large orange or yellow blossoms that bloom during the day.
Lagenaria gourds include birdhouse, or Martin, gourds, as well as bottle and dipper gourds. These plants produce white blossoms that bloom at night. Lagenaria gourds are green on the vine and turn tan or brown when dry, with thick, hard shells.
Luffas have an outer shell that is removed to expose the fibrous interior, which is used as a sponge. These plants have prolific vines with yellow blossoms, and require a very long growing season.
Gourds are tender annuals that thrive when temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees. Most varieties require a growing season of 100 to 180 days to reach maturity. Because they are tender, they should not be planted outdoors until all danger of frost is past.
In this area, it's best to start the seeds indoors in containers in late winter. This will lengthen the growing season and ensure that gourds get off to a strong start.
Gourd roots do not like to be disturbed during transplanting, so plant seeds in individual peat or newspaper pots that can be placed in the ground with the plant.
You can increase your chance of germination with a little special handling of the seeds. Gently roughen the seeds with sandpaper or an emery board, and then soak them in room temperature water for 24 hours prior to placing them into pots.
At planting time, choose a sunny site and follow the seed packet's recommendations on spacing and trellising. Different varieties of gourds vary greatly in spacing and trellising requirements because of the large range of fruit and vine size. While small ornamental gourds will do fine on a lightweight trellis, the large dipper and bottle gourds will require a substantial trellis to hold the weight of the fruit.
Gourds grow very quickly and will easily adapt to your support structure. It's best to keep your developing fruit off the ground and on some type of support to prevent areas of discoloration that occur when some gourds come into contact with soil.
Harvesting and curing
Cucurbita and lagenaria gourds are ready to harvest when the stems dry and turn brown. Try to harvest them before the first frost, as a light frost may damage a gourd without a fully hardened shell.
Cut the gourd from the vine with a few inches of stem attached, taking care to treat the gourd gently to avoid bruising. Bruising will increase the likelihood of decay during curing. Discard any gourds that are rotten, bruised or immature.
After you harvest your gourds, clean them with soap and water, dry them, and apply rubbing alcohol to the surface.
Curing is a two-step process that can take 1 to 6 months, depending on the type and size of the gourd. Surface drying is step one, and takes about one week. During this time, the skin hardens and the exterior color of the gourd becomes set.
Place the gourds in a dark, well-ventilated area and arrange them in a single layer, making sure that the fruits don't touch each other. Check them daily and discard any that show signs of soft spots, decay or mold.
The second step in curing is internal drying, and this takes a minimum of four weeks for cucurbita gourds, and up to six months for lagenaria gourds. If mold appears on the outside skin during this time, you can wipe the gourd clean and allow it to keep drying; however, discard any gourds that decay or shrivel. To promote even curing, periodically turn the gourds, or hang them to dry.
The gourd has finished internal drying when it becomes light in weight and you can hear the seeds rattling inside. At this point, you can paint, wax, or decorate the gourds as you like.
The Internet has a wealth of project ideas for crafting gourds into ornamental or utility objects. Perhaps your gardening efforts will also encourage the artist within you.
On the blog
Visit my blog for more information on growing gourds at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth/.
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