By: Heather Rhoades
Gourds are a fun plant to grow in your garden. Not only are the vines lovely, but you can make crafts with gourds as well. One very utilitarian craft you can make with gourds is water canteens.
So you’re ready to make crafts with gourds, now what? Get started with growing and making your own water canteen. Here is how you can do that:
Now you have a finished set of gourd water canteens. This is just one of the many fun crafts with gourds that you can do. Birdhouses are another.
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By late May or early June, it's finally warm enough to put the plants into the ground outside. Enrich your soil with plenty of compost or other organic soil conditioners. General instructions say to plant 10' apart but I find my gourds never need that much room so I plant around 4' apart. I'm sure in warmer climates you get more vine growth and have to worry about them climbing all over each other. Also, if you grow on a trellis, they could be planted closer.
Gourds are heavy feeders and I start out with a high nitrogen fertilizer to give plants a good start. Later on when the gourds start to form, cut back on the nitrogen and use fertilizer higher in phosphorus. Plenty of water is needed and if Mother Nature doesn't supply us with enough, be sure to water well.
Cucumber beetles usually find the plants the minute you set them out. They seem to bother the ornamental gourds the most. I use an oil spray to help keep them in check. Later on the squash bugs come to visit. If you get at them early the oil spray will work on them, too.
For people who don't mind using chemicals, Sevin is the preferred pesticide. One thing you might want to try is taking some of the insides of a gourd and putting the Sevin on that. It is supposed to attract the insects and then they will be eliminated that way. I haven't tried it yet but am thinking about it.
The gourd plant will send out one long vine and then laterals form on that. It is on these laterals that the gourds form. To encourage more laterals, pinch the end of the main vine at about 5'. In warmer climates, growers usually wait for the vine to grow 10' but I do it a little earlier since our season is short.
Bottle, kettle, apple, swan the descriptive names of hardshell gourds tell you this is a fun crop. And, unlike colorful thin shelled gourds which brighten fall displays and soon wither away, hardshell gourds will dry to a permanent and very craftable wooden form. I'd like to give you the basics on growing the best hardshell gourds for crafting fun.
Hardshell gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are bred to grow a thick rind which will dry to a woody shell over several months of curing. Most readers have seen simple birdhouses made from gourds, but there are seemingly endless ways to decorate, carve, paint, or burn gourds. But first you have to buy the gourds-- or grow them!
Gourd vines need ample room in a sunny garden. Seed companies tell you that the vine can grow to fifteen feet long what they forget to say is that the vine will branch. By August, you'll have vines trying to grow fifteen feet in all directions. Plan accordingly (or hope that your neighbor is as tolerant as mine.) The heaviest, biggest gourds will have to grow along the ground. Small to medium size gourds will readily climb a trellis.
Now beef up the soil where your gourds will be planted. Gourds love a rich, organic soil. Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening says that each gourd plant should be treated to a hearty scoop of composted manure. I'd venture to say that you most likely cannot give a gourd vine too much in the way of finished or even half-finished compost. I've grown a successful crop of bushel gourds right on the top of the previous fall's big leaf based compost pile.
You'll grow gourd vines from seed each spring rarely would you ever find starter plants sold for these. Most big seed catalogs sell a gourd mix, which may include hardshell gourds. Then again, it may not read the descriptions carefully or call and ask. Some catalogs sell named varieties of gourd seed. Can you take seeds from a purchased gourd? Yes, you can they'll probably sprout just fine. But be aware that the resulting gourds may not be exactly like the parent fruit. This link to Dave's Garden PlantScout will show you a long list of named varieties of gourds and vendors who sell the seeds. Descriptives like "cannonball", "bottle" and "apple" sometimes give you a good idea of the shape and size of the mature fruit. There are some real whoppers to be had ("Bushel 120 + lbs") and a few little cuties ("Tiny Bottle.")
Gourds need a long warm summer to develop mature fruit. If you have any doubt whether your summer is long and warm enough, start gourd seeds inside several weeks before last spring frost, the same as you would tomatos. Gourd seeds, and gourd seedlings, are big so give them a roomy pot, at least a four incher, not those little six-packs that you've reused for flowers. Stick four seeds down in the soil and put the pot in a warm spot like your kitchen counter or on top of the refrigerator. Fleshy oval seed leaves will soon appear, signaling you to move that pot to a brightly lit indoor location. Gentle starter fertilizer is helpful. Keep only one or two of the best looking babies per pot and snip off the runts. When you move those babies outside, handle the roots gently and try not to break up the root ball while planting. If your summer IS long and warm, plant gourd seeds outside when the soil is warm, as you do for gourd's cousins like cucumbers or squash. Each well prepped planting hole will support two or three growing vines. Starting with five seeds per hole allows you to choose the best two after a few weeks of growth, eliminate the pipsqueaks.
Gourds are pretty carefree but they do fall victim to some of the same annoying pests that plague cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Checking frequently for problems helps you keep them under control. I find that squash bugs love gourds even more than squash. Watch for dark brown adults on the stems, young white or gray bugs underneath the leaves, and clusters of tiny gold eggs. Cucumber beetles love Lagenaria's white, night blooming flowers and can often be handpicked in the morning from inside the blossoms.
By late summer you should find some full size fruits hanging from rangy gourd vines. If all goes as planned you'll have at least two or three full sized gourds per plant. (Remember to check to other half of the vine that's grown into the neighbor's yard.) That's about as much as can be expected. Remove any small fruits that develop in late summer. They won't mature fully and will probably rot. Leave the vines and mature gourds in the garden until the first frost.
Now follow the tags below to read other Dave's Garden articles about the curing and crafting your crop of great gourds.(Subscribers may enjoy growing hints, discussions, and fabulous gourd pictures by participating in the Gourd Forum Community within Dave's Garden.)
Pictures taken by and property of the author.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 23, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Growing bushel gourds could not be simpler. Clip the tip off the seed with nail clippers and soak it in a bowl of water for 24 hours.
Start the seeds 6 weeks before your last average frost date.
Fill small pots with potting soil and plant one seed per pot about 1 inch deep. Water and keep them moist when surface feels dry. Keep them in a warm place.
After the danger of frost passes, move them outdoors. When you are ready to plant them in the ground, find a well drained area, and plant the seedlings 2 feet apart. Try to plant in the evening so the seedlings have the night in the dark to rebound before sun shines on them.
Water the weekly with 1-2 inches of water. Mulch them with straw or leaves not touching the stems.
You may get many bushel gourds on your vine. We had about 12 on ours the first year, and it’s been about the average. Gourds take a long time to grow, so you need a long growing season. They also take up quite a bit of room and need a sturdy trellis. So remember that when planning your space.
Pinch off the remaining flowers on each vine after one or two flowers begin to grow into gourds. This will allow the fruit to have more energy and nutrients and you’ll get bigger and healthier gourds.
Bushel gourd seeds are hard to find, but we found them on Etsy. We also found them at Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. They don’t always have them, so get them when you can.
Harvesting gourds needs to be done at the right time. They should begin to turn brown and their stem should start to shrivel before you harvest them. They are easy to damage, so handle them carefully. Cut the stems with shears leaving a couple inches of stem. You’ll need to dry them for at least 6 months before they are ready to process.
Bushel gourds need to be dried in a dry area, protected from rain, but one that gets plenty of ventilation. You can lay them on a table and rotate them every few days or hang them under an eave or other protective area. It’s best to do it outside if you can for enough ventilation.
Soak the gourds in a tub of water with a cup of bleach or hydrogen peroxide mixed in for about 30 minutes. Then scrub the gourds thorougly to remove the skin and mold. It takes quite a bit of scrubbing. Let them dry and then sand off any additional skin or mold that didn’t come off.
When sanding and opening the gourds to clean the insides, wear protective gloves and a dust mask to prevent illness.
Cut the gourd and remove the inner seeds. Pull them out and scrape out the insides until smooth. You can use the sander inside as well.
Bushel basket gourds are some of the most intersting and wonderful gourds I’ve seen. It’s so fun to grow them. I hope you will try it and enjoy some gorgeous art materials to work with from your own garden.
You can also grow your own luffa sponges, gourds for birdhouses, and more. Growing gourds is so much fun and so interesting!