How to Grow Series

Hard-Shelled Gourds for Crafts

Transplanting to the Garden

Once the plants are totally hardened off they can be planted outdoors, providing all threat of frost is past. For our area, our last frost date is in the middle of May, but I usually like to wait until the last full moon in May before planting. We always seem to have a frost on the night of a full moon, when the weather is clear. Many times I don't get them in the ground until Memorial Day weekend, but they can stay in the cold frame until then.

Plant them at the same depth as they were in their pots. Large gourds should be set out at least 2' apart, but the ones I listed at the beginning of the article can be planted one foot apart with no problems. If you are worried that your soil does not have enough nutrients, you can scratch in a little 10-10-10 fertilizer before planting.

Large gourds should be allowed to grow along the ground, but smaller gourds like what I have listed are perfect to be grown on trellises, especially if you have a small space in which to grow them and need to grow up rather than out. Growing on a trellis also allows the gourds to be perfectly shaped rather than slightly flat on one side from sitting on the ground.

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Gourds need a lot of water to grow, but yet they don't like to remain wet constantly. Gourds are shallow rooted so watering them 20 minutes a day is not too much. Try to water in the morning so that the leaves have time to dry off before evening. In September, watering should be cut back to three times a week and in October, supplemental watering can stop completely. If your gourds don't get enough water during the growing season they will be thin and will not hold up for your craft projects. Larger gourds need more water than smaller gourd varieties, so take that into consideration as well.

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The best thing you can do for your gourds, and most of your plants, is to use lots of compost. Putting a 1"-2" layer on the beds at least once a year is essential, although I think applying once in the Spring and once in the Fall is best. Organic matter attracts earthworms and beneficial microbes that keep a soil healthy. If you can do this, you really don't need much in the way of fertilizer, but you can scratch in some 10-10-10 fertilizer before planting time if you are worried about them not having enough nutrients. I prefer to use organic fertilizers, such as Plant Tone, Worm Castings, Fish Emulsion, Compost Tea or Alfalfa Tea. Be careful about applying to much Nitrogen based fertilizers because you'll have lots of gorgeous leaves and very little fruit.

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Getting More Gourds from a Vine

I learned this trick from someone online a few years ago. To get more gourds you must cut off the end of the vine when it reaches 10-15 feet long. Gourds have male flowers that form on the main stem and female flowers that form on the side runner vines. The female flower is what is needed to produce the actual gourd. You can tell the female from the male because the female will have a little mini gourd attached to the flower, whereas the male does not have one. Cutting the end of the stem will force more side runner vines, which means more gourds. Once the main gourd vine reaches 10 feet long, cut off about 6 inches. This will increase gourd production by more than 50%. If your soil is good and there is adequate moisture, the vine should have no trouble supporting the extra gourds.

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Gourds flower at night and are pollinated by moths. You can increase gourd production by helping nature along and pollinating the flowers yourself. If the female flower is not pollinated, it will shrivel up and turn brown. If you notice this happening, start pollinating them yourself. It's easy and fun to do.

My gourd flowers are always open a couple of hours after sunrise, so I prefer to pollinate them in the morning, but they soon will close, so you have to get out there early, or pollinate after dark when the flowers first open.

To pollinate by hand check the vine first to make sure that you have some female flowers open and male flowers open, preferably from the same vine. Then, break off the male flower and remove the pedals and touch the center of the male flower to the center of the female flower. You have just transferred pollen from the male flower to the female flower. You can usually use a male flower multiple times.

If you use a male flower from a different variety as the female, this is called cross-pollination and the seeds from those gourds will be different than the parent plants. You can experiment and see what you will get.

If you want to harvest your own gourd seeds for growing next year, keep in mind if they were pollinated by the same variety or not. You can mark the gourds with a piece of yarn tied loosely to the stem to tell them apart.

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Caring for Developing Gourds

Gourds are not affected by too many pests, but if you are trying to grow very large gourds, you may want to take a few extra precautions. Large gourds that are sitting directly on the ground are most susceptible. Placing a piece of white plastic under any gourd that sits on the ground, will protect it from rot and bugs that feed directly from the soil. This is also a good opportunity to sit the gourd up on its bottom, so it forms a pleasing shape. White or clear plastic is preferred as it will keep the soil cooler than black plastic.

If you are growing gourds on a trellis and they look like they might need a little extra support, you can make a sling to help support it using old panty hose or burlap.

As the vine ages, you will notice the older leaves at the bottom of the vine will begin to yellow, turn brown and drop off. This is normal and as long as your gourds are continuing to grow and new leaves are forming along the rest of the vine, they are fine. This is more noticeable on gourds that are growing on a trellis.

Powdery mildew can be a problem with some varieties, I've noticed, but I usually don't worry about this either. It doesn't seem to affect the gourds, so I just leave them be. Sometimes doing nothing is better than trying to fix the problem as you can cause more problems by using chemicals.

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Let your gourds grow until the vines are completely dead. This happens after your first killing frost. But don't pick the gourds yet, you want the stems to completely dry, which takes an additional 7-10 days. Once the stems are completely dry, all the way down to the gourd, you can cut them from the vine, leaving as much of the stem attached to the gourd as possible. Waiting to cut the gourds gets them ready for the curing process. Cutting them early can cause underdeveloped gourds to rot.

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There are several ways to leave your gourds for curing and it largely depends on how many you have and how much space you have for curing. Also, don't expect 100% survival rate when curing. It is very common to lose 5%-10% of your gourds to rot.

Gourds Curing

I prefer to cure my gourds in my garden shed as they begin to form mold and mildew on them, which is normal for the curing process. You don't want that in your house, so store them away from the house, yet under cover, protected from rain and snow. You can spread them out on a counter to dry over the winter. Once you hear liquid sloshing around inside the gourds, you can drill a 1/16 size hole in the bottom of large gourds to speed along the curing process, but I haven't done that yet. The varieties I listed above are not all that big and can cure fine on their own.

If you are growing a large amount of gourds for a business, or have some very large prized gourds, you may want to have them in an area with a circulating fan to help prevent rot.

Gourds will go through some horrible looking stages before they are completely cured. This is perfectly normal and as long as none grow soft or begin to rot, don't worry about it. As the gourds begin to harden, you can peel away the flaking skin to get a smoother leather-like finish, or just let them cure on their own. The mold and mildew can create some beautiful patterns on the gourds.

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There are endless possibilities when it comes to finishing your gourds. To start with, you want to clean them in a solution of bleach water. One part bleach to ten parts water is sufficient. You can use a stiff bristled brush to help get off any remaining skin. Once they are clean, let them air dry for a day or two before beginning your project.

If you will be drilling into your gourds, make sure you wear a dust mask as the dust from inside the gourds is very irritating to the lungs. Any drill bit designed for wood will work fine on a gourd. Gourds can be painted with any kind of paint and stained with wood stains or leather stains. You can even make your own stains from nuts or tea. Gourds should be sealed with polyurethane when finished, especially if they will be used outside.

Good luck with your gourds and most importantly, have fun growing and working with them!

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