Gardening and Gourds
by Laurie Keit
Oct. 1, 2010 — What do a Penguin, Hardshell Warty and French Dolphin have in common? They are all types of gourds!
Pumpkins, zucchini and many popular squashes — including yellow, summer and spaghetti — are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, along with gourds.
There are three types of gourds: cucurbita, lagenaria and luffa — more commonly known as ornamental, hardshell and vegetable sponge. You may be surprised to learn that there is a squash in your bathroom! Luffa or loofa sponges are actually the interior of luffa gourds.
Hardshell gourds are large with tough outer skins. Like all gourds, they grow on vines. They are green and eventually turn tan or brown.
I look forward to decorating my home and garden with a wide variety of locally grown items, including corn stalks, hay bales, pumpkins, and ornamental or soft-skinned gourds. They come in a variety of interesting shapes, colors and textures and can be used for interior and exterior holiday décor.
Gourds are grown in Half Moon Bay, and you can pick them up at a variety of farms this month. Choose your favorites, harvest the seeds and give gourd growing a try! You can grow them in containers, in hanging baskets, on a sturdy trellis or along a wall or fence.
Gourds need lots of fertilizer and moist, well-drained soil. Ornamental gourds mature in 90-100 days. Count backward from mid-October to determine when to plant. Sow your seeds in rows and remember gourds appreciate warm weather and a soil pH between 6.0 or 6.5. Watch for aphids, beetles and powdery mildew.
When the stems dry and turn brown, your gourds are ready for harvesting. Leave a few inches of stem on the gourds when you cut them from the vine. One of the most interesting things about your gourds can be the stems. I especially love long, twisting stems on my gourds and pumpkins.
Cured gourds can be used in many ways, but curing can take awhile as both the surface and interior need to be dried. During the drying process, the fruit — yes, gourds, pumpkins and squashes are fruit — needs to be placed in a well-ventilated, dry, dark environment. Inspect them on a daily basis for soft spots or signs of decay. A warm environment will accelerate internal drying.
Ornamental gourds can take as much as six months to cure. They should feel light to the touch and with all moisture removed, you should be able to shake them and hear the seeds rattling around. These gourds can be used to make ornaments, jewelry boxes, bowls and more.
Hardshell gourds will take longer to cure due to their size. These gourds are commonly used to make birdhouses and garden feeders; they can also be used to make musical instruments, purses, and works of fine art using tools such as a Dremel rotary tool. For more information on crafting and creating with gourds, subscribe to The Gourdzette newsletter.
Laurie Keit is the owner of Seasonal Celebrations, a garden, flower and event design company. See her website at www.seasonalcelebrations.com.