It never fails. The season changes and the weeks FLY by! We’re harvesting our gardens, adjusting to new schedules, and thinking….the holidays will be here soon. (Oh my!) I hope you’re able to take a break from your hectic schedule and enjoy autumn’s changing colors and bounty.
This week, I visited my neighboring apple orchard and brought home a basket of juicy Honeycrisp apples. Typically, I also select from a wide array of gorgeous pumpkins and gourds. But not this fall. This year I again tried something new and discovered how easy it is to grow pumpkins and gourds….even in my small space garden. Today, I want to share with you how a trellis, seeds and sun delivered a basket of beautiful hardshell gourds that I’ll use for fall decor and winter projects.
What Are Hardshell Gourds?
Gourds, gourds, gourds….I’ve had a fascination with gourds since I was little. Every fall we’d pick our pumpkins and there would be a stand of colorful, textured gourds, each one different from the other. At that time I didn’t know that gourds were a part of the Cucurbitaceae family whose cousins are pumpkins/squash, melons, zucchinis and cucumbers. Neither did I realize that there are ornamental gourds, the small, bright orange, red, green and yellow gourds that are often spotted and striped, AND hardshell gourds, the softer toned green and cream colored but FANTASTICALLY shaped gourds that take on new twists and turns as they grow. I also didn’t know that the eye-catching ornamental gourds typically fade and often mold, but those subtler hardshell gourds can be dried, painted and turned into whimsical garden decorations, birdhouses, and all types of containers.
Hardshell gourds, Lagenaria siceraria, are some of the oldest and hardest working plants around. Historians believe that dried hardshell gourds were used as containers long before woven baskets or clay pottery. It’s thought that their unique, rounded shapes and elongated necks inspired the forms of later-day baskets and pottery.
Early specimens of gourd plants have been found in Ayacucho, Peru (dated at 10,000 BC) and the Ocampo Caves in Mexico (dated at 10,000 – 7,000 BC). The fruits were most likely eaten while they were small and the roots, leaves, stems, and flowers were most likely used for medicine. Early cultures used every part of the gourd plant. It’s beauty and functionality were not wasted! Throughout the centuries inventive minds have turned gourds into musical instruments, tea holders, sculptures, and homes for pet crickets. American settlers were also wise to the ways of gourds. They believed bushel gourd containers kept their eggs fresher and free from pest infestations.
Most gourds grown now are considered hybrids as gourds easily cross-pollinate no matter where they’re grown. The American Gourd Society offers a hardshell name classification system to help growers best describe their hardshell gourds.
Simple Growing Methods
Growing hardshell gourds turned out to be far simpler than I thought. I started my plants from seed and began with organically rich, warm soil ( 70° F). Since I live in a cooler growing zone, I used homemade cloches (clear strawberry containers) to keep my seeds warm during germination. I didn’t find it necessary to make “hills” but it’s essential to keep the soil moist. They were slow to get going, but once they had a sturdy stem and several leaves, I added fish emulsion. The only other “babysitting” my plants needed was to make sure the vines were secured to the trellis and to prune the vines that went beyond my designated growing area. (See Vertical Gardening Tips ) Although we had a cooler summer, it was exceptionally sunny. My gourds were ready for harvest in 130 days.
The vines grew all summer and created a wonderful privacy screen from a nearby park. The delicate white blossoms were also a visual treat.
Harvest & Cure Your Hardshell Gourds
Wait until the vines are dying back to harvest your hardshell gourds. The gourd will feel firm at the base of the stem. Then using a sharp knife or pruner, simply snip the stem approximately 2-3 inches from the fruit. You’ll need that length of stem to allow the water inside the fruit to vaporize as the gourd “cures.” (Handle your gourd carefully because they can easily bruise at this stage.)
Curing is the final process and often takes several weeks. If possible, I’d recommend doing this outside. The gourds need plenty of air circulation to cure without rotting. Also, it’s natural for the fruit to incur some mold. Mold is different from rotting. Mold will show itself as discoloration of the surface and often have a raised texture. A gourd that is beginning to rot will have soft spots, sometimes even indentations where the fruit is going bad. Mold can be scraped off once fully cured and will provide a unique finish for your gourd. However, rotted gourds will sadly need to be tossed. Turn your gourd weekly during the curing stage to prevent areas from rotting.
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I hope you get a chance to grow some gourds of your own. I’ll be sure to update you on the projects that I’ll be making with mine.
Have a great week,