One plant that I always make room for in my garden is the gourd vine. Like moonflowers and morning glories this rapidly growing, sprawling vine is perfect for summer interest. Grown on fences or trellises gourds produce large leaves, yellow or white flowers and, of course, funky shaped fruits.
This year I planted bird house gourds (Lagenaria sicerana). These are the type that look like they have been squeezed in the middle creating bulbous ends. I sowed the seeds in early summer beside two pyramid trellises, which the vines quickly covered.
Now that summer is over it will soon be time to harvest the fruits and set them out to dry.
The best way to tell if a gourd is ready to harvest is by look and feel. The vine will begin to die back and the skin of the gourd will be hard and pale. An immature gourd feels fleshy and is bright green.
I’ve read conflicting advice about harvesting gourds before or after the first frost. Some people contend that fruits should be gathered before a frost while others maintain that you can leave them on the vine to dry, even after a hard freeze. Experience has taught me that when you harvest them depends on if the gourds are fully ripened. Frosts will damage immature fruits, but these won’t dry successfully anyway. Because I was influenced by parents who grew up during the Depression and didn’t throw anything away, I can’t bear to waste any gourds so I collect the immature fruits and use them as temporary decorations. I leave the mature gourds on the vine until I do my fall clean up, which is usually after the first killing frost.
The only other drawback to leaving gourds out after a frost is that the cold temperatures will damage the seeds. So if you are hoping to save seeds for sowing next year, bring in all your gourds before the first frost.
When you are ready to harvest, it’s important to cut gourds from the vine rather than pulling or twisting them away. Use sharp pruners so you can make a nice, clean cut. And leave about 2 inches of stem intact. This little bit of stem is important because it facilitates the evaporation of water. Gourds are about 90 percent water. When they dry moisture escaped through both the porous skin and the stem.
This next step isn’t mandatory, but it does help. Gently clean the gourds to remove dirt and wipe them down with a diluted bleach solution – 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon of water. This process removes bacteria and helps to prevent rotting.
Gourds should be dried in an area that has good air circulation. This is very important. In fact, they can be left outside to dry. Just remember that the cold will damage the seeds. I dry mine in the garage. Place them on a card board mat, with enough space between them so that they are not touching.
Now, here’s the hard part. You need to leave them alone. Aside from rotating them occasionally and removing the ones that are rotting, let them dry for a month or more. Large, heavy gourds may take as long as 6 months to completely dry.
You may find that a crust or mold appears on the gourds as they dry. This is normal and not a sign that they have gone bad. After they have completely dried wash them in warm soapy water with a steel wool pad. This will remove the residue, although the mold will leave behind interesting patterns. Be careful when handling the gourds if you are allergic to mold.
Once the gourds are clean, wipe them with a cloth and let them dry thoroughly. You can lightly sand the shell with a fine sandpaper to prepare it for painting, varnishing or waxing. Just be aware that sanding might leave faint scratches behind.
I like to bring out the natural tones of large gourds. What works for me and gives them a nice shine is just an ordinary paste wax.