From the Garden: Decorative Gourds

Oct 8, 2020

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Dried gourds are fun to use for fall decorating and crafts. Their hard, woody shells make them ideal for a variety of projects that range from simple to quite complex. The techniques used for decorating gourds include painting, woodburning, carving, piercing, and adding woven material.

Some ideas for decorative items that can be made with gourds are vases, bowls and baskets, whimsical painted

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animals inspired by the shape of the gourd, Christmas ornaments made from small gourds, pierced gourd lanterns with LED lights, and even musical instruments. The possibilities are endless!

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You can grow your own gourds. They are not difficult to dry, but drying usually takes at least six months from harvest, so it's a long-term project. With a freshly harvested gourd, start the curing process by cleaning the surface with soapy water and allowing it to dry. Clean it again with rubbing alcohol and store in it a dry, dark place, either hanging or laying on a dry surface and turning it periodically. It is normal for the skin to have a mottled appearance, but if mold appears it should be wiped off with a dry cloth or a 10 percent bleach solution. Gourds are cured when they feel light and the seeds rattle around inside. 

If you would rather purchase them, dried gourds are widely available online and from growers. You can also purchase kits that includes the dried gourd and decorating supplies.

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An easy project is a birdhouse using a dried bottle gourd; detailed step-by-step directions can be found online or in books about the craft. Starting with a fully dried gourd, wash and scrub it, then
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sanitize it with a 10 percent bleach solution. Drill a hole for the birds to enter, three small holes in the bottom for drainage, and two small holes at the top for hanging. After removing the dried seeds and pulp, the gourd can be painted with exterior latex paint, spray paint, or acrylic paint (remembering that light colors will keep it cooler inside). This is the step that allows for creative expression! Finally, it should be finished with a protective sealer.

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Growing your own gourds isn't hard and their interesting shapes, colors and textures can make it fun for children to be involved with gardening. Gourds, pumpkins, and squash are all part of the cucurbitaceous family, so the article about growing pumpkins in this issue will help in learning the basic growing requirements. One advantage to growing your own gourds from seeds is that you will have a wider choice of shapes and sizes, such as these examples.

Gourds are best grown on a trellis or other type of support like this tunnel that keeps them off the ground, thus avoiding flattened areas and decreasing the chance of rot. They need about 110-120 days to reach maturity and should be harvested when the vines become dry but before the first hard frost. Water can be gradually decreased in August and turned off by the end of September to facilitate this. Leave several inches of the stem attached to the gourd.

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Given their useful qualities, it's easy to see why gourds have been grown and fashioned into utensils and containers in the Americas for at least 9,000 years. It's enjoyable and satisfying to continue that tradition by creating functional and beautiful items from the garden.

The non-profit American Gourd Society and the California Gourd Society websites are sources of inspiration, information, and useful links.

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