Gourds have been grown for several thousand years and are used for multiple purposes such as bowls, instruments, birdhouses, and everything in between. Aside from all the exciting ideas of things to create, gourds are just freaking cool! Creating art from something I grew is appealing to me. This is how I began to turn an idea into a reality.
My journey began with research, that's how I spent much of my free time last winter. The more I learned the more fascinated I became. I wanted to know it all; where they grow, what kinds to grow, at what temperature, how to fertilize, how often to water and how much, what diseases and pests to look out for, how to dry and clean them, you name it. I left no stone unturned in my quest for gourd knowledge. Even with all my preparations, it would be my first year and there will be mistakes. My goal was simply to be prepared and minimize surprises as much as possible.
Location Location Location
"They take up a lot of space"
Location was probably the easiest part of the whole process. There is an area in my yard that has been a major headache for me. It's a spot that I have a difficult time mowing and the weeds have been trying desperately to reclaim it for the past couple of seasons. It's sort of a triangular area positioned on a slope with a thorny mess on the lower end. However, it is a space with well-draining soil in full sun. Which is just the sort of thing gourds like a lot.
It is always good to re-furbish what you can to cut back on costs. I had a couple of old clothesline poles laying around that I was wondering what to do with. So, I took those, a vinyl post wrap, a few t-posts, 5 lattice sections my cousin gave me, some PVC piping, and some netting (for climbing vines) and got to work.
First, I laid some cardboard to keep the weeds down. With some help from my brother, aunt, cousin, and her son I got a structure in place to accommodate the vines. It's shaped like a rectangle that's open on one end and netting across the top and sides. It also has a couple of 'escape holes' for Buster (my cat) should he find himself inside and need to make a getaway. Speaking of Buster, I felt for sure he was going to cite me for not having a permit. He's known for unannounced inspections.
It seems like it all came together just in time because before I knew it, planting season had arrived. Most of the seeds require soaking the night before and I have a difficult time with seed identification. Some I can tell apart but when they are the same variety, I'm lost. Call me a geek but I have developed a way to keep track of my seeds while soaking them until the time I plant them.
I saved a couple of the plastic inserts from Whitman's Sampler Chocolates. Using a sharpie marker, I numbered each 'hole' and numbered a sheet of paper also. As I placed the seeds in the holes, I noted the name of the seed on the paper at the corresponding number. Then I added water to each of the holes and replenished as needed. Once that was complete, I labeled some popsicle sticks with each of the seed names to stick in the ground.
I was so excited for my aunt to come and plant with me. There is something therapeutic about planting together. More than just 'the doing of the thing', if that makes sense. It's the time together, working together to accomplish something. It's the time-honored tradition of getting back to the basics. There is the familiar feeling of doing something natural, something organic. It's something we humans are born to do, tend to the earth.
It's also mysterious because you can't immediately see the fruits of your labor. You have to throw some manure and water on it, say a prayer, and hope for the best. Maybe in a couple of weeks, something great will happen and that's when it really gets exciting. At least it is for me.
Something is Happening Here
It was fascinating watching the vines start to grow and quickly take over my gourd structure.
Variety is the Spice of Life
While there are several hundred different kinds of gourds, my focus was on some common hard-shelled varieties. I planted bushels, birdhouses, dippers, long-handled dippers, and luffa. From what I understand, gourds have both male and female flowers that appear. Then it is up to our pollinators who move from flower to flower. Once they do their work, a gourd will appear.
That's when it really gets exciting! The vines and gourds grow quickly and boy are they thirsty. They are so fun to watch grow; wondering how big they'll get, what shape they'll take, and what color they will be.
Before long, my vines were heavy with gourds! I had no idea how heavy. Next year will definitely need something stronger across the top.
Check out the slideshow!
"Hindsight is 20/20"
The only pest I encountered was aphids. I went out one morning and found some on a couple of my dipper gourds. There are a couple of ways I learned to deal with this. I am hesitant to use insecticides because they not only kill the pests but the pollinators as well. So, I opted to use a natural deterrent like peppermint. I used some in a spray bottle but I should have diluted it first because it was too harsh on the gourds. Hopefully, it didn't create permanent damage, I'll know after they dry out.
The best method I found was to knock them off the gourds into a bowl of soapy water. That's easy enough and kills them instantly. Aphids also have natural predators like stink bugs, grasshoppers, and ladybugs. All of which I have plenty of. If anything, at least I know stink bugs have a purpose besides chicken feed.
Let the Nastiness Begin
Be prepared because they get very moldy and gross looking. I happen to be highly allergic to mold so, I use gloves and a mask when handling them and cut them leaving a couple of inches of stem intact. Currently, I have picked some, have some still growing on the vine, and some that didn't make it at all.
Gourds lose all their water during the drying process and because of mold, will need to be placed far from the house. I found an area out of the elements for the ones I picked and placed them on a pallet to dry. They need open-air circulation and to be turned every week or so. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to months for them to fully dry depending on the size.
The next step will be cleaning them once they are fully dried out. I will know it is time when I shake them and hear the seeds shake inside. After they are cleaned, I will be able to handle them safely.
I can't wait until the hard part is done and I can focus on turning them into something unique and beautiful. That'll be fun and I have so many ideas in mind. I can't wait to get started and as I mentioned, the idea of using something I grew myself and turning it into creative artwork is thrilling. It's something I haven't tried before.
Thank you for reading and have a blessed day.