Gourds are in the same botanical family as cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. They require similar growing conditions–good soil, full sun–and are bothered by the same pests. Also, they require warm weather. Do not plant them too early!!!
Start seeds indoors three to four weeks before your frost-free date. We start ours about April 15th in 4”-6” pots to set out around May 15th. Large seeds (bushels, basketballs, African wine kettles) should have the corners clipped. Soak all larger seeds overnight for better germination. If you don’t want to start seeds indoors, you may plant them directly in the garden when you would plant cucumbers or melons. Field or garden seeded gourds require WARM (60 degree minimum) soil temperature to germinate. Also, some types are much harder to germinate than others.
A sunny spot in good garden soil. Mix compost in the planting hole if you can. Water weekly if it doesn’t rain until the plants are growing nicely. After that, water only if the leaves look wilted in the morning. Avoid getting water on the leaves. Most gourds take a lot of room. Plant them about 8 feet apart. The smaller varieties may be grown on a fence or in large tomato cages. If you want straight handles on your gourds, you must grow them on a trellis. Otherwise they will be twisted and curved.
Cucumber beetles are the main problem for us. Dust or spray plants with Sevin or Thiodan when you set them out, and thereafter whenever you see beetles. For a discussion of other problems and remedies, see Ginger Summit’s excellent book, Gourds in Your Garden.
Hoe, pull, till– whatever works for you. A straw mulch is helpful around the plant, but keep the mulch a few inches away from the stem. You don’t want to encourage rot!
When to harvest
When the vine dies, or after the first hard frost. A common mistake is to pick a gourd before it has matured. Store the gourds in a shed or out in the open, up off the ground. By spring they will be very light with a coat of mold. If the gourd caves in, it was immature. If you waited until late fall to harvest it, that means the gourd set too late to mature, not that you did something wrong. A gourd in spring can look really nasty. The blacker the gourd, the easier it will be to clean!
How to clean
Soak the gourd in water about 1/2 hour. Scrub with a copper or stainless steel kitchen scrubber, and the skin will come off. Your gourd is now ready to become a birdhouse, container, or other useful or imaginative object!
If you don’t plant all he seeds you ordered, save the remainder in a cool dry place. You cn save them in a zip lock bag in your refrigerator or freezer, for example. Gourd seeds keep well for several years if properly stored.
Can I use the seeds from old gourds? Yes, if… If the gourd didn’t freeze before the seeds dried, yes. If you grew only one variety, the next crop should come true to type. If you grew several kinds, though, they probably crossed with each other. The results may be interesting, but they may not look like the gourd you took the seeds from!