Success With Gourds

Gourd field in June

The gourd field about a month after setting out 6-week-old plants. Weeds are controlled by disking at this point. Note: straw bales to be used as mulch around plants.

Gourd field in mid-June

These plants have just been cultivated for the last time. Their vines had to be moved by hand to allow the tractor and disk to pass. A pre-emergant will be spread for weed controll until the vines cover the empty spaces.

Gourd field in early July.

Gourd field in early July. This photo was taken very early in the morning, before the flowers closed.

Gourd arbor in late summer

Gourd arbor in late summer with helper cat. This simple arbor was made with fence posts and cattle panels.

Gourd field after harvest

Our field after harvest. Copper Canyon canteens in the foreground.

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!!!

When

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.

Where

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. 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.

Bugs

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.

Weeds

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!