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The term “gourd” is most correctly applied to several species of hard-shelled members of the cucurbits; this is the same family that melons, cucumber, squash and pumpkins belong to. Today gourds can and are still used for birdhouses, dippers, lanterns, storage bends and every imaginable decoration.
Most gourds are ready to harvest when the rinds are firm and the stem begins to turn brown and dry. Gourds should be harvested when they are fully mature but before frost.
However, most growers leave them in the field attached to the vine during the fall and winter and then harvest them in the spring.
If you pick your gourds, they should be allowed to “cure” or air-dry prior to processing.
First, wash them with warm soapy water and then place them on layers of newspaper to dry for about a week. During this time, the outer skin hardens and the surface color sets.
Replace the newspaper and allow them to dry for an additional three to four weeks in a warm, dry, dark area, such as a closet, heated basement, or garage. I have even heard of people putting them under their beds.
Decorative gourds can be displayed in their natural state for three to four months. Applying a coat of spray varnish or shellac can extend that life for several weeks. Many people (me included) like the way this coating brings out the natural color in the gourds.
One other note about leaving gourds in the garden or field for the winter to dry, remember they won’t keep their color, and some may rot. This method is best for birdhouse gourds because the rustic coloring blends in well in the garden and is more natural for the birds.
If you have any question about gourds, give me a call at (859) 336-7741.