For thousands of years, people have turned ornamental gourds into tools and utensils. Today, many people use gourds to make various seasonal crafts. Soft-skinned gourds from the genus Cucurbita are typically orange, gold, and green and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They're often used in fall cornucopias, as well as carved into luminaries, flower pots, dishes, and more. Meanwhile, the larger hard-skinned gourds from the Lagenaria genus work well for birdhouses, bottles, and ladles. There is no shortcut to drying gourds for crafts. While the outside of a gourd dries rather quickly, it typically takes several months for the inside to cure.
Growing Ornamental Gourds
Ornamental gourds can be grown in most climates. However, gardeners in cold zones might have to enlist the help of a greenhouse or row covers to protect the plants from fall frosts.
Start ornamental gourds indoors from seed or outdoors as small plants in the early spring after the last frost. Provide well-draining soil that receives full daytime sun. Make sure to give each plant plenty of space, as most gourd varieties grow unruly. (Some vines can reach 15 feet long.) This can make them unsuitable neighbors to other garden plants.
Most gourd varieties produce fruit in approximately 180 days. But you must wait until the vegetable has ripened on the vine before harvesting. A ripe gourd that is colorful and has a hard-to-pierce exterior will yield the best results for drying.
When to Harvest and Dry Ornamental Gourds
Gourds are ready for harvest when the stems dry out and turn brown on the vine. Cut the gourds from the stem prior to freezing temperatures, as the cold can ruin their skin. Even a light frost can alter the color of hard-skinned gourds and affect their ability to dry. Discard any gourds that are bruised or spoiled. They will decay in storage, and the rot might spread to neighboring gourds.
Equipment / Tools
- Gardening gloves
- Garden shears
- Dish soap
- Rubbing alcohol
- Screened shelving or twine
- Ornamental gourds of your choosing
Harvest the Gourds
If you're harvesting the gourds (rather than purchasing), cut them from the vine, leaving a few inches of stem intact. Make sure to cut instead of pull, as you might damage the stem. This can allow a fungus to move in and decay the vegetable.
Wash and Sanitize
Wash your gourds in soapy water, and allow them to air dry. Then, wipe the gourds with rubbing alcohol to further ensure that the surface is clean.
Let the Outside Dry
Place the gourds in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight for about one week. The skin will begin to harden and change color. After a week, the outside of the gourd should be dry.
Cure the Gourds
Move the gourds to a dry, dark area where they can remain for at least six months. Store them on a screen or vented surface in a single layer, and make sure no gourds are touching. Alternatively, hang each one with twine, allowing for ample airflow under and around the gourd.
Rotate Every Couple of Weeks
Unless you hang them, you'll have to turn your gourds every couple of weeks. This will allow them to dry evenly, and it should prevent rotting.
Check on the Gourds
Check your gourds every few days. Discard any that begin to decay, shrivel, or become soft. A gourd is ready for use when it feels light, it becomes hard to the touch, and you can hear seeds rattling inside when you shake it. Then, you can carve, paint, wax, shellac, or decorate it any way you wish.
- If mold appears in the curing process, wipe it off with a dry cloth or a cloth dipped in bleach. If the gourd is still hard, it should be fine.
- Some people recommend cutting a hole in hard-skinned gourds to drain the insides and facilitate the curing process. However, this is highly inadvisable, as piercing the protective outer layer invites disease and rot.
- Once cured, a hard-skinned gourd may be peeled, smoothed, and polished with steel wool or fine sandpaper to make a birdhouse or other craft that will last for a long time.