Growing and Curing Gourds in the Home Garden
Gourds have been cultivated for thousands of years by many cultures worldwide, including Native Americans, for their usefulness as utensils, storage containers, and as ornaments. Gourds are related to melons, squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers, all members of the Cucurbitaceae or Cucumber family.
Gourds are classified as a warm-season crop with a growing season from 100 to 180 days. Outdoor planting should occur when danger of frost has passed, and soil and air temperatures have warmed. Gourd seeds may rot before germinating if planted in cold, wet soils. Since gourds demand a long growing season, they can be started indoors 4 weeks prior to planting outdoors. Gourd seeds should be planted in individual containers, such as peat pots, since the roots will not tolerate disturbance during transplanting. Select a sunny, well-drained site. Prepare soils thoroughly by adding organic matter, such as compost, composted manure or peat moss. Plant seeds or transplant singly 2 feet apart in the row, with rows 5 feet apart; or in hills (thinned to 2 plants), 4 to 5 feet apart with rows 7 feet apart. Gourds are vigorous growers and will readily adapt to a trellis, fence or arbor for support. For luffa plants, a very sturdy support is essential to keep all developing fruit off the ground. Fruit will form areas of discoloration if allowed to come in contact with the ground. A side-dressing of fertilizer may be added when the vines begin to "run". About 3 lbs. of 10-10-10- or 10-6-4 fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. of garden area will help maintain optimum growth. Provide consistent watering especially during hot, dry conditons.
Weeds may be controlled with mulches or by hand cultivation. Mulches have the advantage of conserving soil moisture and keeping fruit clean. Hand cultivation should be done with care since gourds have shallow roots and injury can result with deep cultivation.
Gardeners become concerned when gourd plants blossom, but do not set fruit. Gourds produce seperate male and female flowers. Male flowers serve as the pollinator and female flowers bear fruit. The female flower can be distinguished by the presence of the immature fruit at its base. Several male flowers are produced before any female flowers, and it is these male flowers that drop without setting fruit. In time, both male and female flowers are produced and the first fruit is set.
Insects and Diseases
There are several serious pests of gourds. Insect pests include the squash bug, squash vine borer, cucumber beetle and aphids. diseases include bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, angular leaf spot and mosaic viruses. Your local seed outlet can supply you with insecticides or fungicides.
Harvesting and Curing
Gourds are ready for harvest when the stems dry and turn brown. It is best to harvest gourds before frost. Mature gourds that have a hardened shell will survive a light frost, but less developed gourds will be damaged. The lagenaria (genus) will tolerate a light frost; but gourd color may be slightly affected. Gourds should be cut from the vine with a few inches of the stem attached. Take care not to bruise the gourds during harvest, as this increases the likelihood of decay during the curing process. Discard any fruit that is rotten, bruised or immature. Curing cucurbita gourds is a two-step process which may take 1 to 6 months depending on the type and size of the gourd. Surface drying is the first step in the curing process, and takes approximately one week. During this time, the skin hardens and the exterior color of the gourd is set. Place clean, dry fruit in a dark, well-ventilated area. Arrange gourds in a single layer, preferably on wooden slats that allow air to circulate beneath. Internal drying is the second step in curing and takes a minimum of four weeks. Keep the gourds in shallow containers in a dark, warm, well- ventilated area. If any mold appears on the outside skin, gourds can be wiped clean and allowed to continue drying. However, any gourds that become decayed, shriveled or misshapen should be discarded. Periodically turn the fruit to discouage shriveling and promote even curing. Providing warmth during the internal curing process will accelerate drying and discourage decay. Adequate curing is achieved when the gourd becomes light in weight and the seeds can be heard rattling inside. Cured gourds can be painted, waxed, or decorated. For information about drying gourds, click here.
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