By Faye Mahaffey
It is officially Autumn and everywhere you look pumpkins, squash and gourds are for sale. Since I have limited garden space, and even more limited ambition to deal with trailing vines, I proudly “buy local” and let the experts do the growing for me!
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, Growing and Curing Gourds in the Home Garden (HYG-1630–96), available on ohioline.osu.edu, provides the first-time gourd enthusiast with important research-based information.
There are 3 types of gourds covered in this fact sheet: the cucurbita, or ornamental gourds; the lagenaria, which encompass the large, utilitarian gourds; and the luffa, or vegetable sponge.
The cucurbita include the colorful, variously-shaped gourds often used in fall arrangements. Plants of this group produce large orange or yellow blossoms that bloom in the daytime. The lagenaria group includes the Martin or Birdhouse, Bottle and Dipper gourds. These plants produce white blossoms that bloom at night. Lagenaria gourds are green on the vine, turning brown or tan, with thick, hard shells when dry. Luffas have an outer shell that is easily removed to expose a tough, fibrous interior that can be used as a sponge. Luffas produce prolific vines with yellow blossoms and require the longest growing season of all the gourds.
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.
Take care not to bruise the gourds during harvest, as this increases the likelihood of decay during the curing process. After harvesting, gourds should be cleaned with soap and water, dried, and rubbing alcohol applied to the surface.
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 and make certain that the fruits do not touch each other. Check gourds daily and discard fruit that show signs of decay or mold and any that develop soft spots.
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. Periodically turn the fruit to discourage 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.
Saving seeds from gourds could prove to be an interesting experience. Considerable cross-pollination occurs in the cucumber family. The gourd, squash and pumpkin seeds purchased from garden centers or through seed catalogs are from varieties grown in areas free from pollen of any other variety. Even so, a cross may sneak in now and then. Seeds saved from gourds grown in the garden will likely produce a cornucopia of fruit of different shapes, sizes and colors, none of which may resemble the fruit form which the seed was saved.
Frost warning for tonight! I am headed to the potting shed to pull out sheets to cover my pallet garden on the deck. I took a walk around the yard today and said, “Goodbye” to most of the plants. What usually comes inside for the winter at my house? The list is short: Rosemary and Lemon Grass. I am ready to use the green tomatoes in a new recipe, but we will certainly miss the ripe tomatoes at dinner time.
It’s not too late to register for the Master Gardener Training Classes that begin on Oct. 9! For more information about the classes, you can call the OSU Extension Office in Adams, Brown, Clermont or Highland Counties. The class will last 8 weeks and will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
(Faye Mahaffey is an OSUE Brown County Master Gardener volunteer.)