Jeff Green | Aug 20, 2009
Back to HomeMaster Gardeners - August 20, 2009 Gourdsby Helen Halpenny, Lanark County Master Gardeners What member of the plant kingdom produces fruit that can be a drinking vessel, make music, float fish nets, house crickets, become eating utensils and can be made into jewelry? It’s the gourd, of the Cucurbitacea, the large family that includes the salad cucumber, melon, winter squash, and pumpkin. The plant most of us think of when we say gourd is Lagenaria siceraria or bottle gourd, which originated in tropical Africa and India. Its widespread cultivation tells us how useful this plant was. Seeds of this plant were probably carried by the first human inhabitants to cross the Bering Sea into North America. In parts of Asia the bottle gourd was a prized drinking vessel. In Japan, sake was stored in beautifully carved lacquered gourds. Bottle gourd flesh was incorporated into Japanese cooking. In China, small gourds were traditionally carved into cricket cages. And in Africa, a wide variety of musical instruments were fashioned from dried gourds, including drums and shakers. The Ute natives of Arizona used gourds for storing water and for crafting eating utensils such as bowls, spoons and ladles. Today crafters turn gourds into bowls, vases, birdhouses, and various other decorative items.
Gourds require a long, hot growing season. In Canada, it is best to start the seeds indoors in peat pots and transplant out after all danger of frost. The peat pots minimize root disturbance. The largest gourds I ever grew were on the compost pile where they quickly smothered all weeds and made a lush blanket of greenery. Some like to grow gourds on a trellis because they can take up more garden space than you could ever imagine. The plants need full sun and rich soil. The white male and female flowers appear in late July and are pollinated by the sphinx moth, which is more familiar to us in its juvenile stage - the tomato hornworm. Gardeners can also use a small soft paint brush to transfer the pollen of the male flower to the female flower. Female flowers have a small bump at the back to the flower which, after fertilization, grows into the fruit.
The fruits will not continue to ripen after the vines have been killed by frost. Once harvested, the drying process can take many months, depending on conditions. Gourd fruits lose their greenish cast as they dry down and turn beige or tan. A well-ventilated garage or basement can be ideal. Drier air is better than moist. Don’t be too concerned if your gourds have areas of what appears to be low-growing mold. This will wash off later, You’ll know when they are dry from the hollow sound they make when tapped and also by the rattling of their seeds.
For more gardening information, phone Ankaret Dean at 613-278-1203.