Fall is definitely my favorite season. I love to sprinkle areas outside my house with combinations of mums, pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks. It is also a good time to move some plants around the landscape. I seem to do this a lot, trying to find just the right place this time for that certain flower or bush. I have had some people ask me about preserving gourds. Here is some information that I hope will be useful.
There are three basic types of gourds, Luffa, which are used as sponges, Cucurbita, also known as Ornamental and are for decoration only and Lagenaria, which are handcrafted into birdhouses, dippers and containers.
Gourds should be harvested when fully mature. Look for a hardened shell and a withered vine. Harvesting before frost reduces the possibility of spoilage during storage. Bottle gourds can take a light frost or two before harvest without damage. The gourd will be ripe when the stem turns brown and dries. Use sharp shears or a knife to cut the stem. To avoid bruising the fruit, leave a few inches of the stem attached to it. Do not handle the gourd by the stem.
The surface of the gourd will be very tender, so handle it gently to avoid bruises and scratches. A cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol will sufficiently clean a slightly dirty gourd. However, if it is very dirty, wash it in warm, soapy water and rinse it in clean water to which a household disinfectant has been added. The disinfectant will remove any soil-borne bacteria.
The gourds should next be surface-dried. Spread them out so they do not touch on several layers of newspaper or on open shelves in a warm, dry place such as a garage, porch or shed. Do not allow dew to fall on them at night if placing outside. Turn the gourds every day and replace newspapers that have become moist. Allowing the air to circulate freely speeds up the surface drying time, which should take about 1 week. Throw away all fruits that begin to shrink or develop soft spots. This keeps mold and bacteria from spreading to the healthy gourds. If molds begin to appear on the surface of ornamental type gourds, wipe clean and continue with the drying process. The surface will be dry when the shell hardens and the color brightens.
Depending on the cultivar it can take up to 6 months for a gourd to fully dry. Wipe the gourds with a cloth soaked in household disinfectant. Spread them in shallow trays or on newspapers in a warm, dry, dark area. An attic, closet or under a bed would be good. The warmth encourages fast drying, the darkness prevents color fading and dryness discourages mold. Storing gourds in a damp basement, a closed, heated room or in tight, closed containers encourages the development of rot and mold.
Luffa gourds should be handled a bit differently from the other two. Harvest them when the gourd is lightweight and the seeds rattle inside. After it is dry, cut off the end with the stem and shake out the seeds. The skin should come off rather easily, but if it needs a little coaxing, soak it in warm water until the skin softens and comes off. The sponge will need to be soaked in a solution of one-part bleach to nine parts water. This will turn the color to a creamy white. Rinse it well and let it thoroughly dry before using.
Gourds may be displayed in their natural state and applying a protective coating will increase their usefulness a bit longer. Apply a paste wax to the gourd then buff it with a soft cloth to achieve a shiny appearance with some highlights or spray it with a clear shellac or varnish to give it a glossy finish.
As always, happy gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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