Anyone who knows me understands that I love hardshell gourds in all shapes and sizes. Even though I have a lot of them in my waiting-to-be-arted-upon collection, I keep right on growing them. Part of my adoration comes from the transformation they go through from garden to canvas.
Hardshell gourds need a somewhat lengthy growing season (at least 120 days) so they have plenty of time to build up a nice thick shell. Once the season is over, the gourds can be left out in the elements to weather or they can be brought indoors. I let mine dry over the winter in my attic where the white and black molds don’t bother anyone. Speaking of that mold… it’s part of the drying process—your gourds are not rotting! It’s perfectly normal, don’t throw them away.
As you can see in the photo above (bottom left), after being harvested last year and drying completely this gourd is a fuzzy mess. It has also lost most of its weight. Last Fall it took both hands and some hefting to carry this gourd indoors. It easily weighed over 30 pounds. Now, I can lift it with one finger and it weighs under 2 pounds. Notice how beautifully it cleaned up with just a bit of elbow grease.
My favorite days for cleaning gourds are beautifully sunny days with not more than a slight breeze. Water is your friend when cleaning gourds and wind can slow down the process by swift evaporation. I choose a comfortably shady spot to work with full sun nearby so the freshly cleaned gourds can easily dry.
The tools I use for cleaning dried, moldy hardshell gourds:
• 2 large buckets
• copper or stainless steel scrubbies (I go through at least one of these per session.)
• old towels
• scrub pad
• old knife
• plenty of disposable gloves (In one sitting, I only used one for my left hand but 4 for my right.)
• large rocks (or other weighty things)
• scrub brush (Optional—while you might find this useful, I tend to use the scrubbies the most.)
Fill your buckets two-thirds to three-quarters full with water and a little bleach (I use 1/4-1/2 a cup per large bucket). Put some gourds into the bucket and weight them down with rocks (see photo above, bottom left section). You’ll want to add water as necessary for proper submersion. Any parts above the waterline can be wrapped with soaking towels. If your gourds are too large for your container and you don’t have anything else that will suffice, you can soak the towels (don’t ring them out) and wrap the gourds. Let the gourds sit in the water (or soaked towels) for at least half an hour—longer is better.
Remove one gourd at a time to work on. As you take one out, you can start another soaking. I usually have at least 5 gourds going at once. I use one of the buckets for soaking and the other for dipping as I scrub as well as for adding water to the towels that are wrapped around the larger gourds. Scrubbing hard doesn’t damage the surface of the gourd but it does work well to remove the molds. (See top photo, bottom half. Both photos are of the same gourd on the same day—before and after cleaning.)
For the areas that I can’t easily access with the scrubbies, I use a scrub pad or one of my handy gourd knives. These knives were fashioned for me by a friend. He took some old kitchen knives and ground them so that I could greenscrape my gourds without damaging their surface. I use these to gently clean crevices that my other tools can’t reach.
Once the surface of the gourd is soundly scrubbed, I rinse it off with my garden hose (or other plain water source). I check for missed spots and scrub a little more as needed. Otherwise, set your gourd in the sunshine to dry. Be sure to turn it every so often to ensure complete drying.
The top part of the first photo shows the result of six hours of scrubbing from a recent gourd cleaning day. The lighter spots on a couple of the large gourds are blemishes that I’ll have to design around. Every one of these gourds were covered in yucky stuff (aka mold), as you can see evidenced in the photo below. But, there are beautiful golden brown canvases under all that black, white, and gray fuzz. Go forth and make your world a more gourgeous place by growing, curing, and cleaning gourds.
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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