Growing Gourds into Artful Canvases

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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A lush circle of gourd vines. Photo by Blythe Pelham

I love growing gourds. Early this spring, I harvested an above-ground swimming pool ladder from the neighbor’s trash (with their blessing, of course). To me, it was the perfect structure for my gourds to climb. I placed the ladder smack dab in the middle of one of my grass garden beds and then planted my seedlings.

As the season progressed, I trained vines up and over the ladder while others worked their way around the rest of the bed. When vines tried to wander into the surrounding walkways, I gently urged them back in. (See photo showing how this area looked near the end of the season.)

Gourds can cross-pollinate. I don’t mind if they do. I tend not to share gourd seeds with others, so letting nature take her own course always supplies me with surprises. Those of you who want to keep varieties more pure should stick with one type per season or plant them far enough apart that cross-pollination is less likely.

My abundant 2015 gourd harvest. Photo by Stephen Bush

Gourds, Glorious Gourds

I adore the Christmas morning feel of harvest time with gourds. There can be so much hidden under all those leaves. It’s tough to be patient, but (for me) the excitement of discovery when collection time comes makes the wait well worth it. My haul this year was abundant (see photo)!  Almost all of those gourds were grown in the small patch.

The only fruits not grown in the lush-looking circle were the monster winter squash (originally crookneck squash that likely cross-pollinated last year) and the long, skinny gourds (probably luffas)—both received in trades with friends. The rest were all intermingled and obviously happily thriving in my ladder patch. I ended up with two like the bushel gourd on my lap. One weighed in (wet) at 50 pounds, the other just shy of that. Thankfully, they’ll be a lot lighter once cured.

Pictured in the baskets are smaller Chinese bottle gourds (beside me, to the rear) and some rather large nest egg gourds (beside me, toward the camera). Traditionally, nest egg gourds were meant to fool chickens once their eggs were collected so they would continue to use the same nest. Most of my nest eggs would be more suited to geese due to their rather healthy size.

In the process of green scraping. Photo by Blythe Pelham

What to Do With All These Gourds

I’ve begun green scraping a few of this year’s smaller gourds (see photo). In this process the outer layer of protective skin is scraped off to speed up drying. It can be a dicey procedure because less mature gourds, with thinner walls, don’t withstand the stress. Wall-failure renders them somewhat useless as they wither or develop holes. These same gourds might make it through more normal drying processes, though they would be more fragile than their more mature relatives. I like to green scrape my smaller gourds because I have more control of the mold that can affect coloration. I keep an eye on them and rewash with bleach-water as needed.

If you grow gourds and they become all moldy, don’t freak out and throw them away. This is completely normal to the curing process. Just let them dry completely, soak in water with a little bleach added, and scrub. This is the path I follow with my larger gourds since I don’t want to tax them with the green scraping. I’m also a bit of a scaredy-cat, not wanting to lose them to cracking by speeding the process too much.

I have a large collection of gourds from past seasons just waiting for my inspiration to take over. As an artist, I see each one as a unique blank canvas beckoning for my attention. Only two things usually delay me: I actually love looking at piles of cleaned gourds, and I dislike cutting into a gourd without a specific end-project in mind.

A coloring gourd. Photo by Blythe Pelham

I look forward to making some of this year’s kettle gourds (those in the left foreground) into drums and bowls. The larger bushels (flattened, pumpkin-shaped) are apt to end up as altar pieces. The smaller bushels will probably become rattles or bowls. Some of my Chinese bottle gourds from last year have become Coloring Gournaments. You can see them in my store along with other gourds and arting.

If you haven’t grown gourds and have the space (remember, they can go vertical — my luffas actually climbed a nearby tree), I urge you to try them. There are several varieties of shapes and sizes available. Just imagine what fun you could have when you’re gourdening — before, during and after the harvest!

Photos by Stephen Bushand Blythe Pelham

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 Blythe online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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