How to Grow Gourds as a Cash Crop

Learn how to grow gourds as a cash crop to make gardening more fun while putting some extra money in your pocket.

| March/April 1978

You might not have thought so, but gourds are actually an ideal cash crop for the small-scale gardener/farmer: You not only got the pleasure of watching the colorful "fruits" grow, but — if you're at all artistically inclined — you can also paint the mature gourds and sell them for as much as $15 each. (When you consider that a single vine can produce 30 fruits in a season, you can see that you've got a potential moneymaker on your hands.)

There are two main varieties of gourds: Cucurbita and Lagenaria. The first kind — the cucurbits — are the small striped or warted ones that you see strung up with Indian corn in the fall. These fruits, which are closely related to squash and pumpkins, have thin shells and bright colors that quickly fade. You can sell them at the local farmers' market in the autumn and make enough profit to pay for your Thanksgiving dinner, but the selling season for the cucurbits is short and the price per gourd is low.

We make our $15 objets d'art from the other variety of gourd, Lagenaria. Those hard-shelled beauties have traditionally been used to make canteens, storage vessels, and water dippers ... you've undoubtedly seen them many times. The fruits grow on long vines that have large, saucer-shaped leaves and fragrant white flowers which open in the evening.

You can purchase seeds of the more common Lagenarias (such as Birdhouse or Dumbbell) through any seed catalog. (A packet of 50 seeds is enough to grow over 1,000 gourds.)

For best results, the soil where you intend to plant the seeds should be rich and well-drained. (Dig a wheelbarrow-load of compost into the ground where each vine is to grow, and you'll be sure to have a bountiful crop.) Also, the plants do their best when they're grown on trellises in full sunlight. (The vines will produce a crop if they're shaded part of the day, but they'll give you a lot more fruit if they're allowed to pack in those rays from sunrise to sunset.) Make the trellis large — about 10 or 12 feet of trellis per plant is adequate, although the vines can grow 30 or 40 feet — and above all, make the support strong ... unripe gourds are heavy! (If you've got a fence or a dead tree on your property, you won't have to make a trellis at all: Lagenaria vines will climb any object that they can wrap their tendrils around.)

Plant the seeds an inch deep after all danger of frost is past. I sow about four seeds in a hill and space my hills at least eight feet apart, then thin the seedlings to one strong plant per hill a week or two after the tiny green shoots have poked up through the ground. (A single healthy vine will produce more gourds over its life span than several small ones growing in the same area.)

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