January 7, 2013
OSU Extension Master Gardener
We are getting close to the time of year when farm stands start displaying beautiful pumpkins and gourds. I love to search for my favorite shapes and colors and display them inside my home and out on the porch. They are a classic symbol of the bounty of the fall season.
It seems to me that the reason they are a symbol of bounty is because we don’t really use them for anything except decoration. Pumpkin pies and desserts are popular for a few weeks, but are no longer a diet staple. So using valuable farmland and garden space to grow pumpkins and gourds must mean we are a wealthy society. Well, maybe.
The fact is that gourds have been described as one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind, and there is archeological evidence that they were one of the first cultivated plants in every ancient culture in the temperate and tropical zones. The earliest evidence of gourds associated with a human settlement dates from 6,000 BC.
Gourds maintained their importance to man as containers for everything from water to babies even after basket weaving and pottery became common. Growing and drying gourds was still easy and the wide range of shapes and sizes lent them many different practical uses.
Even today, you can travel around the world and see gourds still being used. In Chile and Argentina, the ceremony of drinking mate tea always includes a beautiful cup made only from a gourd. In many other countries, including our own Appalachian region, you will find musical instruments still being made from gourds. And then there are the artists who use gourds as their medium. If you are lucky enough to run across a gourd booth at a crafts fair you may be amazed at the high level of artistry some people use to transform them.
Growing gourds is as easy as growing any other kind of squash, and you may be surprised at how little room some of the varieties need. However, you should plan to plant them a little ways away from your vegetable patch. The bitter taste of most gourds may lend bitterness to your cucumbers and squash if they get cross-pollinated.
To speed up germination, some of the seed packets will tell you to knick the seed coat and soak the seeds overnight before planting them. This is an easy step and well worth doing. Use a small kitchen knife to slice into the side of the seed just enough to cut the fibrous outer coat. The germinating seed kernel will be able to break out sooner if it’s given a little help.
Unlike pumpkins, which have thick fleshy walls, you can grow some gourds on space-saving trellises or even in pots. In fact, if you are planning on drying and crafting your gourds there are some that need to hang from a trellis in order to grow into their distinctive shapes. Birdhouse gourds and snake gourds are two examples.
Here is a planting guide for the most popular gourd varieties. The larger gourds will need about as much space on the ground as pumpkin vines.
Container: Baby Bottle, Mini Bottle, Nest Egg, Ornamentals, Tennessee Spinner
Trellis: Banana, Birdhouse, Crown of Thorns, Dipper, Luffa (sponge), Martin House, Snake
Ground Apple, Bushel, Cannonball, Dragon (maranka), Giant Bottle, Swan, Turk’s Turban, Turtle (maranka)
For more information visit the Ohioline at ohioline.osu.edu, fact sheet #HYG-1630-96, Growing and Curing Gourds in the Home Garden.
If you are looking for some inspiration or just something fun to do in September, check out the 2011 Ohio Gourd Show at the Darke County Fairgrounds in Greenville Ohio. This year’s theme is “A Symphony of Gourds” and features musical groups such as the Oxford Gourd and Drum Ensemble from Oxford, Ohio. The instruments will, of course, be made from gourds! Go to americangourdsociety.org/ohiochapter for more details.