They can be colorful, big, small, warty or smooth. They are the sign that fall has arrived; they are gourds! Gourds are related to melons, squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers, which are all members of the Cucumber family.
Gourds have been grown for thousands of years. They have been used as utensils, for storage, as instruments and as ornaments. Native Americans used gourds for food, as canteens and for ceremonial rattles, once dried. They even used the seeds for medicinal purposes.
There are many types of gourds but the three most common gourds are the cucurbita, or ornamental gourds; the lagenaria or hard shelled gourds and the luffa, or vegetable sponge gourd.
The cucurbita include the colorful, ornamental gourds that are different shapes and textures and often used in fall arrangements. The lagenaria group includes birdhouse and bottle gourds. Lagenaria gourds are green on the vine and turn a dark tan as they dry. Luffas have an outer shell that can be removed to expose a fibrous interior. This hardened sponge -like material is often used for bathing.
Gourds are a warm-season crop taking from 100 to 180 days to mature. Planting should occur when the danger of frost has passed. Harvesting can take place after the vines have turned brown. Be sure to leave a bit of the stem attached to the gourd.
To cure gourds you will need a dark, dry place that has good air circulation. Drying gourds is similar to drying herbs. The gourds can be laid out in a dry, ventilated area and should be check to make sure that mold doesn’t form. The exterior drying can take up to one week; to fully cure a gourd it can take upwards of four weeks or more.
So considering what type of gourd you want and what you will be using it for should be part of your initial selection. The ornamental gourds are beautiful as is and can be incorporated into fall craft projects or arrangements. Another popular use for gourds is for birdhouses. Building and decorating a gourd birdhouse can be a fun, family project. It can take on endless creative directions and can be as simple or intricate as you like. It will serve the birds that are over wintering in Pennsylvania and allow the budding nature observer to watch these critters in action all winter long. Click here for step by step instructions on making a gourd birdhouse. Consider holiday painting themes like pilgrims or snowmen!