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Growing Hard Shelled Gourds
( birdhouse and bottle-neck gourds)
by Dan Engebretson <Bones45991@aol.com>
The following is a collection of information that I've learned from magazines, online sources, garden centers, seed packages and of course my own experience at growing hard shelled gourds(bottleneck and birdhouse). I live in a zone 4 climate (short summers and long winters) so some of this information may not apply to you depending on where you live. I want to let you know that I am not a professional gardener but I have had success at gourd growing over the past few years. Most of the information on this page was used in my garden and I believe that it brought me the success that I've had at growing my own gourds, and will help to bring you success too. Good luck! - Dan
When to plant:
Outside: Spring, 2 - 4 weeks after average last frost when soil temperatures
are above 60 degrees. Plant in warm location with lots of sun. Plants will
emerge in 5-10 days.
Inside: Not recommended but it can be done. In very short season climates,
start 3-4 weeks before the last frost. Sow in individual pots for direct
planting, preferably in a sunny location such as a window.(If this is not
possible, get some sort of grow lamp, easily found at most garden centers.)
Be extra careful not to disturb the roots when transferring outside. They are
very sensitive and grow close to the soil surface both inside the pots and
outside in the ground.
1 inch (2.5 cent.)
6 seeds per hill with a hill spacing of 6-8 feet. Thin out to 3 per hill
once several leaves appear. A large area is recommended because it gives each
plant 1)optimal sunlight 2)ample room for root and foliage growth 3)it's
easier to keep the plants seperated from each other enabling you to service
each plant individually. Since a lot of people may not have this kind of
space available, fret not, they can be grown closer together with no serious
Optimal Growing Conditions:
Soak seeds in warm water 24 hours before sowing. Seeding in a black plastic
mulch is highly recommended because it 1)keeps down weeds 2)traps moisture
3)warms the soil. You can wait until the seedlings start to break through
the soil surface before using a plastic mulch. Then lay out a black garbage
bag and cut an X in the bag over the spots where the seedlings are.
Well drained and rich in organic material such as compost and/or manure.
Exercize caution when using straight manure as some types may burn the
plants. A mixture of compost and manure is a good way to go.
Keep soil evenly moist to just slightly dry. Water near the base of the
stem. This is a must if using a plastic mulch since most of the water would
otherwise run off and away from the plant. Also, the foliage doesn't like to
be wet although an occasional rain will not hurt it. If you notice the soil
washing away and exposing the roots when you water near the stem, just cover
them with a layer of compost. Near the end of the growing season, keep on the
dry side to encourage the gourds to ripen before frost.
Initial fertilization with general fertilizer. Do not fertilize after
initial fertilization; too much nitrogen will encourage more foliage and less
fruit(gourds). Instead, use compost throughout the growing season. Every few
weeks, spread a thin layer of compost under the plastic mulch around the base
of the plant. Compost, which is very mild and natural, will give the plant
extra nutrition without adding too much nitrogen.
Other Growing Instructions:
Hard shelled gourds will cross breed with other gourds, including soft
shelled gourds(but not squash or cucumbers). If you grow 2 different types of
gourds and want consistant fruit, plant them a distance from
eachother.(Although this will not stop bees from pollenating them anyways,
but it may help.)
Nice looking gourds:
Keeping the gourds off the ground will result in less blemishes and more
uniform color. Try to plant near a wall or fence. Use a trellis or you can
make a large pyramid type support using long garden stakes. For heavy gourds
hanging close to the ground away from your plastic mulch, put another piece
of plastic underneath them to keep them clean. Or make a sling using old
nylons tied to the stakes, fence,etc. that the plant is growing on.
For growing larger gourds cut off all but 2 or 3 gourds from the plant. This
forces more energy into them during the growing season. You can also cut some
of the growth that is beyond the gourd on the vine. Keep cutting off any new
gourds that may appear or any leaves that appear to be dried out. You may
want to grow a few plants so you can force large gourds on at least one of
I just used a few drops of lemon scented dish soap mixed with water in a
spray bottle and directly sprayed the bugs. They don't like the smell or
taste and usually go away. If any kind of serious problem persists, try to
use only the safest(organic) and least amount of bug killer that you can.
Hard shelled gourds should remain in the garden as long as there is any life
left in the vines. To keep the plant alive longer and ensure maturity of the
fruit, cover them at night if there is any chance of frost. But be sure to
uncover them in the morning or you may be doing more harm than good. Wait
until the stems are brown and dry before harvesting. Leave 2-3 inches (5- 7.5
cent.) on the stem when you cut it from the vine. This helps to prevent
disease organisms from entering the fruits and helps to keep the gourd
"sealed" so it won't rot before it cures. If the gourd isn't too heavy it
also makes for a good hanger when drying.
How To Cure Or Dry:
Wash the gourds in warm soapy water, then rinse in water with a few drops of
disinfectant. Some people use bleach or spray them with Lysol. This is to
help prevent it from molding. It may mold anyways but molding is a natural
part of the drying process and is easily cleaned off later. After washing,
dry with a soft rag. Place in a dry, warm, sunny location with good air
circulation. Either hang to dry or place on newspapers, turning them
periodically and replacing any damp newspapers. After a week or so the
surface color will be set and the skins toughened.
Then wipe them again with a soft rag and disinfectant and put them in a
warm but dark place for curing. Again, either hang to dry or place on
newspapers, turning them periodically and replacing any damp newspapers.
Small gourds usually take 3-5 months to dry while large gourds may take up to
a year. It all depends on the size, shell thickness, air temperature,
humidity, etc. The gourds are dry when they have turned to a tannish color,
have a hard shell and you can hear the seeds rattling inside.
Once fully dry you can soak them in warm soapy water for a few minutes and
then simply scrub off the old layer of skin.
To prevent any cracking or splitting when cutting off the end for cleaning
out the insides, wrap the end in a hot, wet towel until the outer shell
softens, overnight or about 12 hours, depending on the size of the gourd.
This process is not necessary but it will make it easier for you if the gourd
has been dry for a long period of time.
If all has gone well, you will have some nice gourds to make shekeres,
rattles, shakers, vases, birdhouses or feeders, or many different items
depending on your interests.
How to make shekeres
©1999 DJEMBE-L FAQ/DNG, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DJEMBE-L FAQ Growing Hard Shell Gourds V8c 09/20/2008