the gourd farm
Because I've received so many questions about drying gourds and exactly what to do with them that I need to make a few statements up front.
There are a number of different methods to dry gourds and the particular method anyone uses will be up to them. If you want to pick your gourds early and place them on pallets, then fine, they will dry. However; there is more chance of your gourds rotting when you do this. If the gourds are picked before maturing, then they are much more susceptible to rot. If you want to leave your gourds right in the field attached to the vines, then fine, they will dry, just as shown above. And no, you don't have to go out and put anything under them to protect them from the damp ground. Gourds have been drying by themselves for eons and have been doing just fine. In fact, I believe gourds will cure faster if left right on the vine until dry.
However, here are a few points to remember.
Gourds need air to properly dry. Lots of air. So if you pick your gourds early, DON'T put them some place where they will not get good air flow, like in a cellar or a small room.
Gourds will dry out in the weather just fine. No, it won't hurt them to get wet from rain, nor will it hurt them to freeze. Yes, a hard freeze will kill the vines and leaves, but mature gourds will do just fine. Commercial growers don't pick their gourds from the fields until they are fully dry. Gourds are dry when they are very light in weight and the seeds rattle when they are shaken. Gourds that are left on the vine to dry, harden off much better and seem to be of much higher quality than gourds that have been picked while still green.
REGARDLESS OF WHAT ANYONE TELLS YOU, DO NOT SCRAPE A GREEN GOURD IN ANY WAY TO FACILITATE DRYING.
You're only ruining your gourd, and in most cases where this is done, the gourds will soon rot. That outer skin is the protective covering for your gourds and if you remove it, then you are only inviting trouble into your gourds. This also means, don't cut ANY large holes and scrape out the insides. In most cases, the gourd will soon cave in and collapse. If a gourd is not dried, then nothing should be done to it until it is.
I have heard where some people cut the holes in gourds and then remove the insides while the gourd is still green. This IS NOT a good thing to do. Yes, the gourd may dry faster, but there is a difference in drying and curing. A cured gourd will last many times longer than a 'speed dried' gourd.
"But the skin of a gourd is very hard, how will the water get out?"
The stem of a gourd is very porous and this is where much of the water inside the gourd will escape. If you cut your gourds off the vines, leave approximately 2 inches of stem intact. Pruning sheers or a very sharp knife should be used to cut gourds from the vine. NEVER just twist the stem to break it. This will allow infection into a green gourd and the stem will become useless for future use. The cut should be clean to allow the water to escape. Also, although we perceive the outside of a gourd to be hard, it is in reality, very porous and a good amount of the water will escape through the skin also.
"But I need to speed up the drying of my gourds because I need them now?"
Sorry, can't be done. Yes, you can put a few near a fireplace and they will 'dry' a little faster, but it really isn't worth it with a large quantity, and do you really want a bunch of gourds in your house where people are living... I don't think so. The best thing to do is to let nature take its course. If you need gourds 'NOW', then I suggest buying them from Amishgourds.com. There are some things in nature that just can't be hurried.
"What do you do to get your gourds?"
Simple, I plant my gourds in the spring and don't even think about picking them until everything around them is 'dead'. As shown in the opening picture of this page, all that can be seen is brown, drying gourds standing out everywhere in the field. At the end of the growing season, I pick a few of them up and shake them to make sure the seeds rattle. Then I simply walk around with a pair of pruning shears and clip them from the vines and load them into my truck. Yes, during the growing cycle I'll occasionally take a walk around the patch to make sure things are going good and look for trouble, stand them up so that they grow the way I want them to and because I want my gourds to be nice and big for my martins, I'll sometimes even take my pruning shears and clip a few useless vines and cull the ones I don't think will make good gourds. But for the most part, that's about as close as I get to them until they are fully dry.
Gourds do not have to be coddled, pampered, cared for, cultivated, pruned or any of the normal gardening things we humans like to do for our garden plants. A little fertilizer, heavy in potash, is good for them, but you don't need to add anything that will instigate green growth. This is something you'll quickly find out with your first attempt at growing gourds. Think of gourds as a different kind of pumpkin, treat them the same and all will be just fine. When they are ripe, then you can do what you like with them, but until they are completely dry, they should be left alone.
Now, with that said, the following statements on drying gourds, although intended for birdhouse gourds, will work for just about any type of gourd. If you want to know more, then please read on...
Although there are many different kinds of gourds, for our purposes, there are basically two different 'types'. One type is very fleshy (Lagenaria family). If it is necessary to pick these early, then they need to be 'dried' in a cool, dry place for several weeks, even months. These types are about 90% water at harvest time, hence the long drying period. This type is generally known as 'birdhouse gourds'. However, if not necessary, they should not be picked until fully dry in the field. A much better quality gourd will result.
Others (Cucurbita family), will have a lower water content and will fully cure in just a few weeks. If you're not sure of the type of gourd you have, don't worry, just put them up and leave them alone. Every couple of weeks, check on them. They will be fully 'cured' when the outside skin becomes very hard and the gourd is very light and the seeds rattle when you shake it.
Bird house gourds should be allowed to grow as large as they will get, and should not be picked before they are about 9 or 10 inches in diameter. (I like mine to be between 10 and 12 inches. This size has proven to be the most popular with purple martins). It will be your decision as to which ones to use for martin gourds. I like to leave mine on the vine until fully dry, but if you just have to cut yours early, they can then be 'cut' from the vine, leaving as much of the stem as possible and then set aside in a sheltered place to dry.
Although this next step is not necessary, it will give you better results from drying. Before setting green gourds aside to dry, they can be washed to remove caked on soil and other garden debris. Gourds can be dipped in a weak bleach solution of one or two cups chlorine bleach to a 5 gallon bucket of water to sterilize the surface and sometimes help prevent rotting. The use of a soft bristled brush will help aide in the removal of the debris and not harm the soft skin of the 'green' gourd. At this time, their skin is very soft and easily damaged, therefore, they should be handled with some care. A good spraying with a hose will also do them some good.
The place you select to put your gourds for drying should have a fairly good amount of air flow. Good air flow is probably the most important thing in drying gourds. They can simply be set on some cardboard and then left to dry. Be careful not to let them touch each other. It is not necessary to shelter them in a room of any kind. They will do just fine out side.
Don't put them in a place where humans will have to frequent often. Curing gourds and humans just don't go together. The odor can be rather offensive during the drying cycle. That's why they should be put where the air or wind can get to them. Don't put them in a cellar or a back room in the house, or soon, anyone coming to visit will know you're drying gourds and I promise, it will be some time before that smell is gotten out of the house. This is also unhealthy for humans and a good reason to leave them outside.
Many of the gourds will acquire a mold on the outside of their skins. This is normal. You don't have to wipe the mold off. It will simply dry in place, leaving a pretty neat pattern in its wake, and it doesn't seem to hurt the gourd any.
Regardless of how much care you take, some of the gourds will rot. No reason why, that's just nature. Some of them will get infected and those gourds will simply not make it. They should be removed and discarded. You can tell this when the gourds shows an indentation in its skin. Just about everyone has seen a pumpkin when it's rotting. A gourd, being of the same family, will show the same signs and therefore, you can recognize the symptoms. Just poke your finger into the indented area and, if it feels very soft and mushy and pushes in easily, the gourd is of no value and should be discarded.
My gourds are very green and heavy. How long will it take them to dry?
If they are from the Lagenaria family, they will take a long time to dry. These gourds are probably 90% water if they are harvested early and even under ideal conditions, it could take them 3 - 6 months to fully dry. Patience is a must. Check them about once a week to look for rotting gourds and if any are found, discard them. They will gradually become lighter and lighter. They will be fully dry when extremely light weight and the seeds inside rattle when the gourd is shaken.
I live in the northern part of the country and don't have a warm place to put my gourds while they are drying. How will I protect them from freezing?
Don't try! If your gourds are mature, then it won't hurt them at all to freeze. In fact, some say it's even better if they freeze every now and then during drying. All it does is slow down the drying process. Some northern growers are even known to leave them in the field covered in snow.
One Note here:
If gourds are still in the growing stage and have not had a chance to mature and harden off at all, then there is a good chance that they could be damaged by freezing. However, since they weren't starting to mature, then there is a good chance that they would have rotted anyway.
Some of my gourds have mold all over them. I wipe it off, but it still comes back. What's wrong?
Nothing. Curing gourds quite often get a mold on the outside of their skins. It's just a part of the drying process and shows that some of the moisture is coming out through the skin. No need to try and wipe it off, it will just return. It doesn't harm the gourd anyway. In fact, the recessing mold seems to leave some rather intricate patterns on the skin of the gourd, and from what I can tell, it doesn't seem to hurt them at all. Below is a gourd that has mold on it. When dry, this mold simply melds into the gourd.
One of my gourds has a sinking spot on it. It feels very soft and spongy when I push on it. What's wrong?
The gourd is rotting and there is nothing you can do for it. Simply throw it out on the mulch pile before it infects any of the other gourds. Often when gourds are harvested early, they don't have a chance to receive any hardening agent from the vine. These gourds won't have any natural ability to counteract bacteria and thus, may rot. That is one reason that gourds should be left right on the vine until fully dry. Below is a gourd that has a rotting spot on it. Notice how the gourd side caves in where the gourd is rotting.
I decided to punch some small holes in the bottom of my gourds and hang them to dry. Now, there is a lot of fluid dripping from the bottom of them. What's going on here?
Remember, birdhouse gourds (Lagenaria) are about 90% water when harvested green. For the first couple of days after you punch holes in them, there is going to be a very large amount of this fluid that will drain out of them. It can create quite a mess if they are hung inside. It will stop after the initial water has drained out. That's why, if you are going to dry your gourds this way, that it be done outside where the dripping won't hurt anything.
The only place I have to dry my gourds is in the basement of my home. Will it hurt to put them down there?
If you only have a few, say 5 or 10, you might be able to hang them from the joists, and they may do just fine. But, if you have a large amount, I would be wary of putting them in the basement.
A couple of reasons.
One, the ventilation in a basement is not very good, and in order for gourds to dry properly, they need good ventilation.
Two, a large amount of drying gourds will create a rather unpleasant odor, and I don't think you would want that odor in your house. If you feel they have to be dried inside, then I would find a friend with an open barn somewhere.
Something else you could do. If you have the space somewhere outside, place a shipping pallet out in the open. Now place your gourds on this pallet. This way, they will get full sunlight and plenty of air circulation. If it rains, and you feel you must, you can simply cover them with a plastic sheet or tarpaulin of some sort. When the rain is gone, uncover them. And if you forget, not to worry, it's not going to hurt them to get wet. In fact, the rain often helps wash off a lot of the mud and debris from the garden.
And don't put them on a pallet, cover them up and leave them covered. All this will do is speed up the rotting process and soon all you'll have is a pile of rotting gourds. Drying gourds need ventilation to dry properly. And remember, cold doesn't bother them either. Temperature is not a factor in the drying process of mature gourds. Moving air is.
My wife is trying to dry gourds in our garage in Wisconsin and several have started to rot. Is there any way to prevent this?
A couple of things here:
One, No matter how hard you try and prevent it, some gourds will always rot. It's just nature. This number depends on the drying conditions and is usually around 5% or 10%, or about 1 in 10-20. These should be discarded immediately before they infect any of the others. If that number seems about right, them leave them alone where they are.
Two, If you have more than that percentage, then they just aren't getting enough air and you have to get them more ventilation. If you don't have any open windows available, then you've got to move them outside. If available and you feel it necessary, put them under an overhanging roof somewhere out in the open where wind can get to them. If this is not available, put them on an old shipping pallet (as shown above) out in the open. They really need a lot of moving air. This is probably the one major factor for drying gourds. Rain doesn't bother them, cold doesn't bother them, but stale air does.
Three, Although not always, some gourds will obtain a mold on the outsides. Don't mistake this for rot. It is a natural part of the curing process. Push on the gourd. If it is solid, then the gourd is only molding. If it is soft and punky and 'caving in', then it is rotting. The gourd is beyond any help and you need to discard it.
You've mentioned the term 'harden off'. What is meant by that?
As a gourd nears the end of it's growing season and 'matures', the plant secretes an enzyme that stops growth and begins the natural drying cycle of the gourd. The materials and membranes inside shrink drastically during the drying process and become the outer wall of the gourd. This is known as hardening off. The outer skin solidifies and becomes very hard. Gourds that are 'cured' on the vine are almost always much better quality than gourds that are cut from the vine early. Yes, gourds cut early will dry, but the final product is going to be a little lower quality than if left to their own accord.