Great Gourd Almighty

Versatile, decorative, and fun—gourds belong in every garden.

By Lauren Sloane

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Harvest gourds when their stems turn brown and dry.Vegetable? Utensil? Ornament? Sponge? Musical instrument? All of the above—and much more. These members of the squash family (Cucurbitaceae) are so versatile and easy to grow they merit a place in your garden, even if you don't need to make a water dipper. Sure, you could use the space to grow more melons or cucumbers, but you can only eat them.

Gourd Facts

  • Gourds have been cultivated since 2200 B.C., longer than any other crop.
  • Number of members in the American Gourd Society: 4,000+
  • Percentage of a gourd made up of water: 90
  • Gourds were used as currency in Haiti in the 1800s. Today, the gourde is the standard currency of Haiti: 40 Haitian gourdes = about US$1.
  • Length of the Indomalaysian serpent gourd: up to 6 feet
  • Size of the mini bottle gourd: 1 to 2 inches

 

Sweet Music
When gourds dry, they become hollow, giving them a "resonating chamber" that has been used to create a wide variety of sounds. Primitive peoples used gourds to make percussion, wind, and string instruments. Among the instruments that were first crafted from gourds are the banjo, cello, marimba, flute, trumpet, rattle, drum, and kazoo.

Drying Gourds
Before you use a gourd or just to ensure that it lasts, you need to "cure," or dry it. Small gourds take one to two months to cure; larger ones may need six months or more. Gourds dry best when they are fully mature and still on the vine. They will not rot if left in your garden. But if you want to bring them in to dry, follow these steps:

1. Clean the skin thoroughly with water mixed with a little vinegar to kill any bacteria.

2. Arrange the gourds on a screen or a clean, dry table, making sure that they are not touching each other. Store them out of direct sunlight in a cool, well-ventilated spot.

3. Rotate the gourds every few days and wipe off any moisture that forms on the skin. This is natural, as they are perspiring off the moisture inside. You may even see a little fungus, which is normal. Soft spots are not, though—discard those that do develop soft spots.

4. The gourd is completely dry when you can hear the seeds rattle inside. A dried gourd will last for years.

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