Gourds are a diverse group of plants. The fruit of the small ornamental gourds are often colorful and distinctly shaped. The fruit may be white, cream, yellow, orange, green, or blue. Some are bicolored. Their surfaces may be smooth or warty. Fruit shapes include ball, egg, pear, bottle, spoon, and turban. Large gourds, such as the dipper, birdhouse, and bushel, are often fashioned into utensils and birdhouses or used in crafts.
Before gourds can be used, they must be properly harvested and dried. Harvest gourds when the stem attached to the fruit begins to dry and turn brown. Since the rind or skin is susceptible to bruising or scratching, handle the gourds carefully. Cut the gourds from the vines with a hand shears, leaving a few inches of the stem attached to the fruit. After harvesting, gently wash the gourds in warm, soapy water to remove any dirt. Then wipe the gourds with a soft cloth dampened in a household disinfectant. The disinfectant should destroy decay organisms which could lead to fruit rot. Finally, dry each gourd with a soft cloth.
Dry or cure the gourds by placing them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location, such as a garage or shed. Place the gourds in a single layer on clean newspapers or shelves. Space them so they don't touch one another. Turn the gourds frequently and promptly remove any which show signs of decay. Large gourds can also be dried by hanging them from beams or rafters. Drying or curing will take several weeks. Approximately one to two weeks will be required for the outer skin to dry and harden. Internal drying will take several additional weeks. The gourds have been adequately dried when the seeds rattle inside.
Once cured, the small ornamental gourds can be used as they are. They can also be waxed, shellacked, or painted. Once completely dry, the large gourds can be smoothed and polished with steel wool or fine sandpaper. The smooth, hard surface can then be painted, stained, or waxed.--
This article originally appeared in the August 25, 2000 issue, p. 109.
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