5 Simple Steps to Preserving & Decorating with Gourds
Whether you grow them yourself or find interesting varieties at your garden center, gourds have become a decorative staple in autumn, both outside and inside our homes. The gourd family consists of hundreds of species–some edible, some not. Considered fruits, gourds grow on vines and come in interesting shapes, colors and patterns. Their sizes range from palm-sized to up to hundreds of pounds.
Soft-skinned gourds are from the genus Cucurbita and typically come in orange, gold, and green colors. They’re often edible as well as used decoratively in fall cornucopias. Watermelons, pumpkins, squash and calabash are all members of the Cucurbita family. Larger, hard-skinned gourds, also known as ornamental gourds, are from the genus Lagenaria. These can be dried and used as birdhouses, bottles and crafted into other forms.
Some edible gourds include:
- Acorn Squash
- Field Pumpkin
- Calabash (Bottle gourd)
- Butternut Squash
Some ornamental (non-edible) gourds that are best for drying include:
- Birdhouse Gourd
- Corsican Gourd
- Dipper Gourd
- Sponge Luffa Gourd
- Tennessee Spinning Gourd
Drying and curing gourds for decorations is a simple process but can take some time. The outside skin can dry in a week or so, but it can take 6 months for the gourd to “cure” where the interior is completely dried and can be sanded, shaped or carved. Here are the steps:
Harvest the Gourds – If you’re picking gourds rather than purchasing them from a garden center, be sure to cut them from the vine – not pull them. Pulling can damage the stem, leaving it more vulnerable for fungus to develop. Ideally, you should wait to harvest your gourds until 2 weeks after the first frost kills its leaves. The gourd stems should be brown, and the vines should have died back. Cut each stem a few inches above the fruit. Handle the gourds carefully to prevent skin damage which can cause the gourd to rot during drying.
Wash and Sanitize the Gourds – Wash the gourds in warm soapy water and allow them to air dry. Afterwards, wipe them down with 70% isopropyl alcohol to ensure the surface is sanitized and clean. You can also clean and sanitize the gourds in one step by mixing a bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water and wash the gourds with that mixture.
Cure the Gourds – Place the gourds in a dark, dry area where they can remain for at least 6 months. You can either place the gourds on a screen or ventilated surface (single layer) making sure no gourds touch, or hang each one with twine, ensuring there is ample space around each gourd to allow for proper airflow.
Check On and Rotate Gourds – Check on your gourds every few days and discard any that have begun to decay, become soft or shrivel. If you’ve placed your gourds on screens or a ventilated surface, rotate them every few weeks to ensure that they dry evenly. If you see any signs of mold forming, wipe it off with a damp cloth dipped in bleach. As long as the gourd still feels hard, it should be fine.
Decorate the Gourds – Once the gourds have been properly dried and cured, it’s time to prep them for decorating! Place the gourds in a container with some water and gently rub any surface mold spots with a plastic scrub pad (not steel wool). Allow the clean gourds to air dry completely, then lightly sand the surface with 100 grit sandpaper to create a smooth, even surface for decorating. If your plans include painting your gourds, apply a coat of primer first. If you’re carving your gourds and plan to use them outside, apply a layer of beeswax or shellac to protect them. If you’ve painted your gourds and plan to use them outside, apply a UV-protective sealer/clear polyurethane to preserve colors.
Image Credit – All of the images found in this blog post were taken at Farmside Gardens, in Sussex, NJ.