University of Illinois Extension

 

Barbara Larson,
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Winnebago/Boone Counties

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Gourd Success Includes Proper Harvest & Handling

Gourds are easy to grow and, with proper harvesting and drying, make wonderful home decorations and handicraft materials. Many gardeners become frustrated when the gourds they have carefully tended all summer rot instead of drying properly. Success with gourds depends on timely harvesting, cleaning, and curing.

There are three basic types of gourds. Harvesting and curing varies with the type of gourd. Ornamental or Cucurbita varieties are for decoration only and never eaten. After drying, utility or Lagenaria varieties may be made into birdhouses, dippers, containers, and other handicraft projects. The fibrous mat inside mature Luffa varieties is used as sponges. Some varieties of Lagenaria and Luffa gourds are edible when they are green or immature.

Harvest gourds after they have fully ripened on the vine. A hardened shell and withered vine indicate maturity and readiness for harvest. Cut the gourd from the vine with one to two inches of stem attached. Mature gourds with hardened shells will tolerate a light frost but immature gourds will be damaged and should not be saved.

Carefully handle the gourds. Cuts, punctures, and bruises increase the chance of rots developing. Throw away any damaged or immature gourds. Wash dirty gourds with soap and water, rinse in a weak bleach solution, then dry. During curing, first the shell, then the interior will dry. This process will take up to six months to complete.

The fruits of ornamental or Cucurbita gourds should be cured in a warm, dark, dry location. Arrange gourds in a single layer so they do not touch each other. Slotted trays will allow good air circulation. Check daily and discard any decayed, moldy, or squishy fruits.

Surface drying takes about a week and is completed when the shell hardens and the color brightens. Internal drying takes several more weeks. A warm curing area will speed drying and reduce decay. If molds begin to appear on the surface of ornamental type gourds, wipe clean and continue drying. Periodically turn the fruit to promote even drying. Shriveled or rotten gourds should be thrown away. Ornamental gourds are completely cured when the fruit is lightweight and the seeds rattle when it is shaken. After curing, ornamental gourds may be polished, waxed, or shellacked.

Lagenaria or utility gourds are cleaned, stored, and cured the same way as ornamental gourds but the drying time is much longer. To conserve space utility gourds may be hung on wires until they are fully dry. Surface molds frequently develop on utility gourds. The mold may be wiped off with a mild solution of bleach and water. However, the molds often form interesting and attractive patterns, thus enhancing the gourd’s appearance. The completely dry gourd may be carved or decorated for use in a multitude of ways.

Luffa gourds should be handled differently than the previous two types. Harvest when the gourd is lightweight and the seeds rattle inside. After drying, cut off the stem end and shake out the seeds. The skin should come off easily; if not soak in warm water until the skin softens and can be removed. The luffa sponge may now be soaked in a one-part bleach and nine parts water solution to make it a creamy white color. Rinse thoroughly in clear water and dry before using.

The gourds you grew this year may not be ready for a few months but with care will be around for many years to come as decorations, bird houses, or whatever your imagination creates.

 

August - September 2001: Watering Correctly Saves Time, Money, and Plants | Gourd Success Includes Proper Harvest & Handling | Harvesting & Handling Sunflowers | Early Fall Key Time for Lawn Fertilization | Control Perennial Grassy Weeds

 

Past Issues

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