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Growing Gourds

Green Bullet  Gourd seeds      

In the beginning, I only grew birdhouse or bottle gourds from seeds purchased at a grocery store. After that first crop.I ran across some old copies of the American Gourd Society's journal, "The Gourd" and became aware that there are many types of gourds. Since then I have purchased seeds for long-necked dipper, basketball, cannonball, kettle,... all sorts of gourds.

Frequently I am asked if I use my own gourd seeds to grow next year's crop. I have tried to use the seeds from my gourds, but without much luck. Cross pollination often results in some strange shapes and a significant percentage of my home grown seeds don't germinate. Many vendors sell good quality gourd seeds at reasonable prices, so I purchase seeds through the mail. Most of these seeds germinate, though there is always a percentage that fail. It is disheartening to plant and water seeds, hover over the mound and carefully pull weeds, only to have nothing grow.

The quality of mail order gourd seeds depends on the grower, of course, and how meticulous they are when gathering and labeling the seeds. Sometimes I'll plant what I believe will grow into cannonball gourds only to get round gourds with a short neck. However, most of the time I can make use of whatever I grow.

Bottle Gourd Seeds

Green Bullet  Pollination

Because I had almost three acres of available ground, I took care to plant different gourd types some distance from each other to thwart cross pollination. But this happened anyway. In the fall, I would find some strangely-shaped gourds that seemed unusable. Since hard shell gourd plants bloom at night, large moths are the main pollinators. Those hard working moths still flew from plant to plant, garden to garden.

To minimize the chance of cross pollinization, I have tried hand pollinization. One way to do this is to detach a male blossom and move it around from female blossom to female blossom and , hopefully, knocking off some pollen onto the females. No formal introduction is required for this procedure.

Although this process reduces cross-pollinization, it doesn't completely stop Mother Nature. Each fall I still find a few grouds that are obvious mixed breeds.

Gourd plant leaves
Green Bullet  Growing gourds on a trellis

Eventually, I built several trellises for growing many of my gourds. These wood and wire structures work great for snake and dipper gourds, as well as bottle and canteen gourds. I built each trellis high, but sometimes not high enough. I have even dug holes in the ground to accommodate some of my long-necked gourds. (When snake and dipper grouds rest on the ground, they tend to curl, and I didn't want that.)

In the photo on the right, these snake gourds became so long and heavy that I built wooden planks to help support them and keep them off of the ground.



Snake gourds on trellis and boards

Green Bullet  Harvesting

I plant seeds sometime after the last frost in the spring, and I harvest the gourds after the first hard frost in the fall. Each year I harvest between 200 to 400 gourds. After the first frost in the fall, the luscious gourd plant leaves wither. In a few days, the leaves and vines turn black. Only after the frost do I finally know exactly how many gourds I will harvest.

Notice the soda can I placed on the bottom right of this photo. I use the can to demonstrate the size of these gourds, many of which weigh over 60 pounds. I made a special cart for moving these big gourds. Smaller ones I can pile into a wheelbarrow.

Some people leave their gourds on the ground all winter, while others move the gourds to pallets or sheds. Either way, it takes them all winter to dry. For reasons unknown to me, a few gourds just shrivel up during the drying process.

large gourds in field after frost

Green Bullet  Growing gourds in the desert

I live just south of Moab, Utah, where the land looks much like this photo - dry desert with lots of red sand. You might think not much would grow here, but gourds seem to thrive. The average annual precipitation here is 8.9 inches.

After I plant the seeds, I only water the area a few times a week, depending on whether we get any rain. But after the leaves grow fairly large, I need to water the plants constantly. To eliminate the need to stand by my plants 24 hours a day with a hose, I built drip systems for each of my gourd trellises and flat plots.. If I turn off the drip system in the heat of the summer, the plants wilt in 24 hours.

Normally, we don't get much rain in southern Utah, but since 2004 marked the seventh year of a drought in this area, we have been getting less than usual. As long as the drought continues, growing anything here will continue to require lots of irrigation.

Red sand desert

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