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Appreciate Gourds For Their Many Uses

By Norman Winter

Horticulturist
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center

Gourds are much-overlooked fall garden products with a wide variety of uses.

At first, gourds may conjure dull or negative thoughts. If you called someone a gourd, it might mean they were a nerd or less intelligent. Yet in reality, a gourd can become a banjo, a dipper for refreshing water, a sponge for a luxurious bath, an herb planter, a purple martin home or an awesome holiday table decoration. What an assortment of uses!

When I came home with a couple of luffa sponges, one still in its gourd skin, my family was excited and could not believe that these came from a gourd, not the ocean.

Gourds are striking while growing with their odd-shaped, multi-colored fruit and large yellow flowers that most of us would welcome in the garden.

One of the highlights of the Annual Fall Garden Day at the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs is the various gourds that come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Gourds take more than 100 days to mature so there is a lot of planning that goes into the planting for the field day. This year the Fall Garden Day is actually two days, Oct. 16 and 17, and is one of the best free family events in the state.

While we esteem squash, watermelons, pumpkins and cucumbers, the gourd has received that ugly stepchild connotation. Yet they are all members of the cucurbit family. The seeds look a lot like melon seeds and are planted about the same way. Gourd lovers raise their crops vertically on strong fences versus the ground like cantaloupes.

Mississippians think of gourds primarily for purple martin houses. Artists lend their touch to these gourds and receive hundreds of dollars depending on the quality of the work.

Gourds like these also have great potential as herb planters. This is done by first cutting a larger hole than one might for the martins. Cut the hole to work in a 4-inch transplant. Drill three or four holes in the bottom of the gourd for drainage. Using the same small drill bit, drill a hole in the top of the neck for your wire to be strung through for hanging. Lastly drill a three-quarter inch hole in the neck of the gourd below the one done for the wire. This will be your site for watering.

You may want to apply a coat of water repellent to the gourd. Lay the gourd on its side and fill with a good light potting mixture. Then plant your herb. Choose an herb that likes to cascade, such a thyme or oregano. Even parsley looks good.

Hang your gourd planter in a sunny location. They look especially neat when hung on an old wood fence or barn looking wall. Use a small watering can to apply a good soaking through the three-quarter inch hole in the neck of the gourd. If soil comes gushing out, you may have it a little full. If you are not into herbs, plants like petunias, Johnny jump-ups or the foliage of the asparagus fern look good.

Harvest time is critical for gourds because they will decay if you harvest too early. Harvest as late as possible. After harvesting, wash the gourds in a warm soapy water and towel dry. Cure by hanging them in a well-ventilated room by for about six weeks.

I hope you will visit the Fall Garden Day, Oct. 16 and 17 at the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs to see gourds, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

-30-

Released: Sept. 17, 1998
Contact: Norman Winter, (601) 857-2284

Editor's Note: Ideal publication dates of Southern Gardening columns are within one month of their release. Editors should examine older columns carefully for any information that could be time sensitive.

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