April 2006
Featured Articles

How Does your Gourd Garden Grow?

  2005 was a good year for gourd grower and former ALGS president Glenn Burkhalter of Lacey’s Spring, who hand-trained these long-handle dipper gourds as they grew.
by Brenda Wood

With spring upon us, it’s time to start thinking about preparing your garden for planting gourds. Gourds prefer a well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny location. There are several books that cover gourd gardening in detail, so what follows are some of the basics to get you started.

Preparing the soil. The most important thing you can do in preparing your garden is to collect a soil sample for a fertilizer recommendation. This simple step will eliminate the guess work and tell you two things: 1) how much fertilizer (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) you might need to add to your crop, and 2) if you need to add lime to raise the pH of your soil.

Gourds, like their squash and pumpkin cousins, prefer a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 - 6.5. Making sure the pH of your soil is also the correct pH for your crop is essential for adequate nutrient availability from your fertilizer. If lime is recommended, apply this to your soil well in advance of planting so that the soil has some time to neutralize completely.

A soil sample can be obtained by collecting a trowel full of soil from the top 6 inches in several places in your garden area (30 samples per acre for a representative sample). Mix these individual samples together in a bucket and put enough of the soil in a plastic quart bag to fill halfway.

You can send your sample to: Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory, Alfa Research Building, Room 113, 961 S.Donahue Dr., Auburn University, Alabama 36849

Painted gourds by Brenda Wood of Auburn.  
Fertilizing. If you choose not to get a fertilizer recommendation, there are many different views of what types of fertilizer should be added. Some growers use a 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 commercial fertilizer at planting and side-dress again as the vines begin to run. As the fruit begins to set, taper off on nitrogen applications as this will promote more vegetative growth. Potassium is very important for a mature fruit. Some of the thickest gourds I have seen were grown on a burn pile. The ashes from the burn pile contain potassium (potash) which resulted in a mature gourd with a thick shell. An on-line pumpkin production article also suggests applying potassium (potash) as the fruit begins to set to encourage dry matter production. Others recommend watering daily or weekly with manure tea. A simple soil test would eliminate the guesswork.

Seeds. Seeds can be purchased from reputable gourd growers who have hand-pollinated their gourds to produce ‘true-type’ seeds. Check the Alabama Gourd Society website www.alabamagourdsociety.org for seed sources, or your local Co-op. Of course, you can always plant the seeds that you cleaned out of that martin gourd last week too. If you let the bees do the pollinating for you, and have grown several different types of gourds at the same time, you will get a cross-pollinated seed. Cross pollination will not affect the shape of the current season gourds. Any change in shape will occur when the cross pollinated seeds are planted. These are always fun too, because you never know what shapes you’ll end up with.

Planting. After preparing your soil and selecting the seeds, now it’s time for planting. You can choose to start your seeds indoors and transplant your seedlings after danger of the last frost has past. Or you can plant the seeds directly into the soil. You can plant 4 to 6 seeds/seedlings in hills, eight to ten feet apart, like recommended for other curcurbits. Or you can plant them in rows, with rows at least 8 feet apart. Apply any fertilizer that was recommended by your soil test at planting and water in everything well. Continue to water on a regular basis to keep nutrients in the soil solution and available for plant use. Adequate water is especially important for gourds since they are 90% water.

Thinning and Pruning. Once the seedlings are well-established, thin them to 2 to 3 per hill leaving the most healthy ones. If you planted in rows, thin to the spacing you desire. As the gourd plant grows, most male flowers will be produced on the main stem and most female flowers will grow on the side/lateral branches. Once the main stem reaches 10 feet you can pinch it back and this will promote more lateral branching and production of more female flowers.

Pollination. Once the flowers begin to appear, pollination will need to take place before ANY gourds will become a reality. The purpose of the male flowers, (which mostly grow on the main vine) is to produce pollen only, so all the males will die shortly after blooming. The female flowers, (which mostly grow on the side branches) have a small gourd on the end of the blossom. In order for the little gourd to grow and mature, it must receive pollen from a male flower. That is supposed to be the job of bees and other small flying insects that gather pollen. However, since most hard-shell gourds are night bloomers (begin to open in late afternoon and close up shortly after sunup) pollination may not occur. In that case, the little gourd will turn brown and fall off the vine in a few days. This is especially true if any insecticides have been applied to control other insects that will damage the gourd vines.

There is something you can do about it. Go out to your gourd patch in late afternoon, collect some male flowers and peel the petals and cup from around the stamen. You will see it covered with pollen. Now go to a female flower and peel the petals and cup from around the pistil. Be as careful as you can so as not to damage the little gourd. Now rub the male flower over the female. Use two or three males per female to insure good pollination and you should see the little gourds begin to grow and mature.

Harvesting. Gourds can be harvested beginning in August through October when the fruit is mature, and ONLY when the vines and stems begin to turn brown. It is very important not to pick the gourds until the stem has turned brown to prevent premature rotting. Once picked, the gourds can be stored in a storage shed or barn with good ventilation and allowed to dry. They can also be left in the field to dry. It is not recommended to bring gourds into your house to dry because the mold that develops can be introduced into your home ventilation system.

Drying time depends on size of the gourd and temperature of the drying area. Gourds are dry when the shell becomes hard and they turn tan or brown, and you can hear the seeds rattle inside when the gourd is shaken. Some gourds will be dry when you pick them from the vine, but usually most gourds are dry within 2 to 6 months after harvesting.

Cleaning. Once gourds are dry, the mold can be easily washed off with warm soapy water (or water and bleach) with a metal scrub pad. It is best to remove the mold in a wet manner to prevent inhalation of the mold. It is definitely not recommended to sand the mold off with a power tool. Once the gourds are dry and clean, let the fun begin....

Speaking of fun, the Alabama Gourd Society will be holding a Gourd Education Day in Baldwin County at the Loxley Civic Center on Saturday May 6, 2006. Classes and demonstrations will be held throughout the day beginning at 9 am. An ALGS membership meeting will be held from 12-1 pm. The event is hosted by the Baldwin County Gourd Patch. More information can be found on the ALGS website www.alabamagourdsociety.org or by contacting Pat Patterson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (251) 978-5988 or Barbara Nelson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (251) 978-0842.

Brenda Wood is a Research Associate in the Agronomy and Soils Department at Auburn University. She can be reached by e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..