December 2011
The Herb Farm

Harvesting Gourds and Squash

Each year brings new ideas and challenges to the Herb Farm. Last month, I watched the leaves change to their final seasonal hue and, with the first heavy rain with high winds, they fell sideways to the ground.

It seems, although I grow these things every year, I usually forget about them until the natural arbors (trees) are bare. The vines and fruits are then exposed and I have a fun time watching them as they naturally dry on their seemingly miles long withered umbilicals. I am referring to the gourds and luffa squash climbing anything they can to rise above the rest of the garden bed.

These ridged luffas even grew up the side of the farmhouse.

 

These plants have to climb, unlike many other cucurbits, because of their need to keep their fruits from rotting on the ground by winding up trees and fence posts. They have a fairly long growing season compared to other vegetables. Some gourds take from 110-140 days to mature, so mine get started in late February, transplanted in April and their fruits begin to mature in August to September. They disappear in the foliage of their hosts and are left to naturally dry. I figure Mother Nature can do the work for me better than I can. Besides, I really don’t have a place to store gourds and luffas while they dry. If they hang on the vine until they naturally dry, they have air circulation. That keeps down the chance for fungus and rot.

So, why am I talking about this in December? It’s time to play! While I take a break from all of the farm chores during the winter, it’s nice to expand my creativity and make stuff from the plants I grow.

Canning, pickling, freezing and the like are all things I do during the fall in order to have good food during the winter and give a taste of my garden to friends.

Nevertheless, I grow some things people don’t usually eat! So, what do I do with these fruits? I make stuff from them.

 

I waited a little too long to strip these luffas. It’s gonna take a bit to get them done.

For example, the luffa (Luffa acutangula) makes a great bath sponge and is easy to process. Harvest them before they completely dry and peel the fruits. They can be peeled after they dry, but it’s a bit more difficult. After you peel them, empty the seed chamber and allow them to finish drying in a cool place with good air circulation. Wash the dried luffa to remove chaff and allow them to dry again. Use them or give as gifts with homemade soaps and creams. Another idea I am trying this December is cutting my luffa into two-inch cross sections and soaking them in the bath soap solution and allow it to harden. It makes a soapy sponge. (Note: It is experimental at this point. I will write about the results after I test the method.)

Other fun stuff to do in December includes washing and sanding dried gourds for use in crafts.

Snake gourds are used to make rain sticks. (Ask me how.) Gooseneck gourds are used to paint like animals. Bottle gourds and pear gourds are painted like people. Apple gourds are stained and clear coated to look like? You guessed it…apples!

   

Here you see a medium-size martin gourd and a milk bottle gourd. The bottle gourd will be painted, then given to an artist friend so he can turn them into decorative animal hearth sitters. The martin gourd I will use to make a birdhouse or birdfeeder.

 

I make dippers from the dipper gourds; amulets and gris-gris boxes from the little egg gourds; birdhouses and bird feeders from the purple martin gourds and I use the nearly perfectly-rounded cannonball gourds to create scenes and sayings with pyrography (wood burning).

Small egg gourds make interesting jewelry or brooches. Some gourds are even thick enough to carve with standard carving tools. Then you can stain or paint them, antique them and clear coat them with a polyurethane varnish.

Be sure to save the seeds for next year, too! If you desire to keep the gourd whole, make a small incision (about one-half to one inch depending on seed size) in the least noticeable location on the gourd with a fine blade on a jigsaw, then use a coat hanger or similar tool to extricate the seeds from the shell. You can replace the hole using a piece of masking tape with wood glue as a hardener.

For me, it’s like building a model ship or making a quilt (all of which I do). There are always fun things to do inside the house when the weather turns cold. Besides, when I give a friend a gift I made by hand, it really gets me going to see their face light up!

Happy Winter Solstice, Everybody! I’ll be back in 2012 to see if the designers of the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar had it figured out. (I don’t doubt much anymore!)

Thanks for reading!

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As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.