Monday, December 31

Drying Gourds for Crafts!

Bottle Gourds: Freshly harvested green gourds are pictured in the front and 2010-11's crop is in the back.

When I am not farming or gardening  I like to make crafts as you well know, but I especially like to craft with gourds. I've been making and selling gourd art for over a decade now and over the past 5 years I've been sharing my knowledge and experience in this unique art form through writing and videos. This blog is not going to be an exception to that either! :) This is a great time of year to show you the first step in making gourd art – drying out the gourds. Many, many people come up to me and say they grew some gourds this year and now they don’t know what to do with them. I want to answer that question here.

First off, I must say I am lucky to be able to grow my own gourds on my family’s farm. Most gourders aren’t able to experience from seed to craft like I do and I feel blessed. On the farm we grow two types of gourds; the small, ornamental type which goes by the name Cucurbita Pepo and the large green type that is usually generalized under the Latin name: Lagenaria Siceraria. I mainly use the large green type (aka. bottle gourd, birdhouse gourd) for my crafting because when they are completely dried out their shells can withstand all sorts of artistic techniques and embellishments. As for the ornamental type, they also dry out but their shells are normally on the fragile side and are mainly embellished with painting.
Ornamental gourds

A variety of bottle gourds before they began to dry out.
So, the big question: “How on earth do I dry them?”
Let me explain several ways I have learned to dry them over the years.
1. The past couple of years we harvest the gourds after all the vines are dead and place them in a thin pile in the middle of our farm where no squirrels can bother them. Mice will probably make a home in a couple, but they probably weren’t very good in the first place. To cut down on the mice problem make sure that none of the gourds touch so that there is no place for the mice to find shelter or make a home. Keeping the gourds away from each other also provides optimum air movement, which is all the gourd really needs in order to dry out properly. (We have also placed wooden pallets on the ground first, but have found it doesn’t make a big difference.) We harvest them in late Oct- early Nov and they are all dry by Spring of next year. The weather also gives them a preliminary cleaning which is great!
Weather dried gourds

2. Now, the reason why I don’t always just leave the gourds to dry outside under the elements is the different modeling effect I get if I dry them under a shelter. Winter weather in zone 5 keeps the mold on the gourds down to a minimum, which results in less patterns or modeling on the gourd shell while it is going through the drying process. I often look for the natural mold designs on gourds for particular creations and you may want that, too. So, I suggest hanging them in your garage or shed with rope, or place them in mesh/onion bags. I’ve done both with varying degrees of success (the squirrels are a pain here). I should note, that you need to keep in mind how the gourd will look when going through the drying process. It will look rather undesirable the whole time. “That’s okay!” I tell my customers, “That’s the way they are suppose to look.” I can’t tell you how many people said they threw out their gourds because they started to mold. . . Oh well, live and learn.
Gourd with some mold patterns
3. The other place I have dried gourds is in our basement. The difference between an outside shelter and an inside one is the temperature. When a gourd is drying in a warmer environment, it will mold A LOT. You will get A LOT of patterns on the gourds because of the mold. If you’re looking for that then maybe you want to think about drying your gourds in a warmer spot. But you need to be careful not to choose a spot where people actually live. Gourd mold is not healthy and you should avoid breathing it as much as possible! The basement I am talking about is never used, it’s a storage area away from all living quarters.
Drying gourds. You can see they are starting to turn brown. They will turn completely brown, then slowly begin to get lighter and dryer to the touch.
When a gourd is completely dry which takes about 6-7 months, depending upon the environment, it will be dry to the touch. There shouldn’t be any wet spots or wet mold. It should be very light and often you can hear seeds rattling inside when you shake it.
Good luck with your gourds! Make sure to visit my YouTube channel for lots more gourd info and tutorials: as well as my blog to see all the COOL things I’ve made out of gourds:

 Just a Side Note: Now, drying gourds may be the first step for some gourd artists but it isn't my first step. Growing them is, so this 2012 I decided to capture step by step how I grow and harvest gourds. A video is on its way and I can't wait to show you our crop this year! It was quite spectacular to see! ♥

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