Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Gourd

At Summertime Farm, Jane’s pumpkin harvest included a few lovely yellow ornamental gourds. In our temperate climate, these are more easily grown than the hard shell varieties. They grow in a marvelous range of colours and shapes and have smooth, warty or ridged skins in the same conditions as pumpkins, members of the same family of Cucurbits. The drawback is they are thin skinned and unless sealed in some way, don’t keep well. Small green thin skinned gourds were also eaten as a vegetable and the bitter seeds of all gourds was used as a remedy for intestinal parasites.

Hard shell gourds are more durable, seeds and fragments found in South America have been dated at 10,000 BC. This predates the use of pottery for carrying, cooking and serving food. Intact gourd vessels have been found from 100 BC.

Hard shell gourds require rich soil, lots of water and fertilizer and either a minimum of two months of temperatures over 40˚C or 3 – 4 months full sunshine. In southern areas, they are best started indoors and planted out into tree bags when the threat of frost is over. Feed them well until the creamy white flowers set fruit and give them a deep watering twice a week.

The vines are vigorous and can grow up to a hundred metres long in good conditions so don’t attempt them if you live in a unit! They don’t have to be grown along the ground as they will happily clamber over fences, trellises and pergolas and climb trees. Don’t allow any of the giant varieties to do this … they can weigh many kilos and will pull down large branches and fences. Long gourds including dippers are best grown on support if you want them to grow nice and straight. At this stage you can train them to grow bent, twisted or even tie knots in them if you really want to! I tend to let nature do its thing and take inspiration from the results.

Allow the plants to die back completely before harvesting the gourds. Discard any with holes in, they won’t dry well. If the weather remains dry, gourds can be left where they lie or hang until they have lost a lot of their weight and turned from a pale green to a beige/brown colour. Then you can store them under cover, off the ground or on a dry surface. You will need to check them occasionally as the rats enjoy a feed of gourd seed and love to nest inside them.

At this stage they often look mouldy… don’t worry, this is the outer layer of skin that is removed before using, the mould often creates wonderful random patterns in autumn colours.

Start planning your gourd crop for next year now. There are some wonderful varieties available in all shapes and sizes. Look out for this years crop at markets now and check out seed catalogues for next year. Next time, I`ll tell you how to deal with them and show you some things I have made that I think are totally gourdeous!

1 comment:

  1. Looks great Nirala. Nims just put me on to your blog - I thought I would start one for Ashoka as an update. Just got to get onto it - going away on Wednesday.


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