A simple guide to growing and carving gourds

Gourd-bearing plants are easy to grow and provide double value; the plants are an attractive addition to the garden while the gourds themselves can be used as ornaments or containers in the house. Try growing and decorating gourds with these simple tips.

A simple guide to growing and carving gourds

Two gourd types you should know

There are two types of gourd: ornamentals and hard shells.

  • Ornamentals are soft skinned and have brightly coloured patterns of orange, green and yellow.
  • Hard shells, also known as lagenarias (they belong to the Lagenaria plant genus) or calabashes, dry to a natural yellow or tan.

Planting and maintaining gourds

Gourds can be cultivated in much the same way as pumpkins.

  • Plant the seeds in a sunny, well-drained area and either provide a support for the vines or allow them to trail over the ground.
  • When the stems become dry, the gourds are ready to be picked and cured.
  • Ornamentals can simply be waxed and polished, but hard shells must be scraped and cleaned.

Cutting and decorating your gourd

Let the form of the gourd suggest its function when creating gourd containers. The names of the gourds, derived from their shapes, include bottle, club, dumbbell, penguin and ball. Hard-shell gourds require preparation before they can be cut open and made into utensils. The first step is to remove the outer skin so that the gourd can dry out rapidly.

  1. Start by wrapping the gourd in a towel soaked with a solution of liquid household detergent.
  2. After several hours, when the outer skin is softened, remove the towel, scrape the outer skin off the gourd, and place the gourd in a warm, dry place for several days or until it is thoroughly dry.
  3. There are no restrictions, other than your own ingenuity, on how you cut and decorate a gourd. Tools needed for cutting and carving hard shells include a fine-toothed saw, a knife with a sharp tip, a metal spoon or spatula for scraping, steel wool, and sandpaper.

How to cure and carve a hard-shell gourd

  • When you have decided what you want to make (large bowl, ladle, sugar bowl, scoop, birdhouse) carefully draw a cutting line in pencil on the gourd.
  • Start the opening by puncturing one spot with a pointed object, then continue cutting with a fine-toothed saw. Carefully saw along the line until the gourd is cut through; if the skin resists, exert steady pressure on the saw.
  • Remove the pulp and seeds with a scraper. If some fibres cling to the inside, soak them with water and scrub them off with steel wool. If the shape of the gourd makes it difficult to scrape (for example, a long narrow gourd to be used as a vase), fill it with water for a few hours, then scrape it out with a hooked wire.

Using your gourd as a bowl or ornament

  • Gourds that are going to hold food should be waterproofed. The best way to achieve this is to cover the inner surface with a fine coating of wax.
  • Almost any type of paint or stain can be used. The design can be carved with an engraving tool or sharp knife.
  • Finish by applying a coat of lacquer over the entire shell.
  • Those used for ornament only should be left for several days to dry out after picking; then use steel wool to remove the outer layer.
  • Bottle gourds are often used as liquid containers.
  • Dipper gourds — also called siphons — make ideal ladles, vases and planters. S
  • mall dumbbell gourds are used as salt shakers while spherical "canteen" gourds are most suitable for use as bowls.

From unique centrepieces to decorated bowls, gourds are wonderfully useful plants. Keep these tips in mind and cultivate a healthy gourd that you can design and put to immediate use.

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