Learn how to Develop Bottle Gourds

Let’s face it, rising gourds is complicated. Bottle gourds are cucurbits, members of the gourd household Cucurbitaceae. Each newbie and skilled gardeners typically can acknowledge the fundamental similarities they share with different cucurbits like squash or pumpkins, however what about rising them? Can we develop them within the Northeast. If we are able to, how will we do it?

A short historical past of bottle gourds

Additionally referred to as calabash and birdhouse gourds, bottle gourds are botanically often called Lagenaria siceraria, a species with a mysterious background that few botanists can agree upon. Nonetheless, most suppose that they hail from tropical areas of Africa. We all know that as much as 8,000 years in the past individuals used dried bottle gourds as bottles, bowls, and utensils. Clearly their use immediately as rattles, bowls, and birdhouses isn’t only a transient social media development. I believe we are able to safely say that bottle gourds have been a viral phenomenon for hundreds of years.

close up of gooseneck gourd
Completely different forms of bottle gourds have completely different appearances, such because the inexperienced and white gooseneck or speckled swan gourds.

How bottle gourds are completely different from different cucurbits

Whereas most cucurbits are comparatively straightforward to develop within the Northeast, in the event you’ve ever tried to lift a crop of bottle gourds, you will have found that they aren’t essentially as straightforward to develop as, let’s say, pumpkins. Understanding a number of fundamentals about these vegetation will assist us grasp rising them in cooler climates.

To start with, bottle gourds are true tropical vegetation; they relish scorching and humid climate. Soil temperature is vital right here, so save direct-sowing outside in your butternut and blue Hubbard squash; bottle gourds want heat and must be began indoors, below lights the place it’s heat.

When to start out bottle-gourd seeds

Timing is vital as nicely. A pumpkin can attain maturity comparatively shortly from an outside sowing in early June, however a tropical gourd just like the bottle gourd requires an extended rising season. I sow single seeds in particular person pots indoors in mid-April, which supplies them a 7- to 8-week head begin over outdoor-sown seeds planted in early June. Maintain seedling pots below high-intensity LED lights the place temperatures by no means drop beneath 70°F. It’s even higher to offer warmth from the underside with a propagation mat, particularly in the event you can regulate it with a thermostat to stay at 80°F in order that the soil is hotter than the air.

bottle gourd seedling before transplanting
Ensure to not transfer bottle-gourd seedlings exterior too early within the yr, as they hate the chilly.

When to transplant seedlings exterior

Harden off vegetation in early June outside, and plant them within the backyard as soon as the soil temperatures heat up and nighttime temperatures keep above 60°F. This is likely to be as late as mid-June in some years, nearer to the summer season solstice. If carried out earlier, the vegetation’ development could also be stunted. In my backyard, bottle gourds, together with different tropical gourds akin to Asian melons, bitter melons, and luffa, are all of the final vegetation to go away the consolation and heat of the indoors.

bottle gourd plant growing on a wooden trellis
Bottle gourds carry out higher with one thing to climb on, akin to a trellis.

Present the proper soil and climbing assist

Tropical gourds like these require excessive fertility, heat, and constant moisture, which might be mentioned for many cucurbits. But it surely’s much more important with the tropical species, as they’ll want further care to develop shortly with none stress through the hottest summer season months.

Bottle or birdhouse gourds are pure climbers, producing the very best outcomes when grown on a trellis or a mesh tunnel that’s not less than 7 toes excessive. Vines can attain nice lengths (15 to 25 toes lengthy or longer), so the sturdier the construction, the higher. Some gourd tunnels might be lovely in gardens, particularly when they’re skilled in late summer season with pendant gourds of all sorts hanging above your head.

close up of white bottle gourd flowers
You possibly can inform male bottle-gourd flowers from feminine ones as a result of the males are likely to kind earlier and the females have a budding fruit at their bases.

Learn how to hand-pollinate gourds

This group of gourds produces white flowers, which on some varieties open late within the day and stay open by means of the night and night time. This offers us a helpful trace, as night time flowers typically aren’t pollinated by bees however as a substitute by moths and beetles. Hand pollination is usually useful in the event you lack hawkmoths or beetles that may do the job in your space.

Hand pollinating is simple sufficient with a stepladder. Use a tender watercolor brush or a cotton swab taped to a chopstick. The objective is easy: take away pollen from the male flower (the bloom with only a skinny stem on the backside), then gently sweep the pollen into the feminine flower (the one with the newborn gourd on the backside of the flower).

Don’t be discouraged in case your vines appear to be producing solely male flowers; that is typical for a number of weeks earlier than the feminine flowers with the ovaries seem, normally in mid to late summer season. You’re forward of the sport in the event you discover younger fruit maturing with out hand pollinating. Thank the moths.

When to reap bottle gourds

Harvesting these gourds on the proper time might be difficult, particularly if an early frost threatens your crop. Selecting one too early is an issue too, as it’s going to merely rot on the kitchen counter. You’ll know a bottle gourd is able to be harvested if the stem that connects it to the plant begins to shrivel and switch brown. This means that the gourd is completed rising, as it’s receiving fewer vitamins from the plant.

What to do with bottle gourds

Chances are you’ll be stunned to know that the bottle gourds are edible and might be harvested younger for cooking. They’re usually handled like a zucchini in lots of cultures, however most of us use them as dried, decorative gourds. For crafts and for birdhouses, fruits have to be harvested mature, cured in a dry place, after which both bleached, varnished, or painted.

bottle gourds drying on a windowsill
As a way to flip a bottle gourd right into a birdhouse, let it treatment in a dry place for 3 to six months earlier than hollowing it out.

Curing gourds for crafts

In tropical climates with lengthy rising seasons, gourds are sometimes dried on the vine, however in our temperate local weather, a virtually mature gourd picked inexperienced could take 3 to six months to dry to its distinctive tan shade correctly. Since gourds are picked on the inexperienced aspect in cool climates, they usually mildew over a bit through the curing course of, and darkish spots could kind on the pores and skin. Some after-treatment, akin to paint or sanding, will probably be required.

In fact, a lot of the enjoyable with bottle gourds is creating crafts with them. As soon as totally dried, they are often painted or have holes lower in them to be used as birdhouses (when you shake out the seeds), or for a lot of different crafts. Dried gourds are as arduous as wooden and sometimes can final a number of years exterior if introduced indoors through the winter and cleaned out. Indoors they will final indefinitely. Except for the traditional bottle form, bottle gourds can be formed like lengthy snakes (as much as 5 toes lengthy) or monumental seashore balls (nice for bowls), or they are often brief and used as spoons or child rattles. This all is determined by the variability you select.

Use this information to develop nice bottle gourds for cooking, crafting, or anything. Simply make sure you present the proper rising circumstances and to choose them on the proper time.

For extra Northeast regional experiences, click on right here.

—Matt Mattus is the creator of two books: Mastering the Artwork of Flower Gardening and Mastering the Artwork of Vegetable Gardening. He gardens in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Pictures: Matt Mattus

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