The Fascinating GOURD....

Cheryl's Fall crop of Gourds lg-gourds-dryingx.jpg (33453 bytes)
Cheryl holding the bounty from her Fall Crop of Gourds.
These two were harvested in November of 2001.
The same gourds shown two months after harvest in the "Drying" stage. Notice how they form circles of brown and white mold.They are about half the weight now, as they begin to dry from the inside out.

 

cherylgourds_driedx.gif (36199 bytes)

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The same gourds shown in the 3rd month after harvest in the "Drying" stage. They are ready for the creating stage.

Check back to see the final creations.

 

I remember from childhood...
the long neck gourds that my grandmother used to grow down beside the chicken house. Granny would paint them gold and use them as centerpieces on the table during the Holidays.

It wasn't until recently that I discovered gourds as beautiful works of art. Then the research began...

Gourds come in all shapes and sizes and can be treated much like wood. They can be cut, drilled, carved, woodburned, painted, sanded, stained or finished like wood. My favorite book so far on gourds is "The Complete Book of Gourd Craft" by Summit and Widers.

I purchased my first gourds on eBay. The largest one was 22" tall. The shell was 3/8" thick and had to be cut with a jigsaw. The cleaning process took several hours.

GROWING YOUR OWN GOURDS IN A SMALL HOME GARDEN:

My summer crop of Gourds My Fall crop of Gourds
This is my summer harvest of gourds. The small gourd on the right is the summer gourd after being dried.
The larger gourd on the left is from
the fall crop.

I retrieved an abundant supply of seeds from these gourds and tried my hand at gourd gardening in the sandy soil of Florida. I started sprouting the seeds indoors in February. They quickly grew into 10" tall seedlings which seemed to be begging to be transplanted. By the first week in March I set them outside, only to discover that frost still occurs in March in N.W, Florida. So, I covered them with every plastic bucket I could find and they survived the frost.

The vines seemed to grow about 6" per day. Many blooms appeared, but only a few gourds developed. Some turned yellow and quickly rotted. (I think in my desire to be a successful gourd farmer that I over watered them!) The entire summer gourd crop yielded about a half a dozen gourds. The largest is pictured above. I had tossed a few more gourd seeds into the garden later in the spring between the tomatoes and squash, hoping some would grow along the fence. The tomatoes were abundant as usual- but no sign of any gourds could be seen, so I basically forgot about them. One day in September, after most of the garden was dead and gone- except for the weeds, my husband told me to look at what was hanging on the fence. To my suprise there were two beautiful gourds (pictured above) that had survived and flourished without any help from me!!! I think everyone should try their hand at both growing and decorating gourds. If I can grow 2 beauties like these in a 6' area along a chain link fence without even caring for them, or knowing they were there... then anyone can do it! The secret is to plant them in late spring like you would pumpkins; put a little lime in the soil (which I didn't do, but was told by a professional gourd grower at a later date); water them well when they are first planted; then leave them alone until harvest! Do not pick them until the vines die. They do mold and stink while they are drying, so put them somewhere out of the weather to complete the drying process over the winter. Some people wipe them regularly with a bleach water solution to keep down the mold and smell. The book mentioned above has alot of information that will benefit you if you decide to tackle the project in a more professional manner.

A dried and molded Gourd 2redbirds.jpg (56767 bytes)
A fully-dried gourd, complete with "personality" and MOLD! Can you believe that this basket once looked like the gourd on the left? I made the cardinals from polymer clay.  See this basket on my "Gourd Basket" page. I will even tell you how I made it!

HOW TO CLEAN A DRIED GOURD:

Be sure to wear old clothes and be prepared to spend several hours to do a good job. If you are just going to paint on the gourd this will be a piece of cake... If your gourd has black mold on it, you can scrub it with a bleach water solution and let dry. Then use a fine grit sandpaper and sand any blemishes away until you get a smooth surface. Prep it with a sealer like you would use before tole painting on wood. Prepare your design and paint or woodburn as desired. Finish with a clear gloss or satin finish to protect it.

To make a basket requires the hard work. Design your basket and mark the cutting line with a pencil or chalk. If you have a thick shelled gourd, you will need a hand saw or jigsaw. A thin shelled gourd can be cut with a knife. If you cut the narrow end of a bottleneck gourd off, you will need a wooden dowel or something long enough to reach inside the gourd to remove the pulp and seeds. The smell to most dried gourds is absolutely awful and most people would suggest a mask to avoid the fumes. If you cut a basketball or tobacco box type of gourd there will be plenty of room to get your hand inside of it with an old spoon to clean it. Discard the pulp (some people have used the pulp to make hand made paper...my husband is thankful that I haven't added that craft to my list of 55 others!) and keep the seeds for planting or making jewelry!

NOW FOR THE FUN PART - CREATING YOUR WORK OF ART:

My grandmother had saved 3 of the long neck gourds from her crops of 30 years ago and was delighted to pass them on when she heard of my new craft adventures. The gold paint had faded from years of storage, but I was determined to make them into beautiful heirlooms. After all, they already qualified as antiques! So, I eagerly set out to hand sand each one to discover their hidden beauty. Underneath that gold paint was a shell that looked like an exotic spalted wood. Small amounts of the gold paint remained in the low spots of the gourd shell which added shimmering highlights of beauty. (It was so amazing that I have tried to duplicate the technique by painting new gourds with gold spray paint and then sanding the surface. Nothing quite compares to Granny's antique gourds though!)

 Antique gourd made into a basketNext I lightly covered the gourd with Cherry wood stain and finished the gourd with several coats of gloss finish. Then embellished them with philodendron sheaths, feathers, copper wire and beads. These are among my favorite ones of all. Some gourds I leave natural, some have shoe polish for a lighter shade of brown and some have walnut stain for a darker finish. Look at the different baskets I have pictured and use your imagination to create your own works of art. I hope this page will inspire you to be creative.

 

NOW LETS MAKE A "HANGING GOURD PLANTER":

Try to locate a Bottleneck Gourd about 12-18" tall.

tools needed for gourd project

Tools needed for projects: handsaw, pliers, skewer, craft wire and wood stain or shoe polish.

 

Jonathan cutting gourd with handsaw. Gourd cut in half for planter

Using a hand saw, cut the top off as shown in the photo. Clean the gourd by scraping out the dried pulp and seed. Some gourds have a terrible odor, so you may want to wear a mask. Cutting the gourd at the neck leaves an opening too small for your hand, so I used a wooden dowel to scrape the sides of the gourd to remove the pulp and seed. Discard the pulp and save the seed to plant. Set the bottom of the gourd aside to make a basket out of at a later time. We are going to use the top to make a planter. Use a fine grit sandpaper to sand the outside surface to a smooth finish. Now you should decide if you want to leave your gourd natural or stain it. You can use shoe polish, wood stain or leather dye to add color to it. I used a "Walnut" wood stain on the ones in the photo. Spray with clear gloss and let dry. Now drill 2 holes a little larger than the diameter of the craft wire in each side. Start on the left side and attach the craft wire through the hole. Now decide how many loops and what size you want to make yours. Wrap the wire around different size objects to make the loops. You can use a shishkabob or small paintbrush handle to wrap theWrapping craft wire around pencil smaller loops and a pencil for the larger ones. Place beads on the wire in between the loops at various points. As you go across the top of the gourd, make a loop for hanging, then continue your pattern down to the other hole. Now you can continue the wire and beads around the front of your gourd or go down the side of your gourd. I have both styles pictured below. Use your imagination and have lots of fun. You can fill your planter with artificial ivy and hang indoors to enjoy. If you want to use real ivy, you will need to put a small, narrow, plastic or glass container inside the gourd. I like to embellish them with objects made from polymer clay, like the tree frog shown. Check out Joshua's polymer clay projects page for free lessons.                                   

                

Hanging planter with dragonfly. Hanging planter with treefrog. Hanging Gourd Planter with turquoise beads
Planter with polymer clay Dragonfly Planter with polymer clay Tree Frog Planter with wire and beads

Click on images to enlarge.

Click here to see more "GOURD BASKETS"

 

 

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Updated: November 11, 2006

 

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