Originally published August 2011.
I admit a few years ago I planted birdhouse gourd vines merely for the fun of it. The picture on the seed packet looked very interesting and I knew I would be happy if the vines produced just a couple of fruit. Well, the vines were prolific that year – I believe mainly because we had an unusually wet June here in North Texas. Quite accidentally I had also planted the vines in the perfect spot – in the same bed with my moonflower vines. Flowers of the birdhouse gourd vine are similar in color and shape of moonflowers, but only about 1/3 the size. Still, they are very pretty. You see, when the sphinx moths came to pollinate the night time moonflowers they probably hung around in the early morning and pollinated the smaller flowers of the gourd vine too!
At any rate, there were far more gourds produced that year than I would ever have had time to craft! I gave away dozens and loaded up the 50 or so remaining and took them down to my parents’ where we hung them in their arid tool shed to dry.
Recently, I had an occasion to go into that shed to look for a tool and I was reminded of my gourd bounty – as there they were still hanging from the rafters several years later! I decided I’d take a few home and show them off to my green-thumbed boyfriend, Mike. One of the gourds looked especially like a space alien because two molded spots had grown at the top of the gourd to form big, black, vacant eyes. I gave this particular gourd to my boyfriend’s young grandsons. They didn’t grasp exactly what it was, but they thought it was cool anyway. Mission accomplished!
Not long after, my boyfriend brought it back to me – along with another gourd I had given them. He had carved holes in the gourds, hoping I would paint and make them into true birdhouses – Mexican talavera tile style – like his backyard decor. Oh no! He demolished the alien! At first I was disappointed that my unique gourd had been cut into, but then I decided I’d give the painting job a whirl. It was a challenge and I was flattered he thought I was up to the task! Talavera style and all . . .
Well, I found there are a number of quality articles on the internet that speak of how to dry and form gourds into birdhouses. With regard to the gourd drying process, the most important thing to note is that it can take 6 – 9 months – so it isn’t a quick project by no means. Another thing to note is that while acrylic paint is vibrant and beautiful, it may scratch off quite easily if your gourd rubs up against a limb or another object – even if you spray a clear glaze on it. I learned through my research and through my own painting experience that stain or leather dye are probably the best permanent methods to add color to your craft. This, I will try next time.
Instead of focusing primarily on the birdhouse creation and decorating process, I’m providing you links at the end of this post to a few expert websites to visit and will reserve my speech here to growing the vine and producing the gourds. Once you have a successful harvest, you can revisit the sites below and have plenty of time to map out your creative plan, whether it be making birdhouses or merely producing a beautiful piece of natural art.
Gourds are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe and squash. As mentioned in my earlier post about cantaloupe, cucurbits are rather easy to grow from seed. In addition, they need a lot of space to spread whether it is vertically or horizontally. The best time to sow cucurbit seed is in the spring, right after the last frost. However, depending upon your region, you may certainly attempt to produce a second season crop by planting seed in late summer. When sowing birdhouse gourds, either do so in raised mounds on the ground or plant the seed at the base of a trellis, again, allowing ample space at either site. As I mentioned earlier, I had great fortune interplanting mine with moonflower vine, which not only offered me a vine space with beautiful white blooms both day and night, it also provided for assured pollination of the gourds by the sphinx moths that typically visit moonflower. With regard to maintenance of the gourd vines, leaves of cucurbits are usually quite demonstrative when they need water – they droop! So, just be sure to water accordingly and in no time you will see tiny, bright green, bottle-shaped gourds peeking through the leaves.
When is the best time to harvest your gourds? When the vine attached directly to the gourd becomes dry and somewhat brittle. The gourd may still be green but when the stem has “hardened off” you can safely remove it from the vine and begin the drying process. If you decide to begin a fall planting this year, wait until the first frost to harvest your crop to allow the stems to harden naturally according to the weather. Your fruit may be a tad smaller, but most should be just fine for curing nonetheless.
Birdhouse gourd vines are a lot of fun to grow and produce quite the novelty crop. -And, if you are the patient and creative type, they’ll offer you much, much more than pure amazement while on the vine.
Best of luck when you try them!
Until next time,
Web Sites for Gourd Birdhouses, Crafts and Supplies