For relatively small-volume growers, the process often seems to be more of an art than a science. What follows is our attempt to pass on what we've learned over the past few years. We'll add to this page as we learn more about this fascinating and satisfying hobby.

Please note: We're describing what worked for us ... not necessarily what works for someone else, or what you may read on more scientifically oriented growers' sites. As with any other subject, do plenty of research, weigh the information you gather, and then decide what works best for you.

Starting Early

Gourds need between 120 and 150 days of growing time from germination to maturity, depending on the variety. So, if your growing season is relatively short, like it is here in New Hampshire, you must plan ahead and start the seeds indoors. If you're not sure about the length of the growing season, consult your Farmer's Almanac (you do have one, don't you?) or some other authoritative source.

While you're waiting for the seedlings to mature, make sure your garden is ready. Actually, you probably should have started on this part the previous fall!

Planting

Prepare the garden by creating well-spaced mounds of soil, then plant two or three seedlings in each mound. Remember that gourds grow on vines, which will spread and take over the whole garden (and your yard) if you're not careful. The mounds should be at least 6 feet apart. If you plant too close together, the vines will be so thick you won't be able to walk in the garden without crushing vines or roots.

Don't plant the seedlings outside until on or after the "last frost date." If you're not sure, or if it snowed the day before the magic date, wait another week ... a late frost will kill the seedlings just as effectively as a roto-tiller!

Some growers like to use a trellis or other support, particularly if space is limited. If you choose this route, make sure to consider the variety of gourds you're growing. Large canteens, cannonballs, and bottles will pull down a trellis unless it's really sturdy. You may be better off by growing pears and ornamentals on trellises, and leaving the bigger gourds to grow on the ground.

Tending the Plants

As with many other things, sometimes the best thing you can do for your newly planted seedlings is nothing! But, keep an eye on them for signs of disease, mildew, insects, or animals. You must make your own decision about whether to use pesticides or poisons there are a host of bugs and critters that would love to eat your gourd plants at any time. We use diatomaceous earth for insect control, and our garden is fenced to keep out all but the smallest critters (fortunately we've not had problems with mice or other small vermin).

Water the plants based on how much rain you get and how hot it gets. The best solution is a drip system or soaker hose not only is it more efficient, but it eliminates the problem of soaking the leaves gourds don't like having wet leaves (yeah, but what about rain? ... it doesn't have to make sense!). Keep the soil around the vine roots moist, but not soaked.

Add fertilizer, minerals (as needed), and potash (more is better, up to a point, of course) on a regular basis, such as every two weeks. The frequency will depend on the condition of the soil, and it doesn't hurt to take more soil samples periodically to check on how you're doing. An easy way to feed and fertilize is to use more of the "soup" described above.

Cutting Back

Some growers will advise you to cut back the vines when they get to be about 10 feet long. This can promote healthy gourds, as extra-long vines eat up nutrients before they get to the gourd. Use caution, however you may wish to do some more research before attempting this.

This is a lot harder to do if you planted your mounds too close together! The vines will be so mixed together that it will be really hard to figure out which belongs to who.

Pollinating

Almost invariably, the male flowers will appear first, sometimes as much as two weeks before the females. Don't panic ... the girls will show up!

Some growers let nature take its course bees, moths, and other insects will pollinate the girls quite nicely, thank you, as they've been doing since the Garden of Eden. Others (like us) like to hand-pollinate it's fun, gives you something to do in the evening (when the girls open up), and let's you feel more involved in the whole process. Some general guidelines:

Supporting the Fruit

As your pollinated females begin to grow into gourds, two things are important.

Harvesting

Some growers will advise you to just leave the gourds in the garden over the winter. After all, either they're mature (in which case they'll survive) or they're not (in which case they'll rot, and there's nothing you can do about it). However, others (like us) can't resist the satisfaction of "harvesting" removing the gourds from the now-dead vines and placing them on pallets to dry over the winter.

Drying and Cleaning

As with nearly all other aspects of growing gourds, you've got choices at this point.

Enjoying the Results

You'll be glad you invested the time and effort in growing your own gourds. It's a rewarding process, particularly when you can point to a finished piece of gourd art and say, "I grew that one myself!"

Questions? Suggestions for more information? Send us your feedback.