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Hard Shell Gourds

The gourd is a member of the same family as the pumpkin, squash, melon and cucumber. It has five leaves and both male & female parts on the same plant. There are three types of gourds: hardshell, ornamental and luffa. Sizes range from one- or two-inch mature fruits up to several feet in length and diameter. All gourds like lots of sun (at least 6 hours daily), water (but good-draining soil) and fertilizer (10-10-10 or 12-12-12). Hardshell gourds like good topsoil with compost and manure added to loosen the texture and a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. They also like lots of room. If growing in quantity, plants should be 4 feet apart in rows that are 8 feet apart. Spacing is very important. The vines can also be trained to grow vertically up a trellis or a fence to conserve ground space and to have a better shape and straighter neck on the fruit. The root system is very shallow, so mulch well and don’t cultivate the soil around the plants.

Hardshell gourds take 140 days to reach maturity. Ornamentals mature in 100 to 120 days. Because it’s difficult to get this long a growing season outdoors here, gourds need to be started indoors. Plant the seeds in 4-inch peat pots and seal them in plastic bags, keeping them on a heating pad at 70 deg until they germinate. Move them under grow lights until time to move them outdoors. They will need to be hardened off for about a week before being placed in their permanent locations in the garden.

Water gourds using a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system in stead of watering from overhead. They are very susceptible to powdery mildew. When the vine is 10 feet long, snip the tip to produce lateral branches. Female blossoms grow on the laterals. Also stop applying nitrogen at that time. Hardshells have white blossoms that open at night or early in the morning. You will need to hand pollinate since the bees aren’t usually around to help at that hour. Fruit cannot be picked early; it will rot and not cure properly if not allowed to reach full maturity on the vine. Go to the point when the vine actually dies in the fall before harvesting the crop.

Cucumber beetles are a significant menace to a gourd crop. Good cultural habits will help control the beetle population. Clean all old, dead vines out of the garden in the fall. Clean beds again well in the spring and add Diazinon when tilling. Another enemy, vine borers, must be hand picked.

Emily & Bob Dillard, Indiana Gourd Society, were the speakers at one of our meetings. Gourds offer both a challenge and a lasting reward. Contact Rocky Ford Gourds, PO Box 22, Cygnet OH 43413 (419) 655-2152 for mail order seeds.