Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Harvesting, Cleaning and Curing Gourds

More and more home gardeners are growing gourds for use in dried floral arrangements, bird houses, etc. The easy part is raising the gourds, the hard part is to determine when to pick them. If vines die prematurely before the fruit becomes hard it will be difficult to keep these for a very long period. In order to be successful with gourd storage, the gourds need to ripen on the vine. The best indication of a ripe gourd is the withered condition of the stem. Immature gourds that have frozen will not keep if storage is attempted.

There are several different types of gourds and each requires special handling methods. The most common Lagenaria gourds are often referred to as the dipper, caveman’s club, Giant bottle, Powder Horn, or Martin gourd. If fruits are dirty or dusty they can be washed in a mild soapy water and then rinsed with a solution of one part household bleach to ten parts water. Place gourds in a warm spot with good ventilation and out of direct sunlight until completely dry. Mature Lagenaria gourds may only require curing, if so, place in a spot with a temperature of 60 to 85 degrees F and with low humidity. Immature Lagenarias may be hung by a string attached to the stem and placed in a well ventilated, out-of-the-way place since they may require several months to completely cure.

If gourds are to be painted, shellacked, waxed or lacquered the surface must be completely dry. The Lagenarias may have a surface mold present and this can be removed before painting or waxing by soaking in warm water for a few minutes and then the mold can be removed by scraping with a knife blade. Dry gourd again before spraying with acrylic resin paint or waxed with a good liquid floor wax is applied.

Luffa cylindrical, also called the sponge or dish rag gourd, is grown mainly for the tough, fibrous netting that remains after the pulpy flesh is removed from mature fruit. The fibrous netting makes excellent sponges that are valued for use in the bath or as dish and pot scrubbers. Other important uses of the spongy material have been marine steam engine filters, doormats, table mats, mattress or shoulder pad stuffing, and for absorbing sound.

Luffas that are allowed to mature on the vine will turn from green to a dark tan or brown. At this time the internal fiber is mature and the gourd can be stored in a cool dry place until further processing of the gourd can be done.

The basic method for preparing the sponge material is to immerse the dry, mature fruit in water for a few days to allow the skin and flesh to soften so that it can be easily removed. Some additional drying may be required before the seeds will separate.

Once cleansed of seeds and flesh, the fibrous network is dried and, for some purposes bleached in hydrogen peroxide or one part bleach to nine parts water if a whiter color is desired. After soaking in bleach, rinse sponge and dry in full sun.

Cucurbita gourds (Apple, Bell, Egg, finger {Holy Crown}, Pear, Spoon, etc) usually ripen before other types and the fruit is ripe when the outside shell of the fruit has become hard. Lagenaria gourds on the other hand are ripe when they change colors from green to tan, are lightweight and have a firm shell.

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