Gourd Growing & Precautions

Scrubbed gourd on left, moldy dried gourd on right
If you're thinking of trying a natural approach to arts and crafts like gourd art, you should know that natural doesn't necessarily mean safe or simple. You should educate yourself, consider taking a class, and use safety precautions.

Growing Gourds:  Check the growing season for your area. Southern gourd enthusiast Charlotte Durrence says,  "In Georgia we tell people to plant your gourds at Easter and don't harvest them until Thanksgiving.  Because all the leaves on the vine will die down and you'll think that it's not gonna grow anymore.  But a gourd will get as big as it's gonna get, and as long as it's on that vine, if there's any green coming through that vine, they'll get thicker and and thicker.  You always leave them as long as you can on the vines."

Drying Gourds:  Be patient!  Small gourds take a minimum of two months to dry out, while large ones could take two years.  The water has to wick out naturally.  Durrence says getting in a hurry can be disastrous,  "If you pick a gourd off a vine and drill a hole in it and don't know if it's mature, if it's not mature, it's gonna cave in and rot like a pumpkin does."

More on Drying Gourds:  Gourds get moldy and smelly.  Durrence says a gourd will slowly dry out, getting mold on the outside and smelling like rotten eggs.  She cautions, "Never take them inside to dry them, if you have green ones.  Always leave them out in the open on a wooden pallet.  It takes a long time and it smells real bad when they're drying out."

Cleaning Gourds:  Don't inhale what's on the outside or inside of the gourd!  As we saw from our visit to the Turkey Branch Gourds farm, even properly drying and completely dried gourds will end up with mold on them.  Inhaling it could make you sick.  Once you're ready to scrub clean a completely dried gourd, Durrence says to wet the gourd for about 15 minutes, then use a pot scrubber to get it clean.  Covering your nose and mouth and doing this outdoors can help minimize your exposure to the mold.
C.L. Arnsdorff of Turkey Branch Gourds

Cutting or Drilling Gourds:  Wear proper protection against inhaling the dusty material inside the gourd.  Think of the volume of gooey material you find when cleaning out a fresh pumpkin, and how it would turn to dust after several months.  Durrence warns, "When they start drying out, the dust inside is very, very bad health-wise.  If you inhale it and get it inside your lungs, it could be just like getting wood fibers in your lungs.  If you cut gourds and clean out the inside with no mask or protection on, the next day you'll feel like you have bronchitis and a really sore throat.  There are a lot of warnings that need to go out about taking care of yourself when cleaning out the inside."

Charlotte Durrence in her studio
Finishing Touches:  Know your medium.  Gourd artists use a wide variety of art media, from paints to dyes to carving and more.  Be sure to get skilled in whatever you're using and take appropriate precautions.  For instance, painters should always work in properly vented spaces.  Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the art products you choose.

For lots of gourd art tips and information about classes coming to your area, check out the American Gourd Society's website.  To learn more about the gourd retreat that Durrence hosts near Savannah, go to Gourd Retreat-Southern Style.

Labels: , , , , , ,