Annie's Gourd Page


Annie's Gourd Page


Growing Birdhouse Gourds in Rural Oklahoma ~ Summer 2002

[Click on all Thumbnail photos below to view them in full size]

Soil Preparation: Birdhouse Gourds, or Bottle Gourds, are the easiest gourds to grow and require the shortest growing season of all gourds. They need full sun and like well drained soil. I added compost to the garden location last Fall (2001). By Spring 2002, the compost was completely composted into the soil, & ready to receive the seeds I planted in early June. I added wood ashes in May, the "poor man's potash",  good for producing blooms and therefore more fruit (gourds).

Weather is very erratic here in Oklahoma, and Spring planting is always a risky business. Late "Killer Frosts" or hard freezes and even bizarre blizzards can blow in from Colorado without forewarning and wipe out early planted crops and often as not, will damage or wipe out my fruit crop. This past year, we had an unusually long and chilly Spring that lasted all the way into June, so I could not plant the gourd seeds until late in the season. Normally, they would have been planted no later than the second phase of the moon of mid-May.  By planting them that late, I knew I was taking a chance of not getting them to full maturity in time for harvest in late Summer or early Fall, but I decided to give it a try.

2002 Clary Sage blooms under the Teepee poles -June 2002
Companion plants: Fragrant, Apple-scented and daisy-like Chamomile bloomed all around and the spiky Garlic Chives with its crown of white starry blooms grew nearby, as well as the beautiful Clary Sage with it's tall stalks of papery, delicate lilac-colored blooms. I had no insects problems of any kind. The bees loved the little white blossoms gourd blossoms, and the wild birds found the vine-covered Teepee a cool retreat all summer long. 

And so did my grandchildren! It was their favorite place to play all summer. 

I set up an old whiskey barrel with an old metal wash tub inserted for a fishpond  in the center underneath the Teepee. I put in a pot of pink Water Lilies and a container of  Native "Yellow Flags" or Water Irises, and a handful of Elodea grass for the fish to hide in and eat. The wild birds would fly in for a cool drink, or  perch high up on the topmost part of the teepee, safe from any predators
(See Trellising , below). My cats found it a lovely place on hot days and a few tried to catch the frogs and birds, but to no avail. They could easily escape to to lofty branches overhead, or dive into the depths of the little pool out of harm's way. The goldfish and Leopard frogs kept Mosquitos from developing.  Hordes of Dragonflies found it a cool place to get a drink, mate  and hunt for any unsuspecting mosquito that might dare to lay it's eggs in the little pool.

All in all, I found it to be a perfect set-up.

2002   Young Gourd plants

Irrigation: I planted mine up in my Herb Garden, where the soil is sandy-loam. It receives full sun all day and is the hottest place on my property in the heat of summer. I piled on the wheat straw around the young plants to shade their tender root system and help retain some moisture with good results. I hardly watered them at all.  It also kept down the weeds and wild grasses. After the vines grew to about a foot tall, I quit cultivating around them. They did not seem to be bothered by the native grasses that grew up around them, and the gourds actually may have even benefited from the moisture retention and shade they offered. . Regular watering is important when the fruit is growing if you want bigger gourds for birdhouses, so you will need to water them from time to time where summers are hot and dry. Morning watering is best so the leaves can dry out before Dusk to prevent mold developing on the leaves. I prefer to grow my gourds more like they would in Nature, only watering them when the weather gets very hot and dry. I may have been able to get more gourds had I tried the Pruning Method
 (see below) and watered them more often. The area where you live & the amount of rainfall you get in a given season will determine how much watering you need to do to get the best results. It is a matter of learning by experience - Trial & Error..

2002  Birdhouse Gourd Teepee, Oct. 2002
Trellising the Gourds:
I built a twenty foot tall teepee from Elm tree limbs I had to trim off the chicken coop. It was set  up in the middle of my  Herb garden. It provided the lofty support for the gourds that they liked and shaded the herb garden during the hottest part of the summer, which they liked. Both the Small Bottle or Birdhouse Gourds and the Large Bottle or Birdhouse Gourds were planted for interest. The foliage was beautiful. The location was perfect as the soil is sandy loam and on high ground, so heavy rains would not cause the plants to rot or mold to develop. The gourds got watered whenever I irrigated the Herb Garden or the blackberries, corn, sweet potatoes and Oklahoma Wildflowers also growing there. Although Birdhouse Gourds can be grown on the ground , "Air gardening" on a fence, or trellis, or even up into an old dead tree, allows the vines to produce gourds free of blemishes and stains, and they are less likely to get a mold or mildew. Also, you get a better shaped gourd, not one lopsided from laying on the ground.

Make sure the support can handle the weight of the vines and gourd fruits. A plant full of gourds is very heavy. Gourds are 90% water. A ten pound gourd will weighs only one pound after it is dried. I had any where from 4 to 10 gourds on one plant this year. The fewer the gourds, the bigger they will grow, so the heavier they will be, too. I have not gathered the biggest ones up in the crotch of the teepee, as yet. I sure hope the frost doesn't get them. They are the biggest ones of all - big enough to use for a bread basket or for a family-sized salad. Native Americans even cooked in them.

2002 Large B. H. Gourds dangling precariously from atop the Teepee
Trimming the Vines to produce more gourds: By trimming the vines, they will produce more lateral vines, so says "the Experts"....the theory being that you will get more vines to produce more blossoms and therefore more gourds. It is recommended to do this and sounds like good advice, but I didn't! I just grew them "naturally" , and the vines grew upwards to 30 feet and then began to trail over and hang down toward the ground. I thought surely the vines would snap under the weight of the gourds, but they didn't, even in heavy thunderstorms when we had fierce rain and winds. The teepee stood strong and the gourds did not snap off. I didn't even lose any of the blossoms! 
The Results ~ From the ten (10) vines that grew up onto the Teepee poles in my Herb Garden this year  (2002), I harvested thirty-two (32) gourds - eleven (11) of the Small Birdhouse Gourds and the remainder (20) , were the Large Birdhouse Gourds variety that are more than twice the size of the smaller variety, some weighing over ten pounds at harvest time.
(and YES! There are different sizes of Birdhouse Gourds!).

This coming Spring (2003) , when the gourds are completely "cured" and ready to go outside and become part of the a Wild Bird's Habitat, I will build my California Indian-style Purple Martin poles up in my Meadow on Turkey Ridge, and hang a few of the Large Birdhouse Gourds from high up on the cross tree, and try it out. I hope the Purple Martins find them...or  the resident Bluebirds!

This is a close-up photo of the male and female birdhouse gourd blossoms that I found on the internet. The little round bulb below the flower of each female gourd-blossom is what develops into the birdhouse gourd. The Top blossom is the male flower. The bottom blossom is the female flower. You can see that the female blossom has the little bulb under the blossom petals.
Male blooms grow on the main vines. Female blooms grow on the lateral (side branches of the vines. When the main vine gets to about 10-12 feet in length, trim it. It will encourage the main vine to grow side shoots or branches (laterals). More Females blooms will grow on these side branches.
It just makes good horse-sense, so I will try it next year.

Hand Pollination: The gourd plant has male and female blooms. Both are funnel in shape but the female has a small round bulb at the base of it's bloom. Male blooms develop two weeks before the female.
The female blooms are open only a short time, about 24 hours. Be sure and hand pollinate when the female is fresh and new. The blooms open in the early morning, early evening or on overcast days.

Method 1-- Cut a male bloom from the vine that is closest to the female. Gently rub the male bloom onto the female bloom. Transfer as much pollen as possible.
Method 2--
Carefully cover the male and female blooms with cheesecloth before they open. When both blooms are open, remove the cheese cloth and repeat Method 1. Recover the female bloom with the cheesecloth . Loosely tie a label to the female for ID. When the bloom has dried and fallen, carefully remove the cheesecloth This is your gourd with "True" seeds. These seeds can be used for next year's crop.
2002 Small Birdhouse Gourds grew near the bottom on the Teepee
Harvesting: Approximately 4-6 weeks prior to the first frost, decrease water to your gourds. This is called "hardening off". You want the gourd dehydrated enough where the first frost will not affect the gourd. Harvest all "True seed" gourds prior to the first frost. To kill any molds that might be on them and cause them to rot, I wiped them off with a damp sponge, dipped in bleach-water, a mixture of bleach and water.  If any black mold appears, just wipe them again to remove the mold. It will not hurt the drying gourds at all.

Storage: Gourds can be left on the vine to "Cure" if you do not have any place to store them. You can also remove the gourds from the vine and sit them on pallets or screens to cure outside or you can tie jute cord to the stems and hang them to dry in a shed, barn or spare room. Your kitchen is a good place in the winter as it is generally warmer and dryer, but keep them away from direct light and water or damp areas. Allow for air circulation between the gourds. Handle the gourds carefully. Bruises will cause the gourd to rot.

I hung mine to dry in the alcove that separates my living room from my dining room. I like them there to watch them change as they dry and to keep an eye out for any possible problems that might develop, like mold or mildew. They get plenty of air circulation and are quite decorative. I harvested them in three phases, due to the early Frosts this year, so some are dry, some in the middle stages of drying, and some are still quite green.

2002 Newly harvested Green Bottle Gourds

2002  You can see that each Gourd has its own distinct qualities - shape, size, color, in addition to their unique skin patterns & textures.

Seeing Spots??? Don't worry if you see little rings or spots appear on their skins as they dry - they are supposed to look like that! This is caused by a fungus, but it is does not hurt the gourds nor does it detract from their appearance. The only ones you don't want to see on them is black powdery mold or the moist, white mildew. The bleach solution will keep that at bay. If it appears again, don't be afraid to sponge it with the bleach-water. It won't hurt the drying gourds. I personally love the way they look with all those little rings and spots.  Each one has a uniqueness. They dry in lovely shades of Yellow Ochre and Sienna [see photo below]

  2002  Some of my Birdhouse Gourds drying in the alcove- Dec. 2002

When they are completely cured, I will dip them into a solution of bleach-water, and hang them to dry. Then I plan to coat them with a clear Polyurethane varnish, inside and out, to preserve them from the 'Elements', at the same time allowing their Natural Designs to remain visible. I may paint a few with a transparent color or stain, just to experiment, but I want their gorgeous patterns to show through.
How can anyone improve on Nature's Designs? 

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This page was designed & created  by Teddie Anne "Annie" Driggs ~ Copyright Nov. 2002

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