Growing The Gourds
Growing your own ornamental gourds and making a birdhouse gourd is great fun and surprisingly easy. And it makes a great natural addition to a bird garden.
I grew our own birdhouse gourds from seed very easily. Although I started the seeds indoors I’m not sure that is really necessary and in 2009 I am going to try some seeds both started indoors and direct sown to see if there is a difference in harvesting time in our zone 5 garden.
The best gourds for birdhouses are bottle gourds, often called birdhouse gourds or Mexican bottle gourd.
Plant the seeds or seedlings leaving plenty of room for growth. Two plants expanded well beyond a 4 foot teepee trellis I provided and grew at least 6 feet in every direction!
When To Harvest
When the gourds mature in the fall then turn from green to tan. In our zone 5 climate they were still slightly on the green side when we were expecting a severe frost so I decided to harvest mine anyway. I picked them, leaving about 3-4 inches of the stem attached.
The gourds need to spend the winter in a dry, warm place with good air circulation. I placed ours on a wire shelf in the garage for the winter and they dried well. They do get moldy, this is a natural part of the process. I found it best to scrap off some of the thickest mould after a few months as this seemed to help them dry faster but be aware that it is the mould that provides the really interesting design on the ‘wood’ when you are finished. Discard any gourds that become wrinkled or soft although a small soft spot can be turned into the birdhouse opening if it is in the right spot. This is what the mold looks like:
Making The Birdhouse
By early April you can start working on your birdhouses.
The first step is to clean off the outside skin. At first I was quite nervous, thinking I would damage the gourd. Please don’t worry, they are very hard and durable! After a couple experiments, I found the best approach was to wet the gourds with water and scrub the skin off with a dull knife, bristle brush or steel wool. (Your should wear a mask if mould will bother you for the first cleaning).
Removing most of the skin and mould in early April really speeds up the drying process. The gourds are dry and ready to finish if the seeds rattle inside. If the gourd are not yet fully dry you can put them back in your storage space to finish. I found that while the tops were dry the bottoms were not so I put them back in my garage lying down and they finished drying within two weeks. By early April, the gourds are partly dried and ready for cleaning.
Again, the gourds are completely dry when the seeds rattle inside. At this point, reclean any skin left on them with water and steel wool or a bristle brush. Apply a bit of diluted bleach to the outside just to kill any mould. Let them dry.
Once the gourds are dry they can be sanded with sand paper to a smooth finish.
After they are smooth, cut a hole in the gourd with a drill and hole cutting attachment. Clean out the seeds with a stick or knife and shake them out of the hole. The seeds and pith need to be cleaned out from the inside (I warn you it’s a bit smelly and dusty!)
I drilled two holes in the top to put a wire through for hanging. I also drilled 4-5 holes in the bottom for rain water drainage.
The next step is to either paint or varnish your gourds. I decided to leave mine natural looking with a shiny water-based verathane finish .
After that, place outdoors. As this as my first year growing the gourds I don’t know how long they will last but since they were so easy, I’m planning to grow more this spring.