Harvesting & Storing Gourds
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Timely harvesting is the key to drying and preserving decorative gourds. Gourds must mature on the vine. Immature gourds tend to rot rather than dry.
You can't leave the gourds in the garden too long, however. Like pumpkins and winter squash, gourds will be damaged by frost, and frost damage will reduce their shelf life.
Gourds ready for harvest will have hard skins and brown, dry stems. They still need gentle handling to avoid bruising, denting or breaking the skin, however. Use sharp shears or a knife to cut the stems, leaving a few inches of stem attached to each gourd.
Small gourds that mature on the vine will usually keep through the fall without any special preservation treatment. For larger gourds or longer lasting ones, follow these steps:
Wipe the gourds with a soft cloth dampened with a disinfectant (rubbing alcohol, Lysol, vinegar and water, or a solution of 2 tablespoons borax in 1 quart water).
Spread the gourds in a single layer on newspaper in a dry, well ventilated room. Turn them and change the newspapers every day. Immediately remove any gourds that shrivel or develop soft spots. It takes about a week for surface drying to occur; at the end of that time, colors are set and the outer skins are hard.
Transfer gourds to a warm, dry, dark area. Again, spread them in a single layer and check them every few days, turning them and discarding any that show signs of deteriorating. This final drying stage should take three to four weeks. Skins may be covered with mold, but as long as the gourd remains hard, the mold is not a problem.
Drying is finished when gourds are lightweight and the seeds rattle inside. The final step is washing in warm water - you can use steel wool to remove any mold or crust on the skin - and drying with a soft cloth.
Properly dried gourds should retain their natural colors for three to four months. To preserve the colors somewhat longer, try waxing them with a paste floor wax. Gourds may also be painted, stained or varnished, or decorated with a wood-burning tool.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office