Grow gourds to attract birds

  • Posted: Sunday, November 3, 2013 7:00 a.m., Updated: Sunday, November 3, 2013 9:08 a.m.
Birdhouse gourds come in many shapes and sizes. Trident Technical College’s horticulture students are selling decorated or unfinished ones.

It’s been a good year for birds.

They have cleaned all the fruit off our beautyberry. They have dined on the finest birdseed my wife can buy.

The squirrels, on the other hand, have had a bad year. They failed to solve our tricky birdfeeder, which means more expensive seed for the birds.

However, we haven’t had much luck with birdhouses. Our only attempt ended up housing a rat.

One possible approach to attracting more birds is growing gourds. Gourds are living ornaments typically used for Thanksgiving decorations. Native Americans also used them to make utensils and containers.

Gourds are in the cucumber family, which includes pumpkins and squash. Three types of gourds can be grown. Small, ornamental gourds have warty, ridged and striped rinds and are primarily used as decorations. They will last about a year.

The large gourds, frequently called birdhouse gourds, grow in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most commonly used to house purple martins, birdhouse gourds also can be decorated with etchings, paint or lacquer as well as fashioned into dippers and bowls.

If properly harvested, birdhouse gourds will last for years.

Lastly, luffa gourds are used as luffa sponges, the popular coarse exfoliators.

You can plant gourds in your garden for next year.

Full sun is preferred. Gourd vines will grow on the ground or climb a trellis. Allowing the fruit to dangle from a pergola or arbor is a great ornamental effect to consider.

Depending on the type of gourd, the growth required to harvest can take 100 to 180 days.

Plant gourds after our last spring frost, which is typically at the end of March. Some gourd enthusiasts like to use transplants instead of seed to ensure enough time to have mature gourds.

As harvest nears, the rind should be stiff enough to avoid being easily punctured with your thumbnail. The stem will begin to wither on the vine. Cut the stem clean rather than twisting off and leave a few inches on the gourd.

Small ornamental gourds should be harvested before fall frost. Frost can damage the decorative rind and result in rot.

Birdhouse gourds are handled differently than ornamental gourds. They can be left on the vine after frost to completely dry. They also can be harvested green and dried in the shed or garage.

A birdhouse gourd will be 90 percent water, so it can take one to several months to dry, depending on size. Be careful not to bump or drop immature gourds to avoid decay setting in.

Some sources suggest not drying gourds in the house or basement unless you want your relatives to leave Thanksgiving early. The odor can be unpleasant.

Ventilation is important to facilitate the drying process. In some cases, a fan can be used to keep air moving. Much of the water will escape through the cut stem as well as the hard, yet porous, rind.

To minimize rot, clean birdhouse gourds with soap and water when preparing to dry.

This should be followed by a 10 percent bleach rinse. Under normal conditions, rot will occasionally occur on about one out of every 10 to 20 gourds. Rot can be identified as soft spots that begin to spoil. Place birdhouse gourds on newspaper or cardboard. Avoid letting them touch each other.

Another option is to hang gourds. Mold may occur on the outer rind during this process but isn’t necessarily harmful.

When the seeds rattle inside the gourd, the outer skin can be removed to expose the shell. Do this by soaking in warm water and scrubbing. Another bleach rinse will remove mold. Holes can be cut to create birdhouses, bowls or crude helmets.

Check out the South Carolina Gourde Society (scgourdsociety.com) for more information.

Also, you can buy gourds ready to decorate your Thanksgiving dinner table. Trident Technical College horticulture students have quite a few for sale if you’d like to support their fundraiser. For more information, contact me at 574-6278

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.

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