Birdhouse or bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are one of the thick-skinned gourds that are mainly grown for crafts or decoration.
One year at our Gardeners sale Sherry Chandler. sold both natural and beautifully decorated bottle necked gourds. Sherry tells me growing birdhouse gourds and then preparing them as a bird’s next prime realestate or a piece of decorative art is a garden project that anyone can do.
The birdhouse gourd is the white-flowering gourd species that produce the hard-shelled fruit mainly used for crafts. Birdhouse gourd seeds can be purchased from local nurseries or seed catalogues. Sherry purchased all her seeds from Northern Dipper, Barrie ON due to the many varieties to choose from. It’s preferable to get them into the ground as soon as the last frost date has passed since they can take anywhere from 125-140 days to mature. Because of this Sherry starts hers indoors in April. If they do not mature they will simply rot.
Birdhouse gourds can be grown on small “hills”. However, because they are a long-season crop, they may end up sitting on the ground for long periods and could become rotten on the side touching the ground. One way to avoid this problem is to use 3” or so of mulch around the vines and under the fruit and/or place a piece of wood under each gourd. Some gardeners grow them up trellis’s, fences or cages. A suggestion for doubling up on space is to plant another veggie like peas right up the trellis or fence with the gourds. The nice thing about peas is that they are a legume, so instead of stealing nitrogen from the growing gourds, they actually fix nitrogen into the soil.
When starting the seeds indoors, clip the top corners and soak the seeds in water overnight to give them a leg-up on germination. They need plenty light and warmth. Plant the seeds in their permanent spot as soon as the last frost date has passed. Plant 3 to 5 seeds per composted hill about 5” apart. When seedlings begin to take off, thin them to one seedling per hill.
If you want to train them up a trellis or fence, plant the seeds about 2 – 3 feet apart (intersperse pea seeds in between if you’d like). The larger gourds, due to their size and weight. need to stay on the ground. Birdhouse gourds like well- drained soil and some compost or composted manure tossed in there once in a while. Sherry suggests protecting the seedlings from slugs, deer and rabbits.
You can start the seeds indoors in April (remember to clip edges and soak them first) before the last frost date, but plant them in peat pots so you can plant them directly into their permanent beds without disturbing their sensitive roots. Then go ahead and plant them outdoors after the last frost date.
Sherry hand pollinates her gourds to ensure a good crop. However, where pollinators abound this is not necessary.
At maturity the gourds will tolerate a light frost, so let them ripen on the vine as long as possible. The gourds will be ready to harvest when the stems turn brown, but as I said, if Jack Frost has brought more than two suitcases, he’s there to stay so go ahead and bring the gourds inside.
Handle the gourds carefully because they bruise easily at this stage. Wipe off any moisture and keep them in a cool and airy place to dry. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will take for them to fully dry, but suffice it to say; the smaller ones will be ready faster. If mould appears just scrape it gently off with a knife and then wipe with a soft cloth. If any of the gourds get soft or mushy- toss into the compost pile.
During the curing process, the gourds could go from pale ivories, rusts, beige’s or mottled grey colors: each one will be unique. Bottles that are fully dry or cured will be light weight (nothing like when you first harvested them). The seeds inside will rattle when you give the bottle a shake. Now they can be made into a birdhouse or decorated for a special person or occasion.
So, you plant your gourd seeds. They grow and flower. The flowers lure beneficial insects to your yard, helping to give you a great food harvest. The gourds grow and dry out and you then get your crafty hat on and create a masterpiece for a gift or a home for the birds. The next growing season, you have birds using the condos and acting as vegetable sentries as they eat thousands of bug pests in your garden. Once again, you harvest a bountiful food crop.
The plan is simple, but gardening always brings compelling evidence of how everything on earth is connected.
Thanks to Sherry C. for her help with this post. Pictures are Sherry’s and Brenda’s.