Thomas J. Koske | 4/19/2005 10:28:35 PM
The hardshell bottle gourd, also known as the birdhouse gourd, is one of the few plant species from which useful and lasting containers can be made. Two dominant species are Cucurbita and Lagenaria, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske.
These gourds are ready to harvest when the stems begin to dry and turn brown, or when the leaves start to die. Koske recommends harvesting before frost - although he says the Lagenaria, which has white flowers, will tolerate a light frost.
"If subjected to a light, vine-killing frost, some Lagenaria will have a maple color when cured and finished," Koske says. "For a tan or mahogany finish, cut the fruit before frost."
After harvesting, wash fruit with warm, soapy water. Then rinse in warm water to which a small amount of household disinfectant has been added, the horticulturist advises.
"Some people like to rinse them with warm water, wipe dry, then wipe again with a cloth dampened in rubbing alcohol," Koske says.
A bleach dip made from 1 ounce bleach to 2 quarts of water may be used to bleach colors from the gourds. After using this dip, dry the gourds thoroughly. Discard any diseased, bruised or immature fruit. Then place clean, dry fruit in an open-mesh bag hung in a warm, dry and well-ventilated place.
"Avoid placing fruit in strong light because colors may fade," Koske says, adding, "Check carefully for any signs of decay and remove damaged fruit immediately."
Curing takes one to six months, depending on the type, size and use of fruit. First, the outer skin hardens, and the surface colors set; this takes one to two weeks. Internal drying takes at least another four weeks. This stage may be hastened by drilling or pushing a wire through the blossom end of the gourd, creating a small hole.
If the gourd is to be used as a utensil, however, holes are not desirable. Turn the fruit occasionally and check for shriveling, soft spots and uneven drying.
Fruits to be made into utensils and bird houses can be prepared during the last stage of drying. If completely dry, they may crack and shatter when being carved or cut.
The rattle of the seeds when the gourd is shaken indicates adequate curing. Once well-cured, the fruit may be waxed, shellacked or painted. A high-grade transparent furniture or floor wax is preferred to shellac or varnish because the latter may change the natural color. A glossy surface does not have a natural appearance.
Hardshell Lagenaria gourds can be smoothed and polished with a very fine grade of steel wool or sandpaper. After sanding, wipe with a clean cloth dampened with alcohol or turpentine. Allow to dry thoroughly before waxing or adding any decoration. Periodic waxing will help preserve the fruit.
For related topics, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com Additional yard and garden topics are available from an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.