Gourds are one of the most diverse groups of fruit that you will likely find anywhere with wide variations in color, shape and size. Any trip to a farmers market (in the Northern Hemisphere) in late September or early October and you will see this gourd harvest in abundance on display. Hard shell gourds in particular, while not edible have a wide range of uses and many different cultivars. These types of gourds, unlike other members of the Cucurbitaceae family have the unique ability to dry out and cure in to an almost wood like consistency when properly stored. This drying out or curing process is what allows hard shell gourds to be used for so many purposes. Here are some of the hard shell gourd varieties you might consider to growing in your garden.
Large hard shell gourds are members of the L. Siceraria species and include: Bottle and Swan neck gourds, Long Dipper gourds, Bushel gourds, Giant Pear gourds etc.
The Bottle and Swan neck gourd varieties have a large rounded base at the blossom end with a straight or curved handle that sometimes will become slightly large and rounded at the stem end (indicative of the cultivar names) and are commonly used to make birdhouses.
Long Dipper gourds also have a large round base at the blossom end and grow long and straight (if supported high above the ground on a trellis), unless grown on the ground in which they become curved and snake like in appearance. Long Dipper gourds can grow to a length of more than 100 inches. Dipper gourds are often used to as spoons, cups and water dippers.
Bushel gourds are large and round but flat in shape and with thick enough walls can be used for bowls and for food storage.
Giant pear gourds as their name suggests look like very large pears that can grow to weigh more than forty pounds (while on the vine) and measure more than four feet in circumference at the base.
These large hard shell gourds while on the vine are for the most part are green in color, be it light, dark, or dark green, sometimes solid in color or with light green stripping (similar to a Crimson Sweet watermelon). Once gourds are dried out they will have a tan or brown like color that is somewhat spotted and random and is due to the naturally occurring mold and bacteria that grows on them during the drying process. These gourds plants thrive in warm weather climates and in general will harvest from seed in about 130 to 150 days. Hard shell gourds just like ornamental gourds, are also hearty growers with a high level of resistance to insect pest and disease damage, although an integrated pest management program should be utilized.
References / Resources:
Grassbaugh, Elaine, Metzger, Susan & Riofrio, Marianne. Growing and Curing Gourds in the Home Garden, HYG-1630-96. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, Horticulture and Crop Science.
Retrieved from: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1630.html
Rood, Mary Ann. (1998). North Carolina Gourd Society, Hard Shell Gourds
Retrieved from: http://www.ncgourdsociety.org/hardshell.htm