18 November 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
The lively display of gourds at Octobers farmers markets prompted me to look into these curious botanical creations. The American Gourd Society, (www.americangourdsociety.org) explains that there are three kinds of gourds: the cucurbita or ornamentals, the lagenaria or hard-shells and the luffa, the latter to be addressed in a column about your gardens beauty products. Our local Virginia Lovers Gourd Society may be found at www.americangourdsociety.org/
Cucurbita will thrive with a soil pH of 6.5-7.0; so get that dirt tested and follow through on the recommendations. Provide a sunny site of no less than 6 hours a day. To help fruits set and mature, stop irrigation and side dressing with compost or other nitrogen source in late summer.
With a 182-day growing season in Central Virginia, sowing seeds indoors is technically unnecessary. However, lagenaria gourds do not tolerate cool soil or late spring frosts; so if you plan to harvest early to avoid autumn frosts, then begin indoors with two seeds per 2-inch pot in lightweight soil. To thin seedlings, snip; dont pull.
After the last frost in May, remember to slowly acclimate the tender sprouts to the garden bed before settling them in. Lagenaria will grow vigorously from the time the soil is 65 degrees F until first frost, which means they should be sown inside, late March. The ornamentals are not as finicky and can be direct-sown outside.
I start my seedlings with a 50/50 mix of finely screened leaf mold and finished compost, checking daily for damping-off or moldy beginnings. Though risky, I prefer the slow release of important nutrients and beneficial effects of microscopic creatures that raw compost provides.
Cucurbita gourds love to sprawl along their vines, but should be trellised on strong supports, for they are quite heavy at harvest. If allowing sprawl, monitor ground contact to encourage well-formed, unblemished specimens but in the case of the lagenaria, trellis them to achieve straight necks.
Cucurbita have their enemies — disease and pests — but the lagenaria gourds are hardier than the ornamentals. To make your life simpler, choose resistant varieties.
Be vigilant about autumn frost and harvest before it sneaks up on you, as the gourds appearance will suffer from the cold, a disappointing thing after all the care taken.
The lovely lagenaria will look tan when mature but some may be cut when green. Leave as long a stem as possible for it enhances the beauty of the gourd. Stems can be trimmed to a final length later.
Wash with a soft brush in soapy water with a 2% bleach solution to clear fungi and bacteria. Lagenaria needs time to dry its innards to a seedy rattle — six months to year for many. Do not hasten this process for it will cause the outer surface to wrinkle.
Treat the finished lagenaria like exotic wood. Carve, sculpt and decorate with exquisite care or barter with an artist who will do the same.
Tip of the Week
Build next year's leaf mold with this year's shredded leaves. Pile leaves to a depth of five feet. By next autumn the pile will have shrunk to a foot, dense with precious fungal filaments that strengthen root growth. Or set aside in black plastic bags with random one-inch holes, for two years.