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A Bird's Home

Drying Gourds


Because I've received so many questions about drying gourds and exactly what to do with them that I need to make a few statements up front.


There are a number of different methods to dry gourds and the particular method anyone uses will be up to them.  If you want to pick your gourds early and place them on pallets, then fine, they will dry.  If you want to leave your gourds right in the field attached to the vines, then fine, they will dry, and no, you don't have to go out and put anything under them to protect them from the damp ground.  Gourds have been drying by themselves for eons and have been doing just fine.  In fact, I believe gourds will cure faster if left right on the vine until dry.


However, here are a few points to remember.


Gourds need air to dry.  Lots of air.  So if you pick your gourds early, DON'T put them some place where they will not get good air flow, like in a cellar or a small room.


Gourds will dry out in the weather just fine.  No, it won't hurt them to get wet from rain, nor will it hurt them to freeze.  Yes, a hard freeze will kill the vines and leaves, but the gourds will do just fine.  Commercial growers don't pick their gourds from the fields until they are fully dry.  Gourds are dry when the seeds rattle when they are shaken.  Gourds that are left on the vine to dry, harden off much better and seem to be of much higher quality than gourds that have been picked while still green.



You're only ruining your gourd, and in most cases where this is done, the gourds will soon rot.  That outer skin is the protective covering for your gourds and if you remove it, then you are only inviting trouble into your gourds.  This also means, don't cut ANY large holes and scrape out the insides.  The gourd will soon cave in and collapse.  If a gourd is not dried, then nothing should be done to it until it is.


"But the skin of a gourd is very hard, how will the water get out?"  

The stem of a gourd is very porous and this is where much of the water inside the gourd will escape.  If you cut your gourds off the vines, leave approximately 2 inches of stem intact.  Pruning sheers or a very sharp knife should be used to cut gourds from the vine.  NEVER just twist the stem to break it.  This will allow infection into the gourd and the stem will become useless for future use.  The cut should be clean to allow the water to escape.  Also, although we perceive the outside of a gourd to be hard, it is in reality, very porous and much of the water will escape through the skin.


"But I need to speed up the drying of my gourds because I need them now?"

Can't be done.  Yes, you can put a few near a fireplace and they will dry a little faster, but it really isn't worth it with a large quantity, and do you really want a bunch of gourds in your house where people are living... I don't think so.  The best thing to do is to let nature take its course.  If you need gourds 'NOW', then I suggest finding a commercial grower and purchasing some for your needs.  There are some things in nature that just can't hurried.


"Chuck, what do you do to get your gourds?"

Simple, I plant my gourds in the spring and don't go near them again until everything around them is 'dead'.  All that can be seen is brown gourds standing out everywhere in the field.  I shake a few to make sure the seeds rattle, then I simply walk around with a pair of pruning sheers and clip them from the vines and load them into my truck.  Yes, during the growing cycle I'll occasionally take a walk around the patch to make sure things are going good and look for trouble, and sometimes I'll even take my pruning shears and clip a few useless vines, but for the most part, that's about as close as I get to them until they are fully dry.


Gourds do not have to be coddled, pampered, cared for, cultivated, pruned or any of the normal gardening things we humans like to do for our garden plants.  A little fertilizer, heavy in potash is good for them, but you don't need to add anything that will instigate green growth.  This is something you'll quickly find out with your first attempt at growing gourds.  Think of gourds as a different kind of pumpkin, treat them the same and all will be just fine.  When they are ripe, then you can do what you like to them, but until they are completely dry, they should be left alone.


Now, with that said, the following statements on drying gourds, although intended for birdhouse gourds, will work for just about any type of gourd.  If you want to know more, then please read on...




Although there are many different kinds of gourds, for our purposes, there are basically two different 'types'. One type is very fleshy (Lagenaria family).  If it is necessary to pick these early, then they need to be 'dried' in a cool, dry place for several weeks, even months. These types are about 90% water at harvest time, hence the long drying period. This type is generally known as 'birdhouse gourds'.  However, if not necessary, they should not be picked until fully dry in the field.  A much better quality gourd will result.

Others (Cucurbita family), will have a lower water content and will fully cure in just a few weeks. If you're not sure of the type of gourd you have, don't worry, just put them up and leave them alone. Every couple of weeks, check on them. They will be fully 'cured' when the outside skin becomes very hard and the gourd is very light and the seeds rattle when you shake it.

Bird house gourds should be allowed to grow as large as they will get, and should not be picked before they are about 8 to 10 inches in diameter. (I like mine to be 10 inches. This size has proven to be the most popular with the purple martins). It will be your decision as to which ones to use for martin gourds. I like to leave mine on the vine until fully dry, but if you just have to cut yours early, they can then be 'cut' from the vine, leaving as much of the stem as possible and then set aside in a sheltered place to dry.

Although this next step is not necessary, it will give you better results from drying.
Before setting green gourds aside to dry, they can be washed to remove caked on soil and other garden debris. Gourds can be dipped in a weak bleach solution of one or two cups chlorine bleach to a 5 gallon bucket of water to sterilize the surface and prevent rotting. The use of a soft bristled brush will help aide in the removal of the debris and not harm the soft skin of the 'green' gourd. At this time, their skin is very soft and easily damaged, therefore, they should be handled with some care.

The place you select to put your gourds for drying should have a fairly good amount of air flow.  Good air flow is probably the most important thing in drying gourds.  They can simply be set on some cardboard and then left to dry. Be careful not to let them touch each other.  It is not necessary to shelter them in a room of any kind.  They will do just fine out side.

One Note:
Don't put them in a place where humans will have to frequent often. Curing gourds and humans just don't go together. The odor can be rather offensive during the drying cycle. That's why they should be put where the air or wind can get to them. Don't put them in a cellar or a back room in the house, or soon, anyone coming to visit will know you're drying gourds and I promise, it will be some time before that smell is gotten out of the house.  This is also unhealthy for humans and a good reason to leave them outside.

Also, some of the gourds will acquire a mold on the outside of their skins. This is normal. You don't have to wipe the mold off. It will simply dry in place, leaving a pretty neat pattern in its wake, and it doesn't seem to hurt the gourd any.

And also, regardless of how much care you take, some of the gourds will rot. No reason why, that's just nature.  Some of them will get infected and those gourds will simply rot.  They should be removed and discarded. You can tell this when the gourds shows an indentation in its skin. Just about everyone has seen a pumpkin when it's rotting. A gourd, being of the same family, will show the same signs and therefore, you can recognize the symptoms. Just poke your finger into the indented area and, if it feels very soft and mushy and pushes in easily, the gourd is of no value and should be discarded.

If you only have a few gourds to dry, one thing that can be done is to hang them to cure. This can be done by tying a string to the stem close to the gourd and then hanging them from a sheltered beam or rafter somewhere and let them be. Make sure they don't swing and bang into each other.

All of the above statements will work for just about any type of gourd. But, when it comes to birdhouse gourds, some people like to hang them to dry.  To do this, look at the neck of the gourd. Although not always, many have a slight bend to them. Turn the gourd so the gourd neck is bent "towards" you. Then drill a 1/4" hole thru the top of the neck about 1 1/2 inches down and perpendicular to the bend, or "from right to left" as you look at the gourd. Use this hole to pass a wire through to hang them by. And, although I have read it is not good practice, you can also use a sharpened 8 penny nail stuck in the end of a dowel or an ice pick and poke 4 small holes in and around the bottom of the gourd. Some feel it seems to aide in drying. And beware, being 90% water, they will leak considerably.  Do not do this inside.  The mess is not pretty.  Later, when they are fully cured and you're making them into birdhouses, enlarge these holes with a drill for drainage from rain.

There really isn't any set rule as long as the place selected to dry them has good air flow.

Note: The above statements about drilling and poking holes are intended for gourds to be used only as bird houses. If you're going to use your gourds for ornamental purposes, don't drill any holes in them to hang them to dry. As described above, leave the stem on so you can tie a string on it and hang them that way or just simply leave them on the vines to dry.


Some tips

I don't want to punch holes in my gourds. Will they still dry anyways?

Absolutely. Gourds have been drying by themselves for eons. Just leave them right on the vines or, if you've already cut them, put them up where they will get good ventilation and leave them alone. Setting them on some cardboard will help protect them. Check them every couple of days and watch for rot. If there are any that begin to rot, discard them.

Special Note:
99% of all gourds that are dried, do not get holes punched in them. The punching of holes may not be viewed by gourd experts as 'the thing to do'.  It works for some, and they have the means to hang them. If in doubt, don't poke holes in your gourds. They will dry just fine.

My gourds are very green and heavy. How long will it take them to dry?

If they are from the Lagenaria family, they will take a long time to dry. These gourds are probably 90% water if they are harvested early and even under ideal conditions, it could take them 3 months to fully dry. Patience is a must. Check them about once a week to look for rotting gourds and if any are found, discard them. They will gradually become lighter and lighter. They will be fully dry when extremely light weight and the seeds inside rattle when the gourd is shaken.

I live in the northern part of the country and don't have a warm place to put my gourds while they are drying. How will I protect them from freezing?

Don't try! It won't hurt your gourds at all to freeze. In fact, some say it's even better if they freeze every now and then during drying. All it does is slow down the drying process. Some northern growers are even known to leave them in the field covered in snow.

Some of my gourds have mold all over them. I wipe it off, but it still comes back. What's wrong?

Nothing. Curing gourds quite often get a mold on the outside of their skins. It is just a part of the drying process. No need to try and wipe it off, it will just return. It doesn't harm the gourd anyway. In fact, the recessing mold seems to leave some rather intricate patterns on the skin of the gourd, and from what I can tell, it doesn't seem to hurt them at all. Below is a gourd that has mold on it. When dry, this mold simply melds into the gourd.


One of my gourds has a sinking spot on it. It feels very soft and spongy when I push on it. What's wrong?

The gourd is rotting and there is nothing you can do for it. Simply throw it out on the mulch pile before it infects any of the other gourds.  Often when gourds are harvested early, they don't have a chance to receive any hardening agent from the vine.  These gourds won't have any natural ability to counteract bacteria and thus, may rot.  That is one reason that gourds should be left right on the vine until fully dry.

Below is a gourd that has a rotting spot on it. Notice how the gourd side caves in where the gourd is rotting.

I decided to punch holes in the bottom of my gourds and hang them to dry. Now, there is a lot of fluid dripping from the bottom of them. What's going on here?

Remember, birdhouse gourds (Lagenaria) are about 90% water when harvested green. For the first couple of days after you punch holes in them, there is going to be a very large amount of this fluid that will drain out of them. It can create quite a mess if they are hung inside. It will stop after the initial water has drained out. That's why, if you are going to dry your gourds this way, that it be done outside where the dripping won't hurt anything.

The only place I have to dry my gourds is in the basement of my home. Will it hurt to put them down there?

If you only have a few, say 5 or 10, you might be able to hang them from the joists, and they may do just fine. But, if you have a large amount, I would be wary of putting them in the basement. A couple of reasons. One, the ventilation in a basement is not very good, and in order for gourds to dry properly, they need good ventilation. Two, a large amount of drying gourds will create a rather unpleasant odor, and I don't think you would want that odor in your house. If you feel they have to be dried inside, then I would find a friend with an open barn somewhere.

Something else you could do. If you have the space somewhere outside, place a shipping pallet out in the open. Now place your gourds on this pallet. This way, they will get full sunlight and plenty of air circulation. If it rains, and you feel you must, you can simply cover them with a plastic sheet or tarpaulin of some sort. When the rain is gone, uncover them. And if you forget, not to worry, it's not going to hurt them to get wet.  In fact, the rain often helps wash off a lot of the mud and debris from the garden.

And don't put them on a pallet, cover them up and leave them covered. All this will do is speed up the rotting process and soon all you'll have is a pile of rotting gourds. Drying gourds need ventilation to dry properly. And remember, cold doesn't bother them either.  Temperature is not a factor in the drying process of gourds.  Moving air is.


My wife is trying to dry gourds in our garage in Wisconsin and several have started to rot. Is there any way to prevent this?

A couple of things here:

One, No matter how hard you try and prevent it, some gourds will always rot. It's just nature. This number depends on the drying conditions and is usually around 5% or about 1 in 20. These should be discarded immediately before they infect any of the others. If that number seems about right, them leave them alone where they are.

Two, If you have more than that percentage, then they just aren't getting enough air and you have to get them more ventilation. If you don't have any open windows available, then you've got to move them outside. If available and you feel it necessary, put them under an overhanging roof somewhere out in the open where wind can get to them. If this is not available, put them on an old shipping pallet (as shown above) out in the open. They really need a lot of moving air. This is probably the one major factor for drying gourds. Rain doesn't bother them, cold doesn't bother them, but stale air does.

Three, Although not always, some gourds will obtain a mold on the outsides. Don't mistake this for rot. It is a natural part of the curing process. Push on the gourd. If it is solid, then the gourd is only molding. If it is soft and punky and 'caving in', then it is rotting. The gourd is beyond any help and you need to discard it.

You've mentioned the term 'harden off'.  What is meant by that?

As a gourd nears the end of it's growing season, the plant secretes an enzyme that stops growth and begins the drying cycle of the gourd.  The materials inside shrink drastically during the drying process and become the outer wall of the gourd.  This is known as 'hardening off'.  The outer skin solidifies and becomes very hard.  Gourds that are 'cured' on the vine are almost always much better quality than gourds that are cut from the vine early.  Yes, gourds cut early will dry, but the final product is going to be a little lower quality than if left to their own accord.


I have some gourds that don't look like the ones you have in your pictures.  I want to dry and paint them.  How do I do this?


To be honest, I'm not into the artistic part of the gourd hobby.  I'm more geared towards the aspect of using them for housing for purple martins and these are mainly 'bottleneck gourds'.  There are many different kinds of gourds, ranging from small and colorful ornamentals all the way up to large kettles.  Some will have long curvy necks, fat necks and some will even look like water dippers with crooked necks. 


For answers to questions about gourds other than 'bottleneck' gourds, you may want to check with a few of the links shown on my main page.  http://home.hiwaay.net/~yankee1/gordpage.htm  Many of those folks are happy to talk about their part of the gourd hobby and you'll be able to get a much better answer for your questions than if I were to make a stab at it. 


Also, you may want to check with the American Gourd Society.  They are much more diversified in their dealings with all different types of gourds and can direct you to the proper place to get your answer.


The American Gourd Society
P.O. Box 274
Mt. Gilead, Ohio 43338-0274
(419) 362-OHIO (6446)

Here's the link to The American Gourd Society.  http://www.gourdcentral.com



Here's another link that explains a few details for Drying Gourds


If you have any comments or just say "Hi", please click on my mail box to send e-mail to

Chuck Abare


Please note:
If you send me an Email and ask a question and do not get an answer of some sort from me within a couple of weeks, it's because your return email is not correct. Find out what your correct email is, correct the problem and then send your question to me again.

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