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A Bird's Home

Harvesting Gourds


There are probably as many different methods for harvesting gourds as there are people raising them. And, the type you are growing, will depend on when and how you harvest them. If you're growing the ornamental types, then you'll want these harvested at the height of their color and definately before any frost. These are usually the curcurbits. These little guys can't take the cold like their bigger counterparts, the hard shelled versions. They are grown for their aesthetic and artistic values and have to be tended to when they are 'ripe'.

The larger hard shelled gourds, however, are not harmed at all by cold and can sit in the fields even through snow. But, for most of us though, we are ready to get them in from the field as soon as they're done growing, and for some reason, we want to get them drying off as soon as possible, even though there's no hurry.

Now, in your digging for information as to when to pick gourds, you've probably heard a number of different things to do to harvest your gourds. Something like "Let them sit on the vine until the first frost", or, "let them sit in the field until dry", etc. That's great if you live where there's frost. But, what if you live in the south like I do and there isn't any frost until late in the year, or maybe not at all if you live even further south. Well, here's what I've found that will work for everybody regardless of where you live.

The best time to harvest gourds is when they're done growing. And how can you tell this? Simple. You can tell if a gourd is done growing by looking at its stem. If it's started to shrivel, turn brown and dry, then the gourd is done growing and is ready to harvest. This dried stem means that the gourd is not receiving any more nutrients from the vine, has been 'hardened off', and is ready to be harvested. To do so, simply 'cut' the stem very close to the vine using a sharp knife or trimming shears. Don't just twist it off. Leave as much of the stem on the gourd as possible. For some reason, I've found that cutting the stem too close to the gourd tends to aide in any rotting, and besides, you may want to use the stem to hang them by to dry.

Authors Note:
To be honest, I don't like to pick my gourds any earlier than necessary. In fact, I leave them out in the patch and just let everything die down. The vines and leaves turn brown and die and the gourds are left just sitting in the patch like a bunch of basketballs. They're very easy to see and I just walk around with a pair of pruning sheers and snip them off next to the vine and load them into my truck for transport back to my shop. That's it. Nothing fancy. Once at my shop, I set them out on a pallet or two until I am ready to proceed with getting them ready to dry. The only thing here is to keep them off the ground so they can get good air. Hopefully, it will rain so a lot or most of the clinging debris will be removed before I have to handle them again. In fact, they may end up sitting on this pallet until fully dry. It doesn't hurt them and I have enough from last year, that I don't need to rush to set them to dry.

How you harvest your gourds is up to you and will depend on what type and how many you have. If you have ornamentals, then a simple handbasket will do the trick. If you grew bird house gourds and only have a few, then a simple lawn cart or wheel barrow may do the trick. But if you have a large crop, then you will probably have to use a truck or wagon of some sort to collect them all. What ever the method, make sure they are not excessively bumped and bounced against themselves or anything else that will damage their skins.


The following are a few questions and answers that you might run into with your gourds.

My gourds have grown very large and I want to stop them at the size they're at.

If your gourds are extra large, and you think you may want to stop them at the size they're at, then just cut them off and set them aside to dry. Although this won't happen too often, it does happen every now and then and you will have to cut them early to stop them from becoming too large. Make sure you leave plenty of stem. However, if at all possible, they should be left on the vine until full maturity so they can be hardened off. Large 12" and 13" gourds are loved by the purple martins.

I live in the Northern part of the country and frost comes early. Do I need to worry?

No. Frost does not affect mature lagenaria gourds. A hard frost simply means that the vines are done growing for the year. Often, the leaves may die, but the vines will still deliver 'hardening off' nutrients to the gourds for some time later. The gourds themselves, will not be affected at all. In fact, some recommend leaving them in the field for curing. If this is done and you have some beautiful big gourds, I would recommend putting something like some straw or a board under the gourds so they don't sit directly on the ground.

Will it hurt to handle my gourds by the stems?

Not at all. The stems are very strong and very capable of handling the weight of the gourd. Remember, that's how the gourd hangs when it's growing. Now that doesn't mean that they can be mishandled. One mistake and a stem could come loose. You don't want to drop them. Ever seen a pumpkin that was dropped? I like to pick my up by the stem, but then support them with my other hand when moving them. The last thing I want to do is accidentally drop a large beautiful gourd.

My gourds seem to have tender skins and they bruise easily. How should I handle them?

Green gourds have very tender skins and should be handled with care. Try to not bang or bump them together any more than absolutely necessary. Their skin bruises very easily at this stage and if bruised too severely, they might not make it through the drying process without getting infected and rotting. Washing them in a weak bleach solution of 2 cups chlorine bleach and 5 gallons of water may help. Because their skins are so sensitive, use a soft bristled brush to remove any excess field debrie.

I'm going to make birdhouses with my gourds. Can I do all the drilling, hole cutting and cleaning BEFORE putting them up to dry?

NO! Although tender, the skin is a protective device that protects the gourd while growing and later, drying. Every scratch, mark or bruise that breaks that skin would just be inviting infection into your gourd. Cutting a large hole would simply be inviting trouble and probably render the gourd useless. Besides, the gourds are very mushy at this stage and it would be a very messy job to clean it out.

I've picked all the usable gourds I want from my patch. What in the world do I do with the rest of the smaller gourds and vines?

That depends on what you plan to do with that area. If it's going to sit there idle until next year, then don't do anything with the left overs. The vines will simply dry up and rot. The smaller gourds however could be dried and given to someone with some artistic intentions and let them see what they can do with them. Also, the smaller gourds could be used for bluebird or wren houses. If you don't want to go through this trouble, then the little ones can be smashed and left to rot along with the vines, otherwise, they will dry right there in the field and you'll have a bunch of small dried gourds come spring. When spring arrives, simply turn everything into the soil so it's used as mulch for your new crop.

I have to travel a long way to get my gourds home. Will it hurt to put them in my truck transport them home?

Not at all. That's how I bring mine home. I simply load them into the back of my truck and I'm on my way. Just a few things. I make sure they are not free to roll around. This can be accomplished by making sure you have a full load or maybe adding a few boxes to take up some of the space. Add some gourds in them to hold them down, and just drive carefully until you get them where you're going.

Another thing you can do is to 'pack them' so to speak with some straw. When you've picked all the gourds and put them in the truck, add some straw in and around the gourds so they can't roll around and get banged up.


A few more links on growing gourds

Growing Gourds By Jonathan R. Schultheis, Extension Horticultural Specialist

Abby's Gourd Page Some gourd information by Abby Lane



If you have any comments, would like to send me another Martin site, or just say "Hi", please click on my mail box to send e-mail to

Chuck Abare


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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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