Gourd Farming Lesson #1: Choosing the Seeds

Hi, my name is Ben and I am the master gourd farmer for Meadowbrooke Gourds. I have spent the last twenty-five years of learning how to grow hard-shelled gourds. It has been a fun journey of a thousand mistakes and just as many successes. I’m not usually a slow learner, but mastering the growing of hundreds of varieties of gourds has been a challenge. My first real mistake was reading books and magazines about growing gourds and believing that it would be true for me on our farm. I quickly learned to think and observe for myself what worked and what didn’t work. What someone else thought worked so well was often not the case for me. Please keep in mind as you read the rest of this article that my advice is what works for us on our farm. My intent is to give you a sound starting place for you to begin growing your own gourds. Please remember that nothing I have to say will be as helpful to you as observing for yourself what works and what doesn’t work in your area.

So here begins my next journey - how to make sense of what I learned growing gourds and present it in a helpful way. I will be writing an article on each step of the growing process from seeding to harvest this year.

There are two main types of gourds. Ornamental gourds are the ones most commonly grown. You see them at countless farmers markets in the fall. They typically have many bright colors and some have warts and ribs. What they all share is a yellow blossom (yellow blossoms are pollinated by bees) in the fruiting stage and have a rather thin, fragile shell in the mature stage. They will dry and can be used for painting, but are too thin to make many crafts with. They only ornamental gourds we grow for crafting purposes are the egg gourds and spinner gourds. We have found the other varieties are just too fragile to withstand our washing process. Ornamental gourds are often referred to as thin shelled gourds and are the easiest gourds to grow. They don’t require any more attention than growing a pumpkin plant. Seeds for these are readily available in most seed catalogs or online. For growing instructions, I would follow the recommendations for pumpkins or squash in your area.

The second type of gourd is called a hard-shelled gourd. What all hard-shelled gourds have in common is a white night blooming blossom (pollinated by hand or moths) in the fruiting stage. They also have hard thick wood-like shells ranging from 1/16” to about 3/4” thick. These are the ones that we use for nearly all our crafts. They range in size from one ounce to as big as 200 lbs. There are approximately fifty varieties of true hard-shelled gourds and many hundreds more of cross-pollinated or hybrid varieties. These seeds are much harder to locate if you are trying to grow one specific variety. To make it even more complicated, the growers of these seeds don’t even refer to them all by the same name. If you aren’t particular about specific size and shape, they are easy to find in catalogs or online. If you what to grow an exact variety, I know of only two sources I would trust, Meadowbrooke Gourds in Pa. or Quarry Hill Farms located in Ohio.

It is now time to beg, borrow or purchase your gourd seeds. May 1st would be the best time to start your seeds indoors for those of you in similar climates as us. My next article will be on how to get those tricky seeds to sprout.

I need to pass one word of caution on to you. Growing and or crafting gourds can be highly addictive. Please be advised that once you get started, you may not be able to stop. You may not even wish you could stop.