Over the years many, many people have asked me the secret to the best time to pick their gourds. What I tell each of them is to be patient, you can’t possibly pick your gourd too late. That’s exactly right, this is one fruit / vegetable that doesn’t spoil on the vine. So if you procrastinated and didn’t pick it in the fall you could pick it over the Christmas holidays. You might have to dig through the snow to find it, but it would be perfectly fine frozen solid. As soon as your gourd thawed it will continue to dry. If you couldn’t find it in all the snow and waited until Easter to pick it you still wouldn’t be too late. If you forgot at Easter, don’t worry it will be just fine waiting there for you in the garden right into early summer. Now if you haven’t picked your gourds by then, you have too much patience or might be a touch lazy. It isn’t till the summer of the second year that gourds really need to be brought in from the weather. Sometimes in the direct sunlight on a very hot day, your gourds will split from overheating. The strength of the summer sun will also begin to slowly break down a mature gourds shell.
I have yet to meet the gourd enthusiast who has the patience to wait any longer than they have to. So if you are like me and every other gourd grower there is a very simple rule of thumb, pick your gourd after the first hard frost. A hard frost instantly stops your gourds from growing and maturing. Up until frost you have a big hand in how good of a crop you have. At this time if your gourds aren’t mature with hard shells they will rot like a pumpkin or watermelon. If they have good hard shells they will dry in good condition no matter what you do or don’t do with them. The key to harvesting and drying gourds is real simple. Just grow them really well until frost and they will dry all by themselves.
Our first frost is usually in mid-October and with the help of our farm crew, we immediately begin to cut them from the vines and line them up in rows. We cut them and line them up in the fall because spring is a really busy time on the farm. Spring starts for us in early March and we have about two months to get all our gourds sized, bagged, labeled and put away in our barns. There have been some years that we didn’t get our whole crop cut before winter set in. I noticed that these took an extra week or two to dry, but were easier to clean in our wash process. It seems that the longer and slower a gourd dries, the easier it is to clean.
I would recommend that you do in your garden exactly what we would do here on the farm. Cut your gourd’s stem after the first frost and then just leave them to sit in the weather. Over the winter as they freeze, thaw, and get moldy they are just making themselves easier to be cleaned when you harvest them in the spring. If you leave a gourd out through the first winter and it turns out to be bad in the spring don’t worry, that gourd wasn’t ever going to make it in the first place. In the spring it’s time to bring your gourds inside to clean them up and craft them into something special.