By George Boyhan
University of Georgia
Probably no other vegetable has as much diversity in shape, color and size as gourds. Many are used to make birdhouses, water dippers and other useful items.
Unlike summer squash, which are picked immature and tender, gourds are harvested at maturity with hard shells. Gardeners traditionally put them into two groups: hard-shelled gourds and winter squashes.
To a certain extent, this grouping represents differences in species. But more often than not, the hard-shelled gourds are grown for decoration and useful items, while the winter squashes are stored to eat in the winter.
Gourds can be small, such acorn squash, or quite large, as in Hubbard and green apple gourd. The colors can range from white to yellow, orange, red, green or blue. They can even be combinations of these colors, as in Turk's turban.
Growing gourds can be a great project for children. So if you have the room and want some fun, try growing gourds.
If you want to grow them, though, you'd better have some room. Their vines will require lots of space to spread out. Most gourds require 6 to 12 feet between plants to do well. But you can try as little as 3 feet between plants.
Sunlight and water are essential for gourds, too. They also respond well to fertilizer and compost. Have your soil tested, preferably the fall before spring planting, so there's enough time to adjust the pH if you need to.
Indicate on your sample bag that you want to grow a vegetable garden. The soil test results will have specific recommendations based on your soil condition. Your county University of Georgia Extension agent can help you with this.
Gourds do equally well if you grow them from transplants or direct-seed them. Many home-garden seed catalogs carry gourds. They will often have pictures to show you what they look like.
Plant gourds after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. The hotter the better for gourds -- they thrive in the heat. But remember to keep them watered.
Gourds are a long-season crop, so split your fertilizer into two or three applications during the season.
Several diseases can affect gourds. For disease resistance, species of Cucurbita moschata will probably do best. But don't be afraid to try others. Spring planting will have fewer disease and insect problems than fall planting.
Once the vines begin to run, they compete well with weeds, so early weed control is most important.
Harvested gourds are seen in many supermarkets in the fall and are often used for decorations. However you use them, though, they can be a delightful addition to your garden.
(George Boyhan is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
(George Boyhan is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)