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gourd gardens cherokee

“A gourd is a plant of the family Cucurbitaceae. Gourd is occasionally used to describe crops like pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, luffa, and melons. The term gourd, however, can more specifically refer to the plants of the two Cucurbitaceae genera Lagenaria and Cucurbita

A gourd is very similar to a watermelon.  The insides of both have lots of watery membrane and hundreds of seeds.   The gourd also has a hard green shell.  When the gourd has dried, the shell will become very hard and the color will turn tan to light brown.  The seeds inside will sometimes rattle when the gourd is shaken.  It is at this point that the gourd is ready for creating art.  If the melon is left for a lengthy period of time, it will spoil.  Watermelons are edible.  The gourds that come from my garden are not edible. 

There are hundreds of different types of gourds with dozens of shapes and many sizes.  Images of a few common types of Hardshell Gourds can be seen:

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The most common types of gourds grown in my garden are: Basketball, Bushel Basket, Mexican Bottle (Bird House), Chinese Bottle, Short Handled Dipper, Long Handled Dipper, Extra Long Handled Dipper, Kettle, Apple and Buel (Hercules Club).

My gourd garden is located in the back yard of my art studio.  My husband grows every gourd that I use.  As with any garden, this is very demanding and time consuming, not to mention hard work. The gourds are grown in a garden, planted in the Spring.  You can start them in cups in the house or you can plant the seeds directly into the garden soil.  On the computer, I see various instructions for growing, care of and harvesting.  I will share what works best for us.  Once the plants have runners at least 10' long, he trims off the end of the main “runner” which allows the existing baby gourds to receive extra nourishment.  The plants have beautiful white flowers which open late in the evening and during overnight hours.  This is the time frame they have to become fertilized.  Once they have opened, the flower wilts and will fall off whether fertilization transpired or not.  The female flower will have a small “bulb” directly under the bloom, whereas, the male will go directly from bloom to stem, with no bulge.  Once fertilized, the female's “bulb” will turn into a gourd. The bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and various insects help pollinate.  Lady Bugs help keep the plants free of spiders and mites, which will kill an entire plant if not treated.  Not all garden “bugs” are destructive. 

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The gourd vines continue to spread and become more dense as the summer progresses.  The gourds grow at an amazing rate of speed!  We decided to track the growth of one African Bushel gourd because it was already so huge...and it actually gained one full inch every night for days!  It's final measurement around it's belly was 79 inches!!  This variety takes so much space to grow that our whole garden only produced 13 gourds, whereas, the smaller varieties can number in several dozens at harvest time.

We harvest our gourds in the late fall after the frost has killed the foliage and the vine has turned brown all the way to the top of the gourd.  We have decided that if the gourds are harvested before the stem is brown, there is a larger chance of the gourd shriveling and rotting or the shell will be too thin to use.  It's almost as though the gourd wasn't mature enough to survive the shock of harvest.  I suppose everyone has a different theory on the perfect time for harvest...we do what works best for us.

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