By: Christina Lloyd, ISU Extension and Outreach Agriculture and Natural Resource Intern
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As the holidays begin to roll in and the air begins to be a buzz with the excitement of pie and turkey and, of course family, we begin to think about decorating and gifting. One amazing vegetable that can be used for both is the gourd.
The gourd comes in many different styles and types and it is one of the most versatile vegetables around. It is also one of the oldest of all cultivated plants dating all the way back to 2,200-2,400 B.C. where the gourd was used to make utensils and water and grain storage containers. However, today though they can still be used in the same manner, we tend to turn to them as more of an aesthetic appeal than for practical use.
Some examples of what we can make from gourds are candle holders, vases, tablecloth weights, placement cardholders, garlands, napkin rings, jewelry or specialty storage boxes, wreaths, bird houses and even loofahs. Gourds can also be spray painted or written on to convey messages. In addition you can create centerpieces for tables by arranging different types of gourds on the table by themselves or in decorative bowls or stands.
Two ideas that I found especially interesting, whether for personal use or for gifting, was using gourds to make bird houses and loofahs. Loofahs can be made from a loofah or sponge gourd that has been left on the vine until maturity or until after a frost kills the vine. After this, it is harvested and the outer shell is removed to expose the inner fibers. Removing the outer shell can be done in several ways: by soaking it in water until the shell becomes soft enough to remove; by boiling it for 15 minutes and then peeling; by drying it at low heat in an oven then peeling; or by microwaving the gourd for 10-15 minutes before peeling. After the hard outer shell has been removed to expose the fibers within; the seeds should be shaken out and the sponge gently washed with soapy water and rinsed several times. After this you are done and you have a loofah to give as a gift or to keep. If you want to take it a step further and change the color of the loofah, you can lighten it by soaking it in bleach then rinsing and drying or, if additional colors are wanted, you will need to bleach the loofah first and then you may experiment with whichever color of dye you choose.
Making bird houses is also a unique idea. As most of our small feathery friends begin to seek shelter in the coming months, gourd bird houses can be just what they need. When making a gourd bird house you can either buy a pre-dried gourd or you can use your own but drying often takes 3-4 months. When using your own it is recommended that the gourd stay attached to the vine until it is completely dried but it can also be dried off the vine in a well-ventilated area. Once the gourds are dried you should make sure the outside is clean by going over it with sandpaper. Once cleaned the gourds need to be soaked for 15 minutes in a water solution containing 10% bleach. This helps prevent the gourd from rotting and getting moldy. If you have purchased an already dried gourd, it should have been cleaned for you. To make the actual bird house cut an entrance hole on one side just above the center of the gourd using an expansion bit. Then clean out the insides with a serrated knife. Next two small holes should be drilled at the top where a wire or a leather strap can be inserted for hanging followed by several small holes drilled in the bottom and sides for drainage and ventilation. After this is done, you may decorate however you wish.
I hope this inspires you or gives you some ideas for decorating and gifting using gourds this holiday season. For any questions, please feel free to contact me at my email email@example.com, by phone at (712) 737-4230 or through your local County Extension office.
Additional information was provided by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service article Gourds (Nov 2000), and the Better Homes and Gardens article Gorgeous Gourds and Pumpkins for Fall Decorating retrieved November 13, 2012 from www.bhg.com/halloween/outdoor-decorations/gourds-pumpkins-uses. Information on drying gourds and making gourd bird houses was retrieved November 13, 2012 from www.amishgourds.com.
Contact information: Margaret Murphy • 712 754-3648 (Office) • 605 521-7893 (Cell) • firstname.lastname@example.org
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