PRESERVING GOURDS FOR LASTING COLOR
Although there's never a guarantee of complete success in gardening, there are some definite steps to take that should result in a product worthy of the time and effort you've put into it. One of the most important is to start out with ripe, unblemished gourds.
Many gourd-growing instructions tell you to wait until light frost before harvesting time. This is good advice ONLY if you are growing hard-shelled gourds, the kind used to make bird houses, water dippers, bowls and other utensils. Mature, hard-shelled gourds (Lagenaria species) will tolerate some frost.
But most of the gourds grown in this area are soft-shelled Cucurbita species, American relatives of the tropical lagenarias. These are the gourds you see in supermarkets and local wayside produce stands. Cucurbita gourds will definitely be damaged by frost.
Lagenarias are usually rather large gourds; their rind is thin but tough, and they last for years. Cucurbitas, on the other hand, are smaller, softer and shorter-lived. You can tell them apart when they're growing; cucurbita vines produce yellow flowers, and lagenarias, white ones. Either can be grown successfully in the Twin Cities area, though hard-shelled gourds may not ripen adequately some years.
A gourd is mature or ripe when it's full-sized and its stem is brown or beginning to dry. Leave a couple inches of stem attached to the fruit when you cut it from the vine. This helps prevent disease organisms from entering the fruit and adds an interesting touch as the stem dries and twists.
Wash newly harvested gourds in warm, soapy water, then rinse them in water with a few drops of household disinfectant. Dry the gourds gently with a soft rag, then space them out on several layers of newspaper in a sunny, warm location. Turn them periodically to ensure even drying, replacing any newspapers that are damp. After a week or so, surface color will be set and the skins toughened.
Next, wipe each gourd again, this time with a soft rag soaked in disinfectant solution, Finally, spread them on newspapers in a warm but dark place for 3 or 4 weeks, or maybe more, if the gourds are particularly large and fleshy. The warmth helps to dry the gourds and discourage mold, while darkness helps keep colors from fading.
If you're drying hard-shelled lagenarias and plan to turn them into bowls or utensils, do any necessary trimming as soon as they are dry enough to hear seeds rattle inside. If you wait too long, they may crack when you cut them.
Once the gourds are thoroughly dry, they're ready for display. You may polish them with paste wax, then buff them with a soft cloth. If you prefer a hard gloss finish, coat them with clear shellac, instead.