Gourds as decorations require a little more work after the gardening.
Colorful gourds make great additions to fall decorations, utility gourds make fine dippers and birdhouses. That's why many people grow gourds in their gardens.
It's time to harvest gourds when they stop growing, the vines begin to die back and the skin or rind is not easily punctured by a fingernail. Use a sharp knife or shears to cut the stem 1 to 2 inches away from the flesh of the gourd. Make sure you harvest sound, disease-free, mature gourds.
Wash the gourds with warm soapy water to remove dirt and debris. Dip the cleaned gourds in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts of water. To prevent scratches, do not use a brush to clean the tender, uncured skin of gourds.
Gourds should be allowed to cure in a warm, dry room that has good air circulation. Because light can fade the color of gourds, keep the room dark. Turn the gourds every day. The smaller decorative gourds take only two to three weeks to dry and cure. They can be polished with a soft cloth and paste wax or dipped in a solution of shellac and denatured alcohol.
Utility gourds such as bottle, dipper and birdhouse gourds need to be dried until the seeds are loose and rattle in the gourd. These gourds can then be sanded, polished, shellacked or cut open to create dippers, bowls, cups and birdhouses.
Watch for fungal or mold growth while drying and curing gourds. The bleach solution rinse, good air circulation and dry conditions will help prevent problems. Scrubbing mold-stained areas with a strong bleach solution may help remove stains. Many times these mold patterns are interesting and can even improve the appearance of a gourd.
Another decorating option for gourds is to use painting and wood-burning techniques. Acrylic paints work best. Make sure to finish your decorating process before applying shellac to the gourds.
-- The Garden Calendar is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County office and written this week by Dottie Daugherty, Master Gardener. For more information call 843-7058 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.