Thursday, March 25, 2010

Great Gourds!

Although the kids love to play in the veggie garden – following the fuzzy bees, wandering down the pathways, picking purple beans, looking for hidden cucumbers – I think their favourite plants in the garden are the gourds. We grow about a dozen types of gourds each summer, yet only one is edible (snake gourd - see below). Gourds are grown simply for the fun factor!

Because garden space is at a premium – yes, even 2000 sq feet is not enough for me – I only plant gourds that we cannot buy locally. We start the seeds indoors in mid-April, transplanting the small seedlings into the garden when all risk of frost has passed in early June.

Gourds can be grown on the ground, where their long vines will sprawl in every direction, but I prefer to grow them up an A-frame trellis or the garden fence. Growing them up keeps their rampant growth under control, uses up less space and I love the look of the gourds dangling down through the trellis. Plus, it helps my snake gourds grow long and straight.

Here are a few of my favourites - and the kids think they’re pretty cool too!

Spinning Top Gourds (see photo)
Also called Tennessee Dancing gourds, these cute little gourds are produced on extremely vigorous vines. Last summer, I planted them at the edge of the garden and let the vines weave their way under the fence and into the nearby forest – some of the plants grew over 18 feet long! Each plant will produce up to 20 small spinning-top shaped gourds that make perfect toys for kids and immature grown-ups! From 5 plants, we harvested over 100 gourds that ranged in size from 1 ½-inches to 4-inches and spent hours spinning them all around the house.

Speckled Swan Gourds (the immature one in the photo is about 6 weeks from harvest)
Another favourite, the Speckled Swan gourd produces large fruits – often 2-feet long – that have a very distinctive shape. They truly look like a swan with a rounded body, long elegant neck and a small head with a beak. The skin on the fruits is deep green and heavily speckled with gold flecks. Each fall I bring a box of mixed homegrown gourds to the local schools to show the children. The Speckled Swan is always a hit and every child immediately gravitates towards this unique gourd. I grow them on the fence that surrounds the garden, but make sure you have a strong support, as these will be quite heavy by the end of the summer.

Snake Gourds
I grew these long skinny gourds a few years ago just for fun. When my mother-in-law was walking through the garden one day in late summer, she recognized this gourd as an edible type that she enjoyed in her homeland of Lebanon. So, after we harvested the 3-foot long gourds in the autumn and had showed them to the local students, I gave the fruits to her and she cooked them up – delicious! Snake gourds are a lot of fun for kids of all ages! If allowed to grow along the ground, the fruits will curl up like a coiled snake, but if grown on a trellis, they will mature long and straight. Each plant will give you at least 2 or 3 gourds of various sizes, but for the longest fruits, allow only one per plant. As with Speckled Swan gourds, the Snake gourd grows quite large and needs a solid support.

Happy Gardening!

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