Gourds. Gourds grow on vines. Some varieties are edible, such as squash, but most are used for utilitarian or decorative purposes. They dry into a hard, wood-like texture, and have been used by native peoples around the world for many purposes, including as water carriers, baskets, musical instruments, and art.
Finding gourds and seeds. If you have a dried gourd that you like, you can cut it open and use the seeds inside it (they are viable for quite a while). There is a good chance that the plant you start will be like the original, but htere is also a chance you'll have gourds of a different variety, since they are prone to cross-polination. If you want a specific variety, most nurseries have seeds. At the bottom of this page, I'll list a few suppliers. If you can't or don't want to grow your own gourds, the first place I recommend is a local farmers market. Support your local growers! You may find seasoned gourds (dried and ready to use) from last year's harvest. It is also a good investment if you find good-looking gourds from this season (it will be fall before this is likely), but you have to be patient while they dry. It takes a few weeks to several months, depending on the size and variety. If you're not sure whether a gourd is dry, wait. Some crafting suppliers also sell "craft-ready" gourds. This means they are dried, cleaned, and sterilized. I find this is not nearly as satisfying as the organic experience of doing it all yourself, but it's a good option if you are in a hurry to get started crafting.
Gourds, especially larger varieties, require a rather long growing season
to mature fully, and thus to dry properly. If your climate is cold or doesn't
permit a long growing season, take measures to warm the soil and protect the
vines from frost. Gourds are hardy but require about 120 days of warm weather.
They grow fast in sandy soil.
Several gourds grow on a vine.
Gourds come in many different shapes and sizes, but you can influence the shape of a gourd while it's growing. If you want the neck of a dipper gourd straight, hang it from a fence or post while it is growing, or leave it on the ground and it will probably curve. Some nurseries and craft suppliers also sell molds into which you can place a young fruit, so that it will grow into that shape. I prefer to let them just keep their natural shape, but you can experiment with different things.
Harvesting. Gourds are ready to harvest when the skin is hard and the stem is dry and brown. Always leave a few inches of stem when you cut the vine, and handle the gourd carefully to avoid bruising. You can also leave the gourd on the vine over winter to let it dry, especially if you live in a warmer climate. You'll probably want to put a board under the gourd so that it doesn't rot in the damp soil. You may also prop it against a wall or fence.
Drying/ Curing. You can dry gourds on the vine, but most people prefer to harvest them at maturity and dry them inside, where they are less likely to rot. The best idea is to let gourds dry for quite awhile, over winter, to make sure that they're completely cured. They will do best if kept dry and if they have plenty of air and space. Gourds often develop a black mold or dark, unattractive layer of skin. This is natural, and it will come off when the gourd is cleaned. I have gotten a lot of questions about this, and heard of many people throwing away perfectly good gourds because they thought they were molded and ruined. Only throw away a gourd if it has soft, rotting spots that go all the way through.
Cleaning. When a gourd is completely dried and seasoned, it is ready to be cleaned and prepared for use. First, scrape off all the flaky extra skin. Then wash the gourd in warm, soapy water. You can use steel wood or a sharp object to scrape off the more stubborn extra skin and dirt. If the gourd is too dark for your tastes or won't come clean, you can soak it in bleach and water, but be careful not too leave it too long, or it will dissolve the skin. If there are still rough spots, use a coarse sandpaper to remove them and smooth the gourd. It is now ready for crafting.
A few Suppliers of Gourds and Seeds: