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Crafting With Gourds (4 Easy Ways To Use Homegrown Gourds)

Who doesn’t love carving pumpkins? Although carving Jack-O-Lanterns has become a fall tradition in many parts of the world, it doesn’t have to be Halloween for you to get crafty in the garden. A close relative of pumpkins, gourds are actually easier to grow and just as fun to decorate. Read on to learn how to make the most of your homegrown gourds!

What gourds to use

Not just any gourd will work for crafting–you’ll want to use decorative gourds. Decorative gourds are showy–the fruits might be smooth-skinned or covered in warts and can range in size and color. 

Bottle gourds, dipper gourds, Tennessee spinning gourds, and daisy gourds are all great options for crafting. Bottle gourds are perfect for outdoor art projects due to the fruit’s thick waterproof shell, while ornamental gourds are better suited to indoor crafts due to their vibrant skins and smaller size. 

How to harvest and cure gourds

Whether you trellis your gourds or let the vines run freely, you’ll want to hold off on harvesting the fruits until the vines start to turn brown and die back, which may not happen until the first frost. 

Gourds are ready to harvest when they show full color and feel heavy for their size. Check for harness by trying to nick the skin with your fingernail–if you don’t leave an indention, the gourd is probably ready to pick. 

Cut the gourds away from the vines, but leave a few inches of stem for a “handle.” When moving the gourd, pick it up by its body and not by the handle, as the handle may break.

To safely cure the gourds out of the weather, you can gather them and bring them inside, somewhere dry and warm. Gourds keep their color better if cured out of direct sunlight, so store them somewhere dark like a garage or shed.  

Clean the gourds by wiping the outer skins off with a wet rag to remove any dirt or mud. Place the gourds on shelves or on the floor but don’t allow them to touch. Toss any gourds that begin to rot, and monitor closely for the next several weeks. 

The outer skins will dry within two weeks, but the inner gourd may take another week or two to dry fully. Once you shake a gourd and the seeds rattle, the gourd has cured completely. 

gourds cut open on kitchen table

4 creative ways to use gourds

Crafting with gourds is fun for kids of all ages! Whether or not you have young children, college students, or elderly parents, this is a great project to get the whole family involved with. Make your gourds as elaborate or as simple as you want–that’s the beauty of art, after all. Take some creative liberty and have fun with it!

  1. Birdhouse

    The easiest craft to make from gourds is to build a birdhouse! Bird House Gourds, also called bottleneck gourds, are perfect for this project.

    Materials:

    • Dried Bird House Gourd
    • Carving knife
    • Metal coat hanger
    • Drill
    • Wire or twine for hanging
    • Optional: nontoxic paint and raw linseed oil or tung oil

    Directions:

    1. First, cut a circular hole in the dried gourd and pull out the innards, using a spoon if needed. 
    2. Use your hands or bend a metal coat hanger to get the inside as clean as you can. Don’t worry about getting every last piece of string out of the gourd–the birds will appreciate the extra nest-building material. 
    3. Next, use a drill to make a few holes in the bottom of the gourd for drainage and to promote airflow. 
    4. Drill a hole in the stem or through the top of the gourd to insert one end of the wire. Twist the wire back over itself to keep the gourd from sliding through the wire. Your birdhouse is now ready to hang! 
    5. If you want, you can paint your birdhouse! Kids love any excuse to paint, and by decorating it the bird house can double as ornamental yard art. If you do paint the gourd, coat your piece of art in raw linseed oil or tung oil to preserve the color and further waterproof the gourd. 
  2. Tea light lanterns

    Small gourds like those in the Large and Small Ornamental Mix are perfect for making candle holders and tea light lanterns. 

    Materials:

    • Dried Ornamental Gourds
    • Carving knife
    • Spoon
    • Drill or soldering iron
    • Tea lights
    • Optional: paint, wire, and string lights

    Directions:

    1. To make tea light lanterns, gather a few small gourds and make a circular hole in the bottom. 
    2. Empty the gourd by removing the insides, using a spoon if needed. 
    3. Use a drill, carving knife, or soldering iron to carve or burn a design into the gourd. 
    4. Place the gourd over a tea light, light the candle, and enjoy your homemade lantern!

    For a slightly different design, cut a hole in the top of each gourd, remove the innards, and place a tea light in the middle of each gourd. You can also use wire to secure small gourds to individual bulbs on a string of lights. Place one gourd lantern on every bulb, or alternate for festive fall lighting.

  3. Canteen

    Step away from plastic and craft your own reusable water bottle! Bird House Gourds are naturally waterproof and the perfect shape to make an eco-friendly canteen. Choose a gourd that’s not too heavy and fills like a good size in your hands–remember, the gourd will get heavier with water! 

    Materials:

    • Dried Bottleneck Gourd
    • Carving knife
    • Metal coat hanger
    • Sandpaper
    • Beeswax
    • Optional: rope or twine for a bottle holder

    Directions:

    1. Cut a hole in the top of the gourd.
    2. Clean out the inside of the gourd as best you can with a bent coat hanger or another tool. You can use sandpaper to smooth out the inside. 
    3. Prolong the life of the gourd by rubbing beeswax on the inside of the gourd to help the gourd hold water. 
    4. Tie a rope around the thinnest point of the gourd, or make a macrame water bottle holder to fit around the gourd, so you have a comfortable way to carry your vessel and stay hydrated! 

    Tip: Don’t use your water bottle for anything other than water, as natural canteens are difficult to clean. 

  4. Instrument 

    Gourds were traditionally used by multiple cultures as musical instruments! DIYing your own instrument is an easy way to use homemade gourds. Gourd instruments can be as intricate or as simple as you want them to be.

    Materials:

    • Dried decorative gourd, any shape
    • String
    • Beads
    • Animal hide or synthetic material for drum head

    Directions (maraca)

    1. To make a maraca or a shaker, you won’t need to make any holes or cuts in the gourd. Leave the seeds and fibers inside–this is what makes the rattle sound! 
    2. To play your makeshift maraca, hold the gourd by the thinnest part and shake the body to the beat of the music. 

    Directions (cabasa)

    1. To make a cabasa or shekere, leave a dried gourd intact. 
    2. Wrap a string of beads around the gourd and tie them loosely so that the beads slide around without completely slipping off the gourd. For a more intricate design, tie several pieces of string together, adding beads between the knots to make a net that fits over the gourds. 
    3. To play your cabasa, hold the gourd in one hand and use the other hand to move the beads around the gourd. 

    Directions (cabasa)

    1. To make a drum, make a cut at the widest point of the gourd. 
    2. Smooth the edge with sandpaper. 
    3. Stretch a piece of animal hide and cut it to fit neatly over the saded edge. 
    4. Use twine or skin to make a lacing that will secure the drum head to the gourd. For detailed instructions, check out this excellent video (“How To Make A Gourd Drum”).¹ 

    Conclusion

    Outside of these recommended crafts, there is no limit to the ways that you can make your homemade gourd your own. Cut or carve it like a pumpkin, or paint it like a canvas. Gourds make excellent yard and home decorations and hold up season after season–unlike pumpkins. 

    You can collect natural embellishments like feathers, moss, stones, and shells to glue to your gourd for an all-natural look, or you can decorate your gourd with glitter, beads, and stickers. 

    Some artisans even burn their gourds for a unique design akin to pyrography. You can also polish your final product with polyurethane or something similar to preserve your artwork indefinitely. 

    Gourds are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but if you’re just getting started and you want a little extra guidance, check out our Growing Vine Crops From Seed Guide. While gourds aren’t actually edible, there are more than a few reasons to justify growing this intriguing plant in your garden. 

    Resources

    ¹ “How To Make A Gourd Drum.” YouTube, YouTube, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kykdFz6ilYo&ab_channel=Scottvfx. Accessed 9 June 2022.
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