Gourds Crafted by Joe C. Rolfe
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A Brief Introduction to Gourds
Most of us have given little thought to this humble plant. They are not sold at the super centers we frequent. In the days before plastic,
however, a light durable container that would reproduce itself every year was a major asset. Gourds have been used by man since before
most agriculture, perhaps even before human speech. Archeological finds place gourd seeds in association with human settlements some
9000 years ago. Pottery may even be an attempt to imitate the gourd. To us, its just a cute craft item, but to many societies it is still the
essential container. ----------------- Gourds are easy to grow. Plant seeds in the early spring. They do not transplant well. A fertile well
drained but moist soil in full sun is perfect. Allow them LOTS of room. In midsummer the growth rate can be startling, up to three feet
per day. In many areas gourd vines are used primarily as shade producing covers for arbors. The fruit can be quite heavy and very
abundant, so make sure the supports are up to the challenge. Gourds can climb trees, and they can also break pretty substantial limbs.
After first frost, when the huge vines become messy, carefully remove the gourds and place them in a dry well ventilated place. Again -
allow them LOTS of room - they smell like a tomcat during the drying process. More good news, they need to dry for about a year. The
lovely green color changes to sort of a mouldy black and gradually the mould dies. When the gourds are light. dry and hard they are
ready for crafting. ------------------ The first step in crafting gourds is cleaning them. Wrap them in wet cloth and allow them to soak. The
longer the soak the easier the job of scrubbing will be. The softened mould can be removed with a scrubbing pad and the gourds will be a
beautiful warm brown tone. The crafting depends on the artist and the use. It can be as simple as cutting a hole for a bird entrance, or as
complicated as an intricately carved, burned and stained design, set with semi precious stones. A few basics: Gourds are a very hard cel-
lulose, sort of a non-aligned wood, with a thin hard layer over a slightly softer one. Treat them like thin wooden bowls --------------- Many
people wood burn design into the surface and then stain the gourds with leather dyes. The earth colors are stable but the greens and
blues fade with time. Gourds destined for food use should only be treated with appropriate finishes. ------------ Gourds can be hard to cut.
I use a small saw in an X-Acto knife holder. Once the gourd is opened the interior cleaning awaits. The interior cellulose has a
pearlescent finish and can be left intact in some gourds. Most often the interior needs to be scraped out. A spoon works well, but a wire
brush on a cord less drill is faster. In either case a big part of the job is holding the slippery gourd while you work. The interior can be
lined with fabric, painted, sealed, or waxed with beeswax. ----- Gourds are a great canvas for many kinds of creativity. There is a whole
new group of artists who embellish them with a wide variety of associated crafts. Please have a look at my crafted gourds. They can be
anything from biscuit boxes or popcorn bowls to jewelry boxes. They make wonderful gifts