**Drying Gourds for Bird Houses or Painting**
There are a number of different methods to dry gourds and the particular method you use will be up to you. If you want to pick your gourds early and place them on pallets, then fine, they will dry. However; there is more chance of your gourds rotting when you do this. If the gourds are picked before maturing, then they are much more susceptible to rot. If you want to leave your gourds right in the field attached to the vines, then fine, they will dry. No, you don't have to go out and put anything under them to protect them from the damp ground. Gourds have been drying by themselves forever! Gourds may cure faster if left right on the vine until dry.
Gourds need air to properly dry, lots of air. So if you pick your gourds early, DON'T put them some place where they will not get good air flow, like in a cellar or a small room!!
Gourds will dry out in the weather just fine. No, it won't hurt them to get wet from rain, nor will it hurt them to freeze. Yes, a hard freeze will kill the vines and leaves, but mature gourds will do just fine. Commercial growers don't pick their gourds from the fields until they are fully dry. Gourds are dry when they are very light in weight and the seeds rattle when they are shaken. Gourds that are left on the vine to dry, harden off much better and seem to be of much higher quality than gourds that have been picked while still green.
DO NOT SCRAPE A GREEN GOURD IN ANY WAY TO FACILITATE DRYING. You're only ruining your gourd, and in most cases where this is done, the gourds will soon rot. That outer skin is the protective covering for your gourds and if you remove it, then you are only inviting trouble into your gourds. This also means, don't cut ANY large holes and scrape out the insides. In most cases, the gourd will soon cave in and collapse. If a gourd is not dried, then nothing should be done to it until it is dried.
Some people cut the holes in gourds and then remove the insides while the gourd is still green. This IS NOT a good thing to do. The gourd may dry faster, but there is a difference in drying and curing. A cured gourd will last many times longer than a 'speed dried' gourd.
The stem of a gourd is very porous and this is where much of the water inside the gourd will escape. If you cut your gourds off the vines, leave approximately 2 inches of stem intact. Pruning sheers or a very sharp knife should be used to cut gourds from the vine. NEVER just twist the stem to break it. This will allow infection into a green gourd and the stem will become useless for future use. The cut should be clean to allow the water to escape. Also, although we perceive the outside of a gourd to be hard, it is in reality, very porous and a good amount of the water will escape through the skin also.
Speed Drying Can't be done. Yes, you can put a few near a fireplace and they will 'dry' a little faster, but it really isn't worth it with a large quantity, and do you really want a bunch of gourds in your house where people are living?? The best thing to do is to let nature take its course. If you need gourds 'NOW', then I suggest buying them. There are some things in nature that just can't be hurried.
There are many different kinds of gourds. One type is very fleshy Lagenaria family. If you pick these early, then they need to be 'dried' in a cool, dry place for several weeks, even months. These types are about 90% water at harvest time, so they have a long drying period. This type is generally known as 'birdhouse gourds'
The Cucurbita family, will have lower water content and will fully cure in just a few weeks. If you're not sure of the type of gourd you have, don't worry, just put them up and leave them alone. Every couple of weeks, check on them. They will be fully 'cured' when the outside skin becomes very hard and the gourd is very light and the seeds rattle when you shake it.
Before setting green gourds aside to dry, they can be washed to remove caked on soil and other garden debris. Gourds can be dipped in a weak bleach solution of one or two cups chlorine bleach to a 5 gallon bucket of water to sterilize the surface and sometimes help prevent rotting. The use of a soft bristled brush will help aide in the removal of the debris and not harm the soft skin of the 'green' gourd. At this time, their skin is very soft and easily damaged, they should be handled with care. A good spraying with a hose will also work to clean them up.
The place you select to put your gourds for drying should have a good amount of air flow. Good air flow is probably the most important thing in drying gourds. Be careful not to let them touch each other. It is not necessary to shelter them in a room of any kind. They will do just fine out side.
Don't put them in a place where people will have to frequent often. Curing gourds and people just don't go together. The odor can be rather offensive during the drying cycle. That's why they should be put where the air or wind can get to them. Don't put them in a cellar or a back room in the house, or soon, anyone coming to visit will know you're drying gourds. It will be some time before that smell is out of the house. It is also unhealthy for humans and a good reason to leave them outside.
Many of the gourds will acquire a mold on the outside of their skins. This is normal. You don't have to wipe the mold off. It will simply dry in place, leaving a pretty neat pattern, and it doesn't seem to hurt the gourd any.
Regardless of how much care you take, some of the gourds will rot. No reason why, that's just nature. Some of them will get infected and those gourds will simply not make it. They should be removed and discarded. You can tell this when the gourds shows an indentation in its skin. Just about everyone has seen a pumpkin when it's rotting. A gourd, being of the same family, will show the same signs and therefore, you can recognize the symptoms. Just poke your finger into the indented area and, if it feels very soft and mushy and pushes in easily, this gourd is of no value and should be discarded.
If gourds are from the Lagenaria family, they will take a long time to dry. These gourds are probably 90% water if they are harvested early and even under ideal conditions, it could take them 3 - 6 months to fully dry. Patience!! Check them about once a week to look for rotting gourds and if any are found, discard them. They will gradually become lighter and lighter. They will be fully dry when extremely light weight and the seeds inside rattle when the gourd is shaken.
If your gourds are mature, it won't hurt them at all to freeze. In fact, some say it's even better if they freeze every now and then during drying. All it does is slow down the drying process. Some growers are even known to leave them in the field covered in snow.
Curing gourds quite often get a mold on the outside of their skins. It's just a part of the drying process and shows that some of the moisture is coming out through the skin. No need to try and wipe it off, it will just return. It doesn't harm the gourd anyway. The mold seems to leave some rather intricate patterns on the skin of the gourd. Below is a gourd that has mold on it. When dry, this mold simply melds into the gourd.
Ventilation in a basement is not very good, and in order for gourds to dry properly, they need good ventilation. A large amount of drying gourds will create a rather unpleasant odor, and I don't think you would want that odor in your house. If you feel they have to be dried inside, then I would find a friend with an open barn somewhere. Or, place a shipping pallet out in the open. Place your gourds on this pallet. This way, they will get full sunlight and plenty of air circulation. Don't put them on a pallet, cover them up and leave them covered. All this will do is speed up the rotting process and soon all you'll have is a pile of rotting gourds. Drying gourds need ventilation to dry properly. And remember, cold doesn't bother them either. Temperature is not a factor in the drying process of mature gourds. Moving air is.
No matter how hard you try and prevent it, some gourds will always rot. It's just nature. This number depends on the drying conditions and is usually around 5% or 10%, or about 1 in 10-20. These should be discarded immediately before they infect any of the others. If you have more than that percentage rotting, then they just aren't getting enough air and you have to get them more ventilation. If you don't have any open windows available, then you've got to move them outside. If available and you feel it necessary, put them under an overhanging roof somewhere out in the open where wind can get to them. If this is not available, put them on an old shipping pallet out in the open. They really need a lot of moving air. This is probably the one major factor for drying gourds. Rain doesn't bother them, cold doesn't bother them, but stale air does. Some gourds will obtain a mold on the outsides. Don't mistake this for rot. It is a natural part of the curing process. Push on the gourd. If it is solid, then the gourd is only molding. If it is soft and 'caving in', then it is rotting. The gourd is beyond any help and you need to discard it.
**Making a Birdhouse**
When the gourd is completely dry, use a wire brush and sandpaper to clean the outside surface. Next, you should treat the gourd with a 10% solution of bleach and water. This will protect the gourd from rot and fungal molds. Handle with care and be sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection! Soak the gourd in the bleach solution for 15 minutes. Remove the gourd from the solution and place on a clean surface and allow to dry. To avoid this first step, buy a gourd that has been dried and cleaned.
For an entrance, using an expansion bit or hole saw cut a hole slightly above the center of the gourd. Clean out the inside of the gourd using a serrated knife to break up the pith and seeds. The gourd is now ready for finishing.
To hang the gourd drill two 1/4 inch-diameter holes at the stem end for the hanger, which may be a piece of rigid wire (such as a coat hanger) or a strip of rawhide.
Drill four or five holes in the bottom, approximately 3/8” using a drill bit, and possibly 2 or 3, 3/8” holes on the sides for drainage and ventilation.
The outside of the gourd may be finished with an oil based primer, followed by enamel paint. Lightly sand first with fine sandpaper so the primer adheres well to the surface of the gourd. White is a good color choice as the white will reflect the sun, keeping the inside of the birdhouse cool. For a more natural look, just use 2 – 3 coatings of clear polyurethane directly on the gourd.
Hang from a tree branch or from wire suspended between sturdy structures