Gourds prove that nature has a sense of humor: their wild markings, eye-popping colors, and space-alien shapes transform the late-summer garden into a natural amusement park. If you've considered growing gourds but wondered what in the world to do with them, this project will answer your question--and please the birds in the process.
One gardening note: large gourds such as the birdhouse or bottle variety can take up to 130 days to mature. In areas with shorter growing seasons, ask at your garden center about black plastic mulch, row covers and other season-extending devices and techniques.
Growing the Gourd
Allow each plant 10 to 15 square feet of garden space; you can get away with a little less if you trellis your plants. For each plant you plan to grow (one will suffice for this project), plant a half dozen seeds, following the directions on the seed packet. Before planting, mix a little fertilizer into the soil, then reapply it monthly during the growing season. Keep seeds and plants well watered
Drying the Gourd
Harvest your gourd before the first frost, taking care to cut rather than twist the stem. Ideally the fruit will have attained a diameter of 6 or more inches. Wash the gourd carefully to remove any dirt or debris. As an extra safeguard against rot, some experts recommend dipping gourds in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
Drill a small hole through the gourd's neck, insert a hanging wire, and suspend the fruit in a dry, well-ventilated space until the seeds rattle around inside the shell (about four weeks but sometimes longer). Once the gourd is dry, any surface mold or fungus can be removed with steel wool, or left on for a more rustic look.
Making the Birdhouse
Drill a 2-inch-diameter hole in the side of the gourd for the birds front door. Remove the dried seeds and fibers. Drill two 1/4-inch holes about 1 1/2 inches up from the bottom of the gourd for ventilation and drainage.
For a more colorful look, paint the gourd in the motif of your choice, then finish with two coats of satin polyurethane. Hang the birdhouse in a sheltered area at least 6 feet from the ground