as big as your face!
NO, get outta here you say! Yes, if you want big gourds and are willing to do a little bit of work, you'll have some huge natural homes that are practical, easy to grow and the martins will love them. Here's a look at our last batch of gourds, start to finish pictures taken right from the back yard at PMC.
The purpose of this "account" is to show you the different stages of gourd growth for a visual benchmark. We're not going to give you any specific information on "how" to grow'em because you can read the back of the seed package and incorporate your own gardening experience. No experience? Not to worry, it's something a person can't get wrong and if you have any questions try doing a search for "gourds" on the internet and like all else, there are tons of sources to scope out. I will tell you they like to grow, and I mean grow all over, (around anything, in-between everything and with vigor) and you don't have to do a thing. Just let'em do theirs. They like it when you ignore'em because they're so busy growing.
Early to mid summer you'll have a few gourds looking like these...
You'll want to plant your seeds as soon as the frost is out of the ground, around this neck of the woods early May seems to work well. Use a mix of potting, compost and regular soil for the seed bed or what ever concoction "Grandpa says" works and make sure to mark the planted critters with small sticks so you can tell them apart from weeds.
Gourds like sun and I found a good spot on the south side of my garage next to a patio area with an over-hang. It faces the sun and the columns made a perfect structure to attach my newly constructed planter boxes and to hang rolled fencing on (a make shift trellis for the vines).
You can see that the "make shift" trellis fence is up and the gourds are attacking it! They grow very fast and climb the fencing like monkeys. If you look close in the picture, down in the lower right corner, you'll see some blossoms peeking out.
This picture is taken from the opposite side of the over-hang. They're growing nuts! In just ten days, they've tripled their size. It's hard to tell in the pictures but the vines are working themselves into the rafters of the over-hang.
Here's a better shot of the first blossoms showing...
There are male and female blossoms and during the day the blossoms close up and protect themselves from the heat and sun.
At night the blossoms open, soak up the milder conditions and do their pollination thing.
Pollination is successful; fruits are starting to set on the vines. You'll notice through the entire growing season that some blossoms come and go without producing fruits. They look wilted, discolored and generally give the "dead sign", their fate is normal (particularly with the male blossom, its' purpose fulfilled) as with some of the gourds that don't "cut the mustard".
For reasons of nature, only the fittest gourds survive. Out of the normal 5-8 gourds that grow per vine, not all survive and a number will rot on the vine. The size and maturity is not necessarily a determining factor, both small and large gourds can bite the dust for no apparent reason.
You'll notice in this picture the gourd on the right is rotting and getting soft (shrinking in) while the one on the left is healthy. Both are on the same vine. Note the discoloration on the surface after the gourd has reached its peek size, quit growing and is well into the drying out phase. It is a mold of sorts, harmless and after the gourd has completely dried a light sanding removes it (consider dry when you can rattle the seeds inside).
Not all gourds develop mold and likewise, only some shed a thin layer of skin. Forgive the description but, similar to a snake with characteristics of a water blister. In certain areas this skin becomes somewhat loose and feels slimy (like a wet film sitting on a shallow cushion of air).
This is a nice "side by side" comparison, a completely dried gourd and one that is starting to dry (both originate from the same plant). They're both unusual in their own way if you look close. In my experience the two variations, with others I've seen, leads me to believe "there isn't any certain starting time" for the drying process "or any specific pattern". The gourd on the left has gone through a quick drying period and was almost lost to rot thus the sunken crevices. In comparison, the better looking specimen on the right has started the drying process from the neck down which leaves a half started or half done look, depending on your perspective. Generally, healthy gourds dry evenly and it seems the slower the period of curing, the better looking they are. I'd also suggest that a good slow cure (dry out) would enhance strength and overall durability, something to consider when contemplating the strength of your martin house.
Another good example of a healthy gourd, just about mid way in its "curing" or drying process. The moisture is "transferred out" of the main stem, a reversal of the growing stage when the nutrients "transfer in". It looks like this one has had a nice, slow and steady cure or moisture loss. The fluid/nutrient content of a large gourd can make it "weigh in" at a whopping 5 lbs. or more and on the other hand fully cured, they may weigh less than a few ounces.
The Pepsi can placement next to the gourd illustrates the size of a "fare-sized" gourd. Although not super large, it would be adequate for a good martin house, about 9" across at the widest part of the body. This is probably the minimum size you want to start with so your martins have comfortable quarters. You can grow very large gourds by following a careful fertilizing plan or applying "Grandmas' tricks" and nowadays it would seem, the larger the better.
All said and done, the experience of growing gourds for martin housing is painless and interesting. It's a good way to get out doors and tend to a positive cause, while taking a break from routine chores.
Copyright © 1998 to present Jeffry Blair.
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Sunday 21st of September 2014 09:05:13 AM