Gourd is the collective term to refer to some species of Cucurbitaceae and Lagenaria. Examples of gourds are pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, luffa, and melons, specifically, the Malabar gourd, the tree gourd native to the American tropics, bottle gourd which is found in Africa and many parts of the world, luffa gourd which was domesticated in Asia, wax gourd, snake gourd, teasel gourd, hedgehog gourd, and buffalo gourd/coyote gourd.
Humans have found many different uses for gourds ever since they started growing this plant. Besides its culinary and medicinal uses, it is also used in making kitchen tools, toys, musical instruments, and decorations, and this persists today. Modern artists use gourds for crafts. It is used to make jewelry, furniture, dishes, utensils, decorations, and musical instruments like the Balafon, a West-African percussion instrument. Gourds are used for carving, burning, and other artistic and creative methods.
- Archaeological evidence suggests that Lagenaria siceraria, a subspecies of the bottle gourd and is one of the earliest domesticated types of plants, has been around since 13,000 BCE.
- In the Hebrew Bible, there is a story about the prophet Elisha who accidentally used poisonous gourds as ingredients for the dish she was cooking.
- People turn bottle gourds into birdhouses to attract purple martins. In return, these birds would help farmers by eating pests that attack crops.
- There are many musical instruments – drums, stringed instruments, and wind instruments – made of gourds. This is common in Africa and the Pacific.
- Gourds appear in many creation myths.
- A popular practice in China is molding gourds so that they take a specific shape as they grow and mature. This is done primarily for gourds grown for decorative purposes.
Gourd Buying Guide
Gourds are sold in groceries, supermarkets, farmers markets, and farm stands. Many gourds are available all year long, but for those which are seasonal, make sure you know what time of the year they are available to know when is the best time to look for them and buy them. Check the surface or skin of the gourd for any sign of damage during handling and storage (i.e. cracks, holes, etc.). Check the skin for patches of discoloration as well. Feel the gourd and if it feels too tender to the point that it is mushy you can easily bury your fingers in it, chances are the one you are holding is an overripe gourd.
Gourd Production & Farming in Texas
Gourds are easy to grow like acorn squash, and gourds like butternut squash can grow in almost any climate (although spring is the best time to plant butternut squash). Plant after the danger of frost is gone. Make sure the soil is warm – at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit or it will not germinate – and make sure to plant it in a well-draining, sandy, fertile soil with lots of organic matter. The soil pH varies for different gourds; for example, soil for acorn squash should be between 6.0 and 6.5; butternut squash needs soil with a pH between 5.5 to 7.0 (acidic to neutral); while for calabaza and cushaw squash, it is 6.0 to 6.8 pH. Gourds generally have average water needs. Do not overwater. Gourds must get full sun. Some gourds are susceptible to drought early in their growing stage, like the butternut squash, so make sure to always keep the soil moist (they cannot survive overheat, which is why it is advisable to give plants some afternoon shade).
Make sure you know if the gourd you are planting is a low, trailing plant, a climbing vine, or a bush type so that you are prepared to provide for its needs, like a trellis or support if you are growing a climbing variety or enough space for trailing varieties. Make sure gourds that are heavy feeders get enough fertilizer (like a 10-10-10). Start with rich soil (reinforced later by organic compost or aged manure, preferably in the middle of the growing season). Use a liquid fertilizer every two (or three, depending on your soil condition) weeks.
Ideal companion plants include celery, dill, nasturtiums, marigolds, oregano, borage, and onions. If you are planting gourds, mind the weeds, particularly pigweed, cocklebur, lance leaf sage, several annual types of grass, johnsongrass, nutsedge, black nightshade, silverleaf nightshade, and devils claw. Weeds are detrimental to the crop. They compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients, and as a result, the plant exhibits reduced yields and the size of the fruit is usually smaller as a result of weed problems. That is not all. Weeds also host pathogens, viruses, and insects. Because of these reasons, it is important to rid weeds around your gourd plants.
When harvesting gourds, do not pull, twist, or cut too close to the stem end. Instead, cut it in a way that a portion of the stem remains attached. This ensures that the fruit has a long shelf life. With stems removed, gourds tend to spoil faster. Farmers believe that curing gourds helps prolong their shelf life and they do not spoil easily.
The hardiness zone spectrum covering Texas ranges from 6 to 9B, which is generally ideal for many types of gourds. For example, acorn squash can grow in zones 4 through 11; butternut squash can grow in zones 2 through 11; calabaza squash can grow in zones 3 through 9; cushaw squash can grow in zones 3B through 11A.
Organic and synthetics remedies are required to address the problem of pest infestation affecting gourds.
- Squash bugs – The use of man-made pesticide carbaryl is the solution to rid of squash bugs.
- Cucumber beetle – Use Kaolin clay, Beauveria bassiana, and/or botanical insecticides. Other options include using pyrethrin or spinosad spray.
- Vine borers – Use man-made pesticide carbaryl, broad-spectrum, pyrethroid-based insecticides like permethrin, or the pyrethroid insecticide bifenthrin to rid your acorn squash of vine borers.
- Slugs and snails threaten young butternut squash seedlings. As the plant grows, there are more pests to worry about, like Japanese beetles. Squash bugs and squash vine borers are also common enemies of butternut squash.
- Japanese beetles – To rid gourds of Japanese beetle, use pyrethrin, which is a combination of six chemicals (pyrethrin I, pyrethrin II, cinerin I, cinerin II, jasmolin I, and jasmolin II). An organic version of pyrethrin involves the use of chrysanthemum flowers. When using pyrethrin, make sure to mix 7.5 to 15 oz of concentrate in 5 gallons of water and apply enough to cover the upper and lower leaf surfaces.
- Aphids – Kill aphids using neem oil, insecticidal soap, or horticultural oil. You can also use the pesticide malathion, which is the most commonly used organophosphate insecticide in the United States, or rotenone, a selective, non-specific insecticide typically used in home gardens for insect control.
- Beetles – The use of man-made pesticide carbaryl is the solution to get rid of beetles. Other options include pyrethroid insecticides like cyfluthrin and Lambda cyhalothrin, pesticide malathion, pyrethrin spray, permethrin insecticide, and spinosad.
- Spider mites – To get rid of spider mites, use neem oil and apply it through foliar spraying. It contains azadirachtin which is effective against spider mites. You can also use horticultural oil (which also targets aphids and thrips). Pests die after exposure to horticultural oil due to suffocation since the oil blocks the spiracles through which insects breathe. Another effect of horticultural oils is disrupting the metabolism of insect eggs. Lastly, horticultural oils disrupt the insect’s ability to feed. As a result, the insect starves to death. Using pyrethrin spray is also an effective method against spider mites. Another option is spinosad, a mixture of two chemicals called spinosyn A and spinosyn D typically used to control a wide variety of pests.
The fungicide chlorothalonil is used on 100% of the crop to protect the crops from diseases. Myclobutanil is used for powdery mildew control. Benomyl, maneb, and thiophanate-methyl are seldom used although these are ideal chemicals to use for gourds.
The history of gourds perhaps begins with L. siceraria or bottle gourd. Food historians believe this came from Africa and from there it was introduced to Europe, the Americas, and Asia. There are proofs found in archeological sites supporting this idea. What was found in the Peruvian archaeological sites go as far back as 13,000 to 11,000 BCE, while those found in Thailand sites date back to 11,000 to 6,000 BCE.
Michigan, New York, and California are the major squash-growing states in the US. According to Texas A&M University, Texas is ranked fourth when it comes to the production of pumpkins, planted in more than 8,000 acres of land in Texas, and 90% of the total production of pumpkins in Texas comes from West Texas.
Bottle gourd is grown in Central America and Asia. In South Africa, bottle gourd is grown in Limpopo, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and North West provinces.
Gourds are usually sold without any type of packaging, primarily because their thick skin and rind already provide it with a layer of protection, keeping the flesh inside safe from any potential contamination while out on display. In some stores or groceries, you will see whole or chopped gourds individually wrapped in plastic wrap.
You can’t eat all kinds of gourds. There are ornamental gourds that are not safe to eat. These are called inedible gourds. Inedible gourds are toxic when consumed by humans and can cause serious health concerns. For gourds you can eat, the flavor ranges from mild to sweet with a firm to tender texture.
Before you put gourds into storage, use a clean, soft cloth to remove the dirt on the fruit. If gourds are clean when they are stored, you avoid the risk of having rotten gourds. Make sure the storage is dry and has good air circulation. When storing them, do not put everything in one pile. Instead, spread the gourds and make sure no gourds are in contact with another gourd during storage. Check the gourds while on storage to make sure you remove gourds that are starting to rot.
There are many ways to cook gourd: you can roast it, use it to cook stew or soup, you can have it stuffed, fried, and breaded. You can also use gourd for baking.
Gourd contains protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Eating gourd helps the body fight inflammation and manage diabetes.