Harvesting and Drying Gourds
WARNING: If you want a real experts advice on harvesting gourds you are in the wrong place!!!! I tried growing my own and found I didn't have the space or time! Now I leave it up to the gourd farmers. I get so many e-mails everyday about this that I felt it was only fair that I shared my experience and researched this subject further so here is ALL I KNOW ;-)
My first experience with growing gourds was in Okinawa, Japan. There was hardly a winter there at all so I was able to leave my gourds on the vine and let them dry naturally. The vines started dying in the Fall and soon after that, the gourds started turning blotchy and moldy. They were completely dry within 5 weeks. I did harvest a few green ones and try to dry them in the house. Every single gourd I brought in rotted! I have since spoken with several farmers and most agree that the best and easiest way to dry the gourds is to leave them on the vine.
Here is an excerpt from USDA Farmer's bulletin No 1849, 1940. It gives advice on harvesting the gourds while they are green:
Fruits of the larger types are ready to harvest when the skin is hard and the stem is dry and brown. The gourds should be harvested before chance of a a hard frost, with a few inches of stem left attached to the fruit. The gourds should be handled carefully, to avoid bruising or scratching the skin of the fruits.
The first stage in the drying process is the surface drying stage, a process which takes about a week. During this time, the outer skin hardens and the color sets. Surface moisture may be removed by spreading the gourds out in a single layer in a dry, well-ventilated room, such as a shed, porch, or garage. The gourds should not touch one another, and should be turned each day. If gourds are placed on newspapers, the papers should be changed daily. Any fruits developing soft spots or shriveling should be removed.
An additional three to four weeks is needed for the final drying stage. In this process, the gourds are spread out in single layers in a warm, dark, dry, airy location, such as an attic. The fruits should be checked every few days, and any rot removed. Gourds may become covered with a mold or crust at this time. This is normal, so those that experience this crusting should be kept. During this process, the fruits should be turned occasionally. Gourds that dry properly will be light in weight and the seeds will rattle.
Following the drying process, the gourds should be washed in warm water, and steel wool used to remove the mold and crust. After completely dried with a soft rag, the gourds can be sanded and polished. Properly dried gourds should retain their color for three to four months, and waxing the surface with a paste floor wax may help preserve the colors for a longer time period. Gourds can be stained or dyed, varnished, painted, or decorated with a wood-burning tool.