How to make gourd?

How to Dry Gourds

Dry gourds are fun to use for a variety of crafts. They can be painted, shellacked, or left unfinished. Dried gourds will be light and fragile, and you should be able to hear the seeds rattling inside. In ancient cultures, dried gourds were used for a variety of tools and dishes.

Gourds, which are members of the cucumber and melon family, are warm season plants. Frost destroys them at both planting and harvesting times. When weather indications point to frost, all gourds that are hard and firm should be picked and stored in a cool, airy room on trays to permit free air circulation. If the gourds are soft, leave them on the vine, even if a frost is coming. Sometimes, the first frost hardens them.

Some gourds will dry out easily, while others will mold during the drying process. Since a gourd is 90% water, this mold is nature’s way of bringing moisture to the surface. If mold starts forming on a gourd, but the gourd remains hard, scrape the mold off with a dull butter knife and wipe the gourd dry. Watch carefully for any additional mold formation. If mold forms again, repeat the scraping and drying each time.

The drying process may take up to one month. Keep the gourds in a cool, well-ventilated area and check them every few days. Remove any moisture and mold. If a soft spot forms, discard the gourd. When you hear the seeds rattle inside, it means the gourds are completely dry. Dried gourds are fragile; handle them with care.


1.20 Pumpkins and squash

The plants, referred to as squash, pumpkins, or gourds, depending on species and variety, are grown for their edible fruits and seeds. There are five domesticated species: Cucurbita argyrosperma, C. ficifolia, C. maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo. C. pepo includes varieties of both winter squash and summer squash, and C. moschata can be used as winter squash because the full-grown fruits can be stored for months (Figure 1.23).

Figure 1.23. A selection of pumpkins and squash.

This section refers to the fully mature ‘winter pumpkin or squash’. What distinguishes a pumpkin from a squash is not very clearly defined, so that the name used in one locality may be the reverse of that used in another. The custom among canners regarding labelling generally follows the common designation of the community in which they are operating. There are differences in the varieties of both pumpkins and squash, and these differences are probably no greater than between what botanists might technically classify as pumpkins or squash. The term pumpkin seems to be applied more generally to the vining varieties, whereas the term squash is most often applied to the bush varieties or summer types.

Varieties. Pumpkin for canning purposes should be deep yellow or orange in colour; should have a firm, dry, thick meat; and during the ripening period should possess no green colour in the rind. Although most canners prefer a fine-, rather than a coarse-grained meat, some bakers maintain that a coarse-fibre pumpkin makes a more satisfactory pie. As pumpkin becomes easily crossed after some years, it may be difficult to identify a variety.

Preparation for Canning. Pumpkins, as delivered to the cannery, have more or less adhering soil that must be soaked before it is readily removed. The soak water should be kept lukewarm. After thorough soaking, adhering clay soil and silt are easily removed by hand scrubbing with a common scrub brush. This should be followed by passing the pumpkins under a spray to thoroughly rinse them, as any soil adhering to them at the time they are cut results in a ‘gritty’ pack. After thorough cleansing, the stems are removed and the pumpkins cut in two with a large knife or mechanical cutter. The cut pumpkin is passed through a rotating tumbler to remove the greater portion of the seeds. Should the character of the raw material be such as would require inspection for internal rot, this is done at the time the pumpkin is cut in half. Care should be exercised to eliminate these pumpkins, as the flavour is exceedingly sour, and even a few of them greatly affect the flavour of the finished product. After inspection for decay, the pumpkins are either cut into large pieces approximately in cases where the pumpkin is to be steamed in retort baskets or into small pieces approximately if the pumpkin is to be steamed in a mechanical steamer, permitting pumpkin of thin layers to be exposed to the action of the steam. Pumpkins steamed by the tower method should not be cut too fine, as such pumpkin will pack in the tower and not be uniformly steamed. There are complete mechanical methods of handling pumpkins or squash. Details may be obtained from equipment manufacturers.

After proper preparation, the cut pumpkin is steamed according to one of the following methods:

In retorts under pressure: The common practice in using this method consists of lining the retort crates with 0.6 cm (¼ in.) wire screen and filling the crates full of coarsely cut pumpkin. These are lowered into the retorts, and the pumpkin steamed from 15 to 45 min at a temperature of 104–121 °C (220–250 °F).

By steaming tanks or boxes: These are provided with a perforated false bottom under, which the steam pipes are located. They are also provided with hinged covers.

By steaming in a tower approximately 5–6 m tall and 1 m in diameter. These towers are generally erected in pairs and are equipped for introducing live steam at the bottom. The pumpkin is fed into the top of the towers by means of a conveyor and withdrawn from the bottom in a continuous operation.

By steaming on a perforated conveyor in thin layers within a steam chest.

By steaming in a wilter, consisting of a series of five horizontal cylinders that have progressively smaller diameters and are tapered so that a squeezing action takes place as the product is forced through them by means of a screw conveyor.

The time of steaming with any of the preceding methods will depend on the temperature, the character of raw product, and the colour and consistency desired; 20–45 min is the usual practice. Steaming as long as 2 h at 121 °C (250 °F) is a commercial practice that results in a fairly dry pack. Some buyers demand a pumpkin of heavy consistency; such pumpkin should stand erect and exude very little moisture on standing in sample dishes.

Various types of presses are used for removing excess water from the steamed pumpkin, the most common being the passing of the product between two belts, to the upper of which pressure is applied.

As the flavour of pumpkin is largely contained in the soluble solids, the loss of juice, either during steaming or by pressing, is undesirable. It is impossible to pack a product of acceptable consistency without eliminating excessive moisture, and usually considerable pressing is required. Evaporation has been used to secure a heavy consistency without loss of flavour, but the added cost of this operation is not justified by the results accomplished.

After sufficient moisture has been eliminated, the steamed pumpkin is run through a cyclone, or if a finer-grained article is desired, through a cyclone, then through a finisher or comminutor.

The temperature of the product at the time of processing is a very important factor in the efficiency of the process because pumpkin heats very slowly. It is essential, both from the standpoint of cutting down processing time and for the prevention of occluded air in the product, to fill the product in the can at temperatures above 82 °C (180 °F).

Some canners attain a uniformly high filling temperature by pumping the prepared pumpkin through a preheater.

This is an inner tube through which the pumpkin flows, surrounded by a larger outer tube, with steam under pressure in the space between the tubes. As long as the pumpkin keeps flowing, it will not stick or burn, but positive means for shutting off the steam whenever the flow stops must be provided.

Process Times and Temperatures in Still Retorts. These processes give good guidelines for processing, but should always be verified by a competent thermal process authority for individual products and recipes. The maximum fill weights listed for some of the products may not be suitable for all operations. It is always recommended that heat penetration tests are done to verify the safety of the processing parameters. If the fill weight critical control factor is exceeded, then this constitutes a processing deviation and must be assessed by a competent thermal processing authority.

The minimum initial temperature stated is the average temperature of the contents of the coldest can in the retort at the time that the steam is turned on for the start of the process. The can sizes are all in Imperial units. See Appendix Table 9 for the conversion of Imperial to metric can sizes (Table 1.34).

Table 1.34. Pumpkin or squash, solid pack

Can size Minimum initial temperature Minutes at retort temperature
°F °C 116 °C (240 °F) 118 °C (245 °F) 121 °C (250 °F)
300 × 407 140
303 × 406 140
307 × 409 140
401 × 411 140
603 × 700 140

Cans. Tinplate cans with lacquered bodies and ends are used.

Filling and Closing. Plunger fillers are most commonly used. The cans should be filled as full as practicable to avoid product discolouration and should be closed immediately after filling. An atmospheric closing machine is used.

Gourds: Nature’s Utensils

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

Published: August 3, 2015

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors did not have the option of going to a hardware store or supercenter to shop for the necessities of life, such as household utensils. Instead, they were forced to improvise, often using items that could be found in nature. The dried fruit of several members of the Cucurbitaceae family proved very useful for a number of purposes. Today, we refer to those plants as gourds and still use them for a variety of purposes.

Gourds have been theorized to be among the first domesticated plant species, dating back as early as 13,000 B.C. They continued to be used by nearly every civilization throughout the course of history. When the first Europeans set foot on what is now the United States, they found Native Americans using gourds for many different purposes. One interesting use was to entice purple martins to nest near their villages by hanging hollowed-out gourds. The practice supposedly was done for insect control and soon was adopted by early settlers. The tradition continues today, although most “gourd” martin houses are made of plastic.

The gourds used by Native Americans as nesting boxes for martins belong to the genus Lagenaria. Members of this genus produce white flowers that open at night and have foliage that is soft and delicate. Most bear fruit that have thick, hard shells when dried, making them useful for items such as ladles, dippers, spoons, containers, bird houses, etc. The fibrous interior of the luffa gourd has been used to produce items as diverse as oil filters, life preservers, scrubbing sponges, hats and upholstery. Gourds belonging to the genus Lagenaria require about 120 days to mature are thought to be native to tropical Africa.

In contrast, most of the colorful gourds used for decoration (sometimes referred to as ovifera gourds) belong to the genus Cucurbita and are close relatives of pumpkin. Members of this genus produce yellow flowers that open during the day and have foliage a bit more course than the white-flowers types. Examples include the pear, egg, orange, spoon, bicolor and warted gourds. Most gourds belonging to this genus mature in about 90 days and are thought to be native to the Andes and Mesoamerica.

Like most curcubits, gourds are a warm-season crop. Outdoor planting should be delayed until danger of frost has passed, and soil and air temperatures have warmed. Gourd seeds may rot before germinating if planted in cold, wet soils. For those varieties that take a long time to mature, starting seeds indoors can help to assure success of the crop.

Gourds prefer a sunny, well-drained site. The soil should be enriched with organic matter, such as compost, composted manure or peat moss, and prepared thoroughly. It is best to base fertilizer applications on soil test results. However, a general recommendation is to apply two to three pounds of fertilizer with a 1:2:2 ratio (e.g. 5-10-10), per 100 square feet of garden area. The pH of the soul should be maintained at between 6.5 and 6.8.

When planting, space seeds or transplants two feet about in rows separated by five feet. Alternatively gourds can be planted in hills four feet apart in rows separated by seven feet. If the hill method is used, thin to two plants per hill. Gourds produce vigorous vines that adapt well to a trellis, fence, or other type of support. Trellising helps to prevent fruit from forming areas of discoloration that occur, if allowed to come in contact with the ground.

When the vines begin to “run,” additional fertilizer will help to maintain optimum growth. Apply about three pounds of a fertilizer fairly high in nitrogen (e.g. 10-10-10) per 100 square feet of garden area.

At this time of the year (August), gourds should be growing rapidly and should be kept well-watered to encourage vigorous growth. Weed control is important since they compete for water and soil nutrients. Gourds have relatively shallow root systems. Therefore, if cultivation is practiced for weed control, take care not to injure the plants’ roots. Mulches applied beneath the vines help to control weeds, conserve soil moisture and prevent ground rots or other problems associated with soil contact of the fruit.

As is the case with other cucurbits, cucumber beetles can become troublesome pests on gourds. They serve as a primary vector for bacterial wilt, which can quickly kill vines. Additionally, when they feed on the surface of developing fruit, they cause discolored, brown areas to form rendering the gourd unattractive. Cucumber beetles are very mobile and can move quickly from one garden to another. Therefore, constant monitoring is required. If found to be present in significant numbers, use an approved insecticide labelled for their control on gourds (e.g. carbaryl). Always read and follow label directions when using pesticides.

Small ornamental (ovifera) gourds may be harvested as soon as the rinds are mature and hardened. It is best to harvest by cutting them from the main vine allowing a small portion of the stem to remain attached. After harvest, they should be allowed to cure for several weeks in a warm, dry area with good air circulation. After curing, dipping them in or coating them with a household disinfectant can help to prevent storage diseases. A light coat of wax also will protect them from diseases in addition to giving them an attractive sheen.

Lageneria gourds normally are allowed to remain on the vines until the vines die or are frozen in late fall. Freezing will not harm mature gourds but will cause immature ones to collapse. Immature gourds are of or little value anyway since they do not cure well. After harvest, these hard-shelled gourds should be stored in a warm, dry area to cure. For most types, the curing process requires in the neighborhood of four months. Curing has been accomplished when the seeds inside the gourd rattle upon being shaken. At this time they can be sanded, sawed, painted, polished or have whatever is necessary done to them to make them into useful or decorative items.

For adventuresome gardeners, saving seeds from gourds can be an interesting experience. Since the cucurbits freely cross-pollinate, seeds saved from gourds grown in the garden will likely produce a plethora of fruit of different shapes, sizes and colors. More likely than not, very few of the offspring will resemble the fruit from which the seed was saved.

“Are gourds edible?” is a common question often asked. The answer depends on the species in question as well as its age. The majority of the Lageneria gourds can be eaten when the fruits are young. However, as these gourds mature, they develop a chemical rendering them sour and bitter to the taste. A good example of an edible gourd is Lagenaria siceraria, more commonly known as calabash or bottle gourd. It can be used as a vegetable much like summer squash when immature. Allowed to fully mature and dry, it can be made into a bottle or utensil.

The small, colorful ovifera gourds used mainly for decoration are not considered to be edible.

Gourd Trivia

  • The ancient Chinese tied gourds to the backs of children and boat people to serve as life preservers.
  • In the early 1800s, the country of Haiti for a short time used gourds as its official currency. Even today, the standard coin of Haiti is called a gourde.
  • The papery, winged seed of the climbing gourd has a wingspan of five inches. Reportedly, it inspired the design of early aircraft and gliders.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s longest gourd was grown in China in 2008. It measured an astonishing 14 feet, 11 inches in length.
  • Gourds, usually having stories carved on them in the form of pictures, are given as wedding gifts by people of East Africa.
  • Ricky Ricardo’s bongo drum in the television sitcom “I Love Lucy” was made from a zucca gourd. The latter frequently grow to a weight of 50 pounds or more.

Hardshell gourds have been used as food and beverage containers, and art pieces for centuries. They are often referred to as “nature’s pottery” due to their beautiful variety of shapes and hardy uses. The creative crafting possibilities of hardshell gourds are endless; from bowls and cups (mate gourds, used for drinking yerba mate), to purses, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, lampshades, jewelry boxes, bird houses, tribal penis shields, and even a wide variety of musical instruments. The list goes on forever, only limited by your imagination.
But I’m not here right now to tell you what to do with them (maybe later); I’m here to tell you how to clean them inside and out, using safety precautions.
The need to clean depends largely on what you plan to do with the gourd. You may decide to only work on the outside without a need to open the gourd, in which case you get to avoid the extra work involved. If you plan to make a bowl, for example, then clearly you’ll be working on both inside and outside, as well as cutting and/or carving.
The outsides of dried gourds are fairly simple to clean, if sometimes labor intensive. The extent to which you clean them depends upon how you want to use them, and what you might want to add to the surface (paints, dyes, etc.). If you want a naturey-looking gourd with its natural waxy coating you don’t have to do much beyond washing off dirt and dark mold with a hot water and bleach solution (maybe 10 parts water to 1 part bleach), which retards future mold growth. However, if you want to dye a gourd, leaving the waxy coating on it might prevent dye from soaking into the surface the way you want it to, which means you’ll have to scrub harder to remove nature’s irritating addition to your innocent craft project.
The insides of gourds are a different story, and a potentially dangerous one. You need to be careful not to inhale the contents. Not all hardshell gourds are terrible inside, but they are all dusty, and you can’t guess which ones will merely make you sneeze and which ones might contain mold/fungus, bacteria, and other pathogens that could cause serious allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock. I’ve personally been flattened with a gourd dust-related illness that gourd crafters refer to as “gourd flu”, which was basically illness that mimicked semi-severe flu symptoms (fever, aching joints, muscle soreness, mucus, fatigue) for about two to three days. If there’s a medical term for this, I don’t know what it is, but in hindsight… I probably should have seen a doctor. And you should, too, if it ever happens to you.
So… to prepare, make sure you use a dust mask. They’re easily found at hardware stores all over. Choose a good one designed for working with wood/sawdust; if possible, look into one that also protects against molds/fungus. Second, use protective goggles. Remember, these precautions aren’t just for gourds; any time you do craftwork involving dust, solvents, tools and so on.
What can you expect to find when you open a gourd (via Xacto knives/saws, mini electric jigsaws, or Dremels… be careful not to cut yourself)? Dust, seeds, a styrofoam-like substance, and hardened pulp, maybe even a few tiny beetles. You probably don’t want to keep that junk in there, right? So you have to clean it out, and often this is easy, but occasionally this can get ugly.
You should prepare yourself for cleaning the outside with:
~ A sink or tub, the size depending on the size(s) of gourds you’re cleaning.
~ Rags
~ Copper scrubbing pads. 100% copper means they won’t rust should you want to use them again later.
~ Bleach
~ Old towel(s)
~ Something to scrape with, perhaps a knife edge
~ Rubber dish gloves
You should prepare yourself for cleaning the inside with:
~ Gardening gloves, or thicker gloves
~ A melon baller
~ A taxidermy scraper
~ A sanding sponge
~ A shop vac
~ Dust masks, the best ones being for the finest particulate matter
~ Eye protection, especially if you plan on using power tools
~ Electric drill with wire brush bit for spots that are hard to reach
Please don’t ignore the safety precautions, especially regarding sawdust. If you use a high-powered cutting tool (Dremel, etc), you’ll be generating a lot… a LOT… of sawdust from the gourd, and it is very, very fine. The faster the tool, the more dust you’ll create. Many gourd artists opt for mini-jigsaws with variable speeds, to control the cutting and minimize dust. In addition to dust masks and goggles, you should work in a well-ventilated area.

How to Make Dried Gourds

Dried gourds are very desirable in the crafting community. Dried gourds have been used to make bird houses, bird feeders, utensils, musical instruments, and various other forms of art mediums. Dried gourds can be purchased or you can dry fresh gourds yourself. Whether you wish to grow your own gourds and dry them or purchase dried gourds find out more.

Dried Gourds

Dried gourds are very desirable in the crafting community. Dried gourds have been used to make birdhouses, bird feeders, utensils, musical instruments, and various other forms of art mediums. They can be purchased or you can dry them yourself. Whether you wish to grow your own gourds and dry them or purchase dried gourds you will have endless crafting opportunities at your finger tips.

Grow Gourds

Gourds are grown much like pumpkins or squash. They prefer warm weather and plenty of fertilizer. Gourds plants do not fare well with frost, therefore gourds should be planted after the last spring frost. Gourds themselves are not affected by frosts, but young seedlings will likely die. The soil in which you plant your gourds should be well drained and kept moist. They are climbing plants; smaller, ornamental gourds grow well on fences, trellises, or even in containers. The perk of fence growing is they will have less blemishes (flat spots, discolored areas) since there is little to no contact with the ground. The larger, harder shelled gourds may want to be kept on the ground since the weight may cause the gourd to break from the vine is suspended.

Gourd plants have a significantly long growing season. The hard-shelled varieties on average take between 110-135 days to mature.

Gourds should be harvested in the fall after the first frost. Frost will not harm a mature crop. Leave as much stem as possible when harvesting gourds, stems can always be cut to the desired length later. Some growers who use their gourds for crafting purposes leave their gourd outside on the ground all winter, allowing nature to dry them. It is believed that by allowing gourds to dry naturally there are less problems with mold.

Before harvesting they should be “hardened”, by discontinuing water and fertilization, allowing them to ripen and harden. You will know your gourds are ready to harvest when they are brown and the stems are dried.

Drying Gourds

Once you have acquired fresh, ripe gourds you can begin the drying process. It is debatable which method of drying is better, hanging or leaving them on the ground. As mentioned earlier, some growers believe that leaving them on the ground all winter decreases the risk of mold. Other prefer to hang their gourds, make certain that the fruit dries evenly and has less of a chance of developing rotten spots due to contact with the moist ground. If you choose to hang your gourds, first clean the gourds with a mild bleach solution. Then hang them in a dry, well ventilated room with sufficient air movement. It takes a few months to dry completely. Since gourds do not change appearance after drying, you will know they are dried by gently tapping the shell. If when tapped the gourd makes a hollow sound the fruit has dried. You can also shake the gourd to listen for a rattling sound of the seeds, only happening once dried. Some may develop mold while drying. This mold can be easily removed by again cleaning them with a mild bleach solution.

Cleaning Dried Gourds

After the gourds are dried, they must be cleaned before use. How the gourd will be cleaned depends on the future use. If only the exterior surface of the gourd is going to be used, the outer surface should be cleaned with soapy water. If stubborn mold remains, it can be scrubbed off with sandpaper and/or a rounded knife. As mentioned previously a mild bleach solution can also be used to remove persistent mold. If you wish to hollow out the inside of the gourd and expose the interior surfaces, first it needs to be cut open and the seeds and dried pulp removed. Clean interior and exterior portions with soapy water or bleach solution. Once the gourds are cleaned they must be allowed to fully dry. Now that you have dried gourds the polishing, painting, carving, and decorating can begin!

Dried Gourds as Art

Dried gourds have been used as an art medium for many years. Originally, the shells were hollowed and used for bowls, bottles, or utensils. Eventually, they were also used as musical instruments, birdhouses, canteens, vases, etc. Now the use is very wide spread. Dried gourds are used by crafters, artists, musicians, and home decorators.

The Author:



Curing and Cleaning Gourds for Crafts

Proper curing of a gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) actually begins with growing the gourd. Gourds are in the curcurbit (squash) family, and like winter squash they store better if properly handled in the field. Gourds will develop a flat spot where they grow against the soil, and it is not always easy to prevent. Sometimes you can rotate them a little (vine and all) while they are growing, but be careful not to break the stem. Leave them growing on the vine until frost has nipped the leaves and the vines begin to die back. Gourds may rot if they are not cured 2 to 3 weeks in the field on the vines after frost has killed the leaves. Cut the gourds from the vine, leaving at least an inch of stem attached.
I prefer to store gourds up off the ground on a pallet with plenty of air circulation between them to prevent rot. Some folks advocate leaving them outside all winter, saying the freeze and thaw cycles helps cure the gourds. I have not found that to make a difference but I do think winter temperature ranges could affect curing and seed viability. The biggest thing that makes a difference for me in craftwork is the thickness of the gourd shell or rind. Some of the gourds I have cured have a hard shell no more than 1/8 inch thick, while the ones I prefer have been closer to 3/16 inch or more in shell thickness. The thinner the shell, the more likely a gourd will develop a soft spot that breaks or rots. Unfortunately I know of no way to determine shell thickness in green gourds.
You will know when the gourd has dried enough… it will be hard, very light in weight and if shaken hard, the seeds inside will loosen from the pulp and rattle. At this point, the gourd will have a very nasty looking mold covering the exterior. I generally scrape off the mold with the flat edge of a knife, and then use water and a Scotch-Brite® pad to clean it thoroughly. I avoid using any steel wool pads as they always seem to leave metal particles no matter how well I rinse. The moldy surface material will clog your sink unless you have a disposal and keep it cleaned out as you work. I clean my gourds outside with the garden hose. During curing, some folks wash the exterior mold off weekly with a 10% bleach solution, hoping to avoid a mottled surface color.

Cutting a gourd Pulp lining the inside Pulp and seeds

Once you have cleaned off the mold and the gourd has dried, you are ready to cut the gourd for use. A simple bored hole may be enough for a birdhouse, and a Santa may not need any cutting. For the gourd work I do, I need an opening so I can use the gourds as decorative containers. The hard shell is difficult to cut. I have used a Japanese pull saw, and also a rotary cutter in a hand-held dremel-like tool.
Once you have an opening into the gourd, you may extract the pulp and seeds. The pulp will adhere to the interior walls but it will pull away easily. It is difficult to clean the interior is when you only have a small access opening, so try some tools with a long handle. I have used clay sculpting tools (wooden handles with metal loops on the ends) with some (tedious) success. If I have only a small opening, I usually soak the interior overnight before cleaning out the pulp. If I want to save the pulp for making gourd paper sculptures, I dump the wet pulp through a kitchen strainer as I’m cleaning the gourd interior. If you want to save the seeds, soak the pulp and seeds and let them dry thoroughly in a single layer. Otherwise they tend to germinate before they dry.

In my experience with saving gourd seeds, I use the same criteria as for any seed saving. If the gourd has a thin wall that breaks out or rots, I see no reason to save those seeds to reproduce. Do bear in mind that gourds will cross-pollinate and unless you know for sure your gourds came from an isolated patch, the seeds you save may not produce gourds like the gourds you have.
Now that you have a cleaned and cured gourd, it is time to make something from it. For my own craft projects, all my gourds are painted. After cleaning and drying, I sand the shell and then add a primer. I have used leather dyes as well as paints; it is all a matter of personal preferences. Sometimes it may be months before the gourd itself suggests to me how it should be finished for use. However, once a gourd is cured and cleaned, it can be stored indefinitely without deterioration if it is kept dry before finishing.

Gourds, thin one broken Primed gourds, ready to craft

For general and/or exterior use, the life of the gourd depends on how it is finished for use. There are gourds in museums that are thousands of years old; historically they were used for water or dry food and grain storage.
Click to see some gourd craft books:
The Complete Book of Gourd Crafts
Gourd Crafts for the First Time
Beyond the Basics: Gourd Art

The Garden Bookworm has reviews of several gourd books

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