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Gourds a useless crop? Artisans don’t think so!
By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent

DELAWARE, Ohio – Pumpkin shows abound in every corner of the Farm World readership area, but when it comes to gourds, Delaware is the place to be.
The 59th annual Ohio Gourd Show & Festival will be Oct. 1-3 at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. Show secretary Vikkie Mustad said the life of gourds remains strong as long as there are farmers and families willing to grow them, and craftsmen willing to make good use of them.
“People will discover that gourds are interesting and have three life cycles,” Mustad said.
The first cycle, Mustad said, is the growing period. Gourds require from 100-180 days to reach maturity. Growers will see roughly 15 gourds per plant. Generally, gourds grow to their maximum size, then the walls of the gourd will thicken. And, like other plants, gourds require watering, fertilizing, mulching, checks for disease and trimming.
“The second cycle is the drying period,” Mustad added. “Gourds take three to six months to dry before then can be used functionally. The third phase is the crafted gourd, such as wood burning, relief carving, chip carving, wearing, coiling, painting – there are 100 categories of just the crafted gourd.”
More than 700 species of gourds will on display at this year’s show. From this dried fruit the craftspeople make drums, masks, musical instruments, birdhouses, water jugs, Christmas ornaments, horns, wind chimes and much more.
“Gourds are a win-win plant. Gourds are something that the casual farmer can grow to sell to craftsmen, who then turn them into beautiful pieces of art.”
Growers have the chore of making sure the gourds are free from mold once the fruit has been harvested. The mold occurs over the winter months. Most growers say the hardest part of dealing with gourds is cleaning them and keeping the bugs off. More than half of these artisans, though, purchase the gourds from local farmers.
Artists then take the gourds, clean excess mold from the dried fruit and coat them with stain, shellac or polyurethane. They often add acrylic or oil painting to the gourds, some design intricate artwork using carving or wood-burning tools.
“I have a real passion for gourds,” said Emily Harris, of Monaca, Pa., and regular attendee of the Ohio show. “In Pennsylvania we have a short growing season, but it’s worth it all. They’re a lot of work and they take knowledge when working with them.
“Most farmers don’t bother growing gourds and to most they’re not even considered a cash crop, but ask any grower of the fruit and they’ll tell you there’s money to be made growing gourds. They grow very easily. Just sprinkle seeds on a mound, roto-till between the rows and watch them grow. Some people go to the trouble of using trellises to shape the plant, but that’s too much work for me. Growers can command $3 for a small gourd and up to $30 or more for larger ones. There’s money in gourds long before an artist turns them into a thing of beauty.”
Mary Stewart, of Mason, Ohio sells her creations at shops in nearby Lebanon.
“My mother and I grow them and they do well in southwest Ohio,” Stewart said. “I hand-pollinate mine, though some let the bees to the trick. I’ve grown them for seven years and have learned that they require a lot of water.”
According to Stewart, too much rain is one drawback to growing gourds. Pests include insects, deer and squirrels, though the latter give growers the most fits. “Deer will paw at the hard gourds while squirrels chew on them when they’re green,” she said.
The Ohio Gourd Show began at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in 1962, but was moved to the Morrow County Fairgrounds in Mt. Gilead the following year. The show was held in Mt. Gilead for 40 years, but a fire at one of the large structures at that fairgrounds forced the group to move to Greenville, Ohio. The show alternated locations between Greenville and Delaware, but has been in Delaware the past five years.
“The Ohio Gourd Society, which was established in 1946, is the second chapter of the American Gourd Society,” Mustad said.
Workshop classes will be Friday and Saturday at the show in Delaware. The Mdira Ohio Band, a group that performs using musical instruments they made from gourds, will perform on Saturday. On Sunday, it’s Kids & Family Day. Also on Sunday is the “Make It and Take It,” an opportunity for guests to work with gourds by painting them and much more Participation in this event is free of charge.
Key contacts for gourd enthusiasts include: American Gourd Society, P.O. Box 2186, Kokomo, IN 46904; Ohio Gourd Society, Nelson Litzenberg, president,; Indiana Gourd Society, Pat Moore, president,; Michigan Gourd Society, Ellen Rodriguez, president,; Loess Hills Gourd Society (Iowa), Ron Sievers,