The seeds should be planted as soon as there is no risk of frost, though if you use plastic cloches to cover the seeds, you can plant them even before the frosts are over—as early as the beginning of August, in warm localities. It is very important to give gourds a growing season which is as long as possible, so it is good to get them into the ground as soon as you safely can. The seeds take between a few days and a month to germinate, depending on the temperature.
The soil in which you plant them should be as rich as possible, and you should put in lots of organic manure well before planting time. If you have a clay soil, coarse sand or fine scoria will help loosen it, though if you use salt sand you should put it in three or four months before planting, so as to get rid of the salt in time. A combination of superphosphate and blood and bone, with a little lime, is also good.
Seeds are planted an inch below the surface, with the pointed tip pointing upwards. Germination can be speeded up by watering them with warm, not hot, water. Be sure to keep slugs and snails away, and water the seedlings with lukewarm water when they appear; avoid watering the foliage and stem. At this stage it is very valuable to use plastic cloches; that is, little plastic tents over the plants which you can make or buy. Once the plants have appeared, these cloches must have holes in them for ventilation.
Don't weed the plants by scratching the surface of the soil; pull weeds straight out, if you have to weed. Gourd plants need to be protected carefully from the wind, and they need a lot of water. A plant a month old can have roots as far out as three feet, so see that it gets water out there.
By the end of October the plants will have outgrown their cloches, and you should make them a framework from stakes and string to grow on. Or you can train them along a fence, or let them grow up into the branches of a dead tree. The vines take up a lot of room, like pumpkins, and you should bargain for this when you plant them. Plant them where they will get as much sun as possible, too.
ON page 38 of this issue we print an article on Pu-te-hue, the gourds which were used as bottles and containers in the old days. Only a few people grow Maori gourds today, but it is a very interesting hobby, because of the beauty of the gourds and the variety of shapes into which you can train them. We have therefore asked Mr Theo Schoon, the artist whose decorated gourds we feature in our article, to describe for us the proper way of growing them.
Mr Schoon has offered to supply seeds to any person who may wish to obtain them, though since he is a professional grower he must make a small charge for this. His address is 12 Home Street. Grey Lynn, Auckland.
As soon as the main stem has reached 15in., the tip is pinched off. After this the plant will produce more laterals and sub-laterals; it is on the sub-laterals that you grow your gourds. If it is left to itself, a plant will produce anything up to 50 gourds or more, though most of these will just rot. If you want the best results you should let only a few gourds grow, about four or five; these should be fertilized gently by hand, with intervals of a couple of weeks between each of them. You should nip off all the other female flowers, which will keep on and on coming.
You can do all sorts of things to the growing gourd to alter its shape; for instance if it is allowed to hang by its neck, the neck will grow very long. If you want a regular-shaped one with a shorter neck, you should support it from beneath with bricks as it grows.
While the gourds are growing the plants need a lot of watering, especially the roots which are some distance out from the main stem. Liquid manure is very good for them too. When a gourd has ceased to grow, its connection with the vine turns brown. You can pick it then, for it doesn't get any more nourishment. Otherwise, any gourds should be left until all of the vines have withered and died in autumn.
The best way of curing gourds is the old Maori way. You bury them in warm dry sand and all the moisture drains out into the sand. This takes 4 or 5 months. Covering them completely will prevent decay, but renew the sand at intervals. But if you want a gourd with an opening in it, you can cut a hole and clean the gourd as soon as you have picked it, being careful to scrape out all the pulp. When the gourd is bone dry, the skin may be soaked for a few minutes in hot water, and then gently scrubbed off.
It helps to preserve them if after this, you pour in, and out straight away, a mixture of boiled and raw linseed oil and spar varnish. This should be done two or three times, at intervals of a few months, till the shell won't absorb any more oil. Finally, you can wax and tint the outside with any suitable shade of brown shoe polish.