Are the features of your jack-o'-lantern starting to cave in? Perhaps the pumpkin that you carved is now being carved up by rodents? Make a better jack-o'-lantern: use a gourd, instead. Gourds also make good birdhouses.
Time Required: 1 Day (carving)
- Order bushel (for jack-o-lanterns) or birdhouse (for birdhouses) gourd seeds now, in the fall! Don't wait until spring to locate them. These gourd seeds may not be readily available in your area (see link 5 below).
- Wait until a month before the final frost date for your area. Seeds sprout in 2 weeks. Until danger of frost is past, cover seedlings at night (with a box, for example). Remove cover in morning.
- Water and fertilize well all summer. Like pumpkins and squash, these hardshell gourds grow well in soil amended by compost and manure. But ample garden space is required: vines can grow 50 feet!
- When danger of frost returns in fall, cover the fruits of your gourd vines with blankets at night. Remove blankets in morning. When frost kills the gourd vines, pick the gourds.
- Place gourds on wooden pallets and let them lie outside in a sunny area for a week. Cover them with blankets at night, and remove blankets in the morning.
- Bring gourds inside, storing them in a warm, dry space. Object now is to dry the gourds out -- naturally. Dont try to dry them by removing the insides, as you would pumpkins (introduces bacteria).
- Depending on the size of the gourd and the drying conditions, drying can be completed anytime from a few weeks to several months. Shake them: if the seeds rattle, the gourds are dry.
- Now that the growing and curing are done, you can turn your attention to the arts and crafts work on the gourds. First clean off any mold that has formed on the gourds with steel wool.
- Trace in pencil the areas that will be cut out: the lid, eyes, nose and mouth for jack-o-lanterns, the entry hole for birdhouses. Gourds are hard when dry -- drill perforation holes to make cutting easier (as if working with wood).
- For jack-o-lanterns, cut out the lid with an Exacto knife, using the perforation holes as a guide. For birdhouses, cut an entry hole. Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the birdhouse gourd so the birds don't get their feet wet when it rains!
- With access to the inside now, clean the seeds out of the gourd. This is easy for jack-o-lanterns, because the lid hole can be made large. But for birdhouses the entry holes need to be small (the smaller the bird, the smaller the desired hole).
- For jack-o-lanterns, cut out the eyes, nose and mouth with an Exacto knife, using the perforation holes as a guide.
- Stain the exterior of the jack-o-lantern or birdhouse with a wood stain. If stain does not appear evenly dispersed, apply a second layer after the first has dried. Stain not only improves appearance, but also discourages rodents.
- After the stain has dried, apply polyurethane to either the jack-o-lantern or birdhouse gourd. This coating will help preserve the gourd. Re-apply polyurethane each year -- your gourd should last indefinitely!
- After Halloween is over, bring your jack-o'-lantern indoors. Line the insides with tissue paper. Use the gourd as a vase for a dried flower arrangement!
- Very important! The "gourds" referred to here are totally different from the little, brightly colored gourds so common in the fall. You must purchase hardshell gourd seeds for this project.
- Of the "hardshell" gourd varieties, the best for the jack-o-lantern project is the "bushel" gourd. For the birdhouse project there are various gourds that will be okay, including "birdhouse" and "bottle."
- Bushel gourds grow as large as or larger than the average pumpkin. Be prepared to have someone help you move some of the larger specimens out of the garden!
- Don't let Tip 3 discourage you: after these gourds dry (cure), they are light as a feather!
What You Need:
- garden space and tools
- gourd seeds
- drill and small drill bit
- Exacto knife, paint brush
- wood stain, polyurethane
More How To's from your Guide To Landscaping
~ David Beaulieu