Part One: Gourd Growing, Start to Finish, As Requested:
This posting is for those of you who have asked me for seed starting/planting/feeding/pollenating/watering/harvesting/curing advice. I`m going to attempt an outline of what works well for me. I live in South Carolina, where we have heavy red clay soil, and summers that have very unpredictable rainfall, so keep that in mind. It`d be best to treat this outline as a salad bar...look it over, take what you think you`d like to have on your plate, and leave the rest.
1. Soil Preparation
Immediately after the gourd harvest, I begin getting the soil ready for the next season. I begin by mounding all the fall leaves over the field. I have arrangements with individuals, and a city grounds dept. that I`ll dispose of all their leaves. They bag 'em, I dump them on the soil. works great for all of us-ask your neighbors, they`ll probably be thrilled for you to have theirs. I also live near a cattle and buffalo farmer, and he`s good enough to give me all the manure I can haul. I mix this with the leaves, and allow them to sit on top of the field through the winter. About one month before I plan to set out plants, I till the whole area in. once that`s done, I gather up all brush, down tree limbs, any burnable yard waste, and start a huge bonfire on the field. Again, I enlist the neighbors...they don`t want to have to deal with old wood, and they nearly fall over themselves to give it to me. Once the fire has burned out, and is completely cool, I till again. This completes my soil prep part of the process.
2. Seed Starting
Even though my growing season is plenty long enough to direct seed, I like getting a jump on things. plus, it`s fun, and It eliminates the need to thin, or have to try and plug holes where nothing germenated. I start the seeds 6 weeks before set-out day. I soak them overnight in warm water in styrofoam cups with paper towel wads on top to keep them from floating. the seeds with really tough shells, I razor-cut a small nick near the point of the seed. check the seeds the next day, if they have sunk, they`re ready, if they still float, they need to soak some more. when they`re ready, I start them in the little peat moss disks, and put them in the greenhouse. Check them daily, and sprinkle if they`re not damp to the touch on the top of the disk. usually within a week, they`ve germenated. Once they`ve sprouted, I pot them up into medium sized peat pots. a word here: GOURDS DON'T MIND BEING TRANSPLANTED! I don`t know why this started, but it ain't so! I've potted up and transplanted MANY gourd plants. 99% do just fine. I begin feeding the seedlings miricle grow root builder every other day. once I see roots begin to poke out of the pots, I pot up again, this time into quart sized plastics. for soil, I use 50% potting soil, 25% spaghnum moss, and 25 % pearlite. I don`t remove the smaller peat pots, I just plant that into the big plastic one.
3. Hardening off
this is where you can really screw it up. New plants that have been grown indoors MUST get used to sunlight gradually! once day temps are over 50 degrees, you can begin. I follow this method:
day one - 20 minutes of direct sunlight
day two - 30 minutes direct sunlight
day three - 1 hour direct sunlight
day four - 2 hours direct sunlight
day five - 3 hours direct sunlight
day six - 5 hours direct sunlight
day seven - can be set out
you MUST check in on the plants while they`re out in the sun! if you see any signs of leaf wilt, GET THEM IN THE SHADE IMMEDIATELY! adjust your sun schedule accordingly.
Keep a close eye on the soil as well-be careful they don`t get too dry!
4. setting out
I plant my gourds at the same soil level as they`re growing in their pots. I space them out on 4 foot centers. I have a large arbor that I grow ornamentals on, but I like to keep large gourds on the ground. It`s easier for them to root off their vines that way, and a large gourd that grows hanging is doomed, if you can`t support it somehow.
Part II tomorrow. I`ll cover watering, feeding, trimming and pollenating then.