Answer: Prior to using gourds, they must be ripened, harvested, and properly cured. Harvesting should take place when the stem at the top turns brown and withers. This is a good indication that the rind should be hardened enough that it cannot be pierced with a thumbnail. Most gourds should be harvested before the first frost as frost can damage the rind as well as rot the interior. There are some larger gourd varieties that can withstand a light frost which will be indicated on the seed or plant packet that the gourd(s) come in. However, these gourds still cannot withstand a heavy frost.
Gourds should be cut from the vine, leaving a few inches of stem attached. Gourds can rot easily if a stem is not attached or if they are bruised, damaged, or immature. Bruising can still occur when handling after harvest.
Surface dirt can be cleaned with soap and water followed by being wiped down with a disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol, Lysol, vinegar and water, a solution of 2 tablespoons borax in 1 quart water, or a 10% bleach solution. Once cleaned and disinfected, gourds can be stored in a dry, well-ventilated, and shaded area. They can be placed on a layer of clean newspaper of cardboard. As the gourds cure, initial drying of the outer rind takes about one to two weeks. During this time, the newspaper or cardboard will absorb some of the moisture and should be changed regularly as to not spoil the gourds if they are left on a damp surface. Gourds should also be placed for curing so that they are not touching one another.
Depending on the size of the gourd, complete drying can last an additional few weeks and up to a few months. The gourds should be rotated frequently and gourds that show any signs of spoilage should be discarded. Surface mold is normal and will not affect the gourd (as long as the rind is hard). The drying process is complete when the gourds are lightweight and the seeds rattle inside when shaken.
Once cured, gourds should be wiped again with warm water or rubbing alcohol and dried. Steel wool or fine sandpaper can be used to smooth the surface. The gourd can now be waxed to preserve the color, or painted, stained, varnished, or cut and decorated.
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