I'm waiting. Waiting for my gourds to dry. I have many more months to wait. At least five or six. Maybe seven. What's even worse than all that waiting? Winter's here. Blah!

This will be my twenty-first winter here in Pennsylvania. You'd think that after all these years I'd be used to them by now. But with each passing year my aging body loses a little more of its ablility to insulate. During winters, my body is like a creaky old house that's so drafty you can fly a kite inside. Old Man Winter finds a way to chill my bones no matter what I do to try and keep him out. A big and bulky goose down winter coat helps when I'm outside, but wearing it in the house would be silly. Winter--a necessary season for plants that need a cold dormant period, an unnecessary one for humans that don't.

Vining gourds sprawl across the writer's garden

Penguin gourds maturing on the vine

I'm waiting for two types of gourds to dry: swan neck and penguin. Mature swan gourd, before drying process Both grew exceptionally well in my zone 5 garden. As a matter of fact, their vines practically smothered a 25- by 25-foot section of the garden! My decision to grow these two particular varieties was based partly on what I saw at a local arts and crafts fair this past summer. Two booths featured decorative gourds that were quite stunning. One crafter grew his own gourds, the other had a supplier. It's what they did to them once the drying and cleaning process was over that's so impressive. So, I wait. And wait, for my gourds to dry.

This isn't the first time I've tried my hand at crafting with gourds. The first experience was inspired by Dave's Garden member, Roadrunner ("Jo") several years ago. She posted a picture of one of her gourd crafting projects and I thought what a neat thing to do with a garden plant, besides eat it or put it in a bouquet. That first year I grew basket gourds and bottle gourds, but didn't craft much with either of them. I made a "cottage"Cottage made from a basket gourd birdhouse and a couple of simple birdhouses and that was about it. The second year it was apple gourds A fall display using apples made from gourds and I was very pleased with the "apples" I made from them. Gourds were absent from the garden for a year or two until this past season. I decided to grow penguin gourds after seeing what you can make using them.

If you're interested in crafting with gourds, there's a tremendous amount of info available with just a click of your mouse. And don't forget about books. I used Mickey Baskett's "Glorious Gourd Decorating" (Sterling Publishing Company) book to help me make the cottage birdhouse and the apples. Check out DG's book resource page for more titles on decorating and crafting with gourds. Most books provide pictures of various gourds that you can grow for crafting and some will include patterns for you to use as well (Baskett's book has detailed patterns and instructions).

Bottle gourds crafted into snowmen on display at a local craft show.

These crafty bottle gourds were made by local artisans John and Nancy Chlpka. John and Nancy craft their gourds from a shop they own in Jackson Center, Pennsylvania. Wet Dog Studios is the name they've given their unique web site where you can order beautifully hand-crafted gourds.

After waiting for the gourds to dry, and then cleaning them, which is probably the hardest thing you'll have to do, the fun really starts with designing and crafting your gourd into a work of art. There's not much I need to tell you about the waiting part, but be advised that cleaning usually takes some effort. Baskett says in his book that "Cleaning gourds is messy, but not difficult." I guess his definition of difficult may be different from mine because I found the cleaning part to be a rather arduous chore. Mold growing on the outside skin of a penguin gourd First, you have to scrub the moldy skin off that forms during the drying process, then there's more cleaning and scrubbing after that. Baskett recommends soaking your gourd for 10 minutes; however, he neglects to mention that gourds float and unless you have a method of spinnning, or submerging your gourds in the water, soaking doesn't do much good. I used a heavy piece of lumber to hold my gourds underwater while they soaked in a large plastic tub. Eventually, I was rewarded with mostly clean gourds that I was able to use for my projects.

When spring rolls around and it looks like your gourds are dry and ready to be cleaned, you have the option of postponing that task until you're caught up with gardening chores. Once dry, gourds can be stored indefinitely as long as they don't get wet. One thing to watch for during the drying process is rotting. If your gourds aren't getting proper air flow around them they may rot. When this happens, toss the gourd in the compost pile, it's no good. You'll know when a gourd is rotting by look and feel, watch for areas that appear to be sinking inward, the area will feel very soft and spongy.

Detailed carving of a rabbit on dried gourd

Whimsical gourd men crafted by a local artisan.

Local gourd artisan Steven Miller shows his whimsical side with these gourd "men" wearing their top hats (the hats are cut outs from leftover gourds). You can contact Steven by calling (724) 748-3830. He just might craft a gourd to your specifications.

I'm still learning new things about crafting with gourds. Next year I'll plant my gourds a little earlier and I'll leave them on the vine until after the first hard frost. And maybe even longer than that. While researching this article, I discovered that freezing weather will not hurt mature gourds. I cut mine shortly after the first frost and some weren't mature. I'm sure that's why a few of mine are showing signs of rotting. But that's okay, if I didn't learn as I went along, I'd keep making the same mistakes over and over.

This gourd was crafted into a bowl and then the artisan used a carving tool to make the lilies.

More information pertaining to crafting with gourds can be found by visiting the following Web sites:

The Gardener's Network

Purdue University Consumer Horticulture

Martha's Gourds