Warty, colorful decorative gourds attract attention at every farm stand in fall. There are the charming green and yellow smooth, striped ones, and the amusing small warted gourds. Warted gourds have stepped aside recently to make room for those with bizarre wings. There are apple and swan and bottle shaped gourds. One of the cutest gourds, and not often seen around here anyway, are tiny dancing or spinning top gourds.

Dancing gourds are said to be a Tennessee tradition. The name describes the fruit's use as a toy. How do you spin a gourd? Pinch the dried dancing gourd neck between finger and thumb. Now hold it with the neck pointing down, close to a table or floor. Give a quick spin with your fingers, and let go. If you've given it enough "oomph" the tiny fruit will spin like a top. Use the search term "spinning gourds" and you can call up videos of gourds and kids in action.

Grow dancing gourds for a fun, easy, and space saving gardening project for kids. The gourds are tiny, as gourds go, and their vines are appropriately small in scale. Dozens of gourds can be grown in a corner of the garden, or in a large pot with a tomato cage for support. Whether growing gourds in a pot or in the ground, these are the basics:

Tennessee spinning gourds in a bowl

  • Grow gourds in full sun - a place that is in the sun six hours a day or more.
  • Plant when the weather has warmed, about the time tomatoes are being planted in your area.
  • Plant six or eight seeds, a few inches apart, in a small mound and cover with an inch of soil or potting mix. Water.
  • When the seeds have a few leaves, take out the smallest looking plants and leave the four or five most vigorous.
  • Let the vines climb a tomato cage or light fence. They'll grow to about six feet long but can be directed back around themselves if they stray.
  • Keep gourds well watered. Fertilizer may be helpful, unless the gourds are planted in rich, organic soil.
  • Each vine can form five or ten, some report fifteen, fruits each.

Once the vines begin to bloom, you'll see a tiny fruit at almost every leaf joint. They begin as striped cuties, growing to about two inches "fat" and two or two-and-a-half inches tall at most. All gourds should be left on the vine until fully ripe. They'll feel quite hard by the end of summer. Once picked, the stripes gradually fade. Most of the gourds turn tan. Some develop fungal spots. These can be scrubbed off.

After playing with the gourds, and reserving the best spinners for the kids, consider other decorative possibilities:

  • Organic Gardening shows these as accents in a floral arrangement. Insert a wooden pick into the gourd to give it a stem.
  • Fill a tabletop basket to overflowing with theselittle harvest treasures.
  • After the gourds have dried, create tiny birdhouses to decorate indoor trees. Clean and dry the gourds. Drill a hole through the neck. Paint with flat white acrylic paint. Insert a hanger or decorative cord. Draw a circle on the side of the gourd. Fill the circle with black paint or permanent marker. THis creates the illusion of the opening of the birdhouse. The local craft supplier may even have an appropriate tiny artificial bird to occupy your birdhouse.. Glue the bird to the top of the birdhouse.
  • Place a spinning gourd outside your fairy garden's cottage or dollhouse, as a faux large squash.

I'm sure the readers will come up with other charming uses for these little natural beauties.

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Photo of green dancing gourd provided exclusively for the article courtesy of Azure Dandelion Herb N art Store, which sells 'Tennessee Dancing Spinning Gourd seed in its heirloom seed collection. Thank you, Azure Dandelion! http://www.azuredandelion.com

Organic Gardening http://www.organicgardening.com/living/gourd-vases