Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Meet Gourdy: The Garden Experiment 10,000 Years in the Making

Last year, while I was on a pumpkin kick, I became curious as to whether I could dry a pumpkin such that it would form a sort of reusable container. The answer is no, you can't do this. The walls of a pumpkin are too thick and it will decay before it hardens. Though, you can use a pumpkin as a cooking container, which is handy to know.

While poking around, I learned that my question wasn't all that crazy. Bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria), as their name suggests, are related to pumpkins and make excellent containers . Because they have thin walls, simply letting them age in a dry location will cause them to form a functional container.

This property isn't just handy for arts & crafts projects or for scoring points on social media (#allnaturalcontainer #noplastichere #oldschoolzerowaste); it's responsible for making the bottle gourd one of humanity's most significant plants:

The gourds have little food value but their strong, hard-shelled fruits were long prized as containers, musical instruments, and fishing floats. This lightweight “container crop” would have been particularly useful to human societies before the advent of pottery and settled village life, and was apparently domesticated thousands of years before any plant was domesticated for food purposes.

I'm a fan of engaging in living history, and when you experiment with bottle gourds you're stepping back in time nearly 10,000 years. Amazing, right?

But will it grow?

All this means that when I found myself staring at a packet of bottle gourd seeds at a local gardening store, I couldn't help but buy them.

A week or so later, I dropped six seeds into the ground, clustering them in groups of two to form three distinct plots. A few days later, there was signs of life as Gourdy started to sprout. I realized that I didn't have anywhere for Gourdy to grow, so I haphazardly connected a tent stake and our deck with some cordage. I then stood back and let nature take its course. And did it ever.

Gourdy grew. And grew. And grew some more. Jack's beanstalk had nothing on him. 

Gourdy Gets a Haircut

I was overjoyed at Gourdy's growth; Shira not so much. Once Gourdy reached our house and started to attach himself to the screen door Shira had had enough. Gourdy needed a trim.

It was at this point that I bothered to read about how you are supposed to care for a bottle gourd plant. First off, unrestrained growth isn't ideal. Apparently, you want to trim the main vine at about 10 feet to encourage branching . I also needed bit of Bottle Gourd Sex Ed: mainly, how to identify male and female flowers and how to cross pollinate the two to help encourage Little Gourdy babies.

While knowing this ahead of time would have been helpful, it wasn't too late to fix my mess. I carefully trimmed back Gourdy, chopping off what felt like dozens of feet extra vine. The experience felt like that scene in the movie where the main character has to defuse a bomb by cutting just the right wire. The goal is to find the female flowers and trim the vine after them. But Gourdy was so tangled up, it would have been easy to cut the wrong end and kill the very part of the plant I was trying to save.

Fortunately, the trimming process was successful.

Holy Smokes, It Worked!

I watched as Gourdy grew, flowered and produced those coveted female flowers which have the chance to turn into fruit. I clumsily tried to pollinate male and female flowers, though I'm not sure my efforts were successful. I gained a new appreciation for bees and other pollinators that, mind blowingly, were essential to make this whole endeavor successful.

Amazingly, it worked and I managed to grow seven fruit, five of which I've harvested. And now the waiting game begins. In theory, it will take about 6 months for the fruit to dry out and the pith inside to recede. I should then be able to fashion a simple container like our ancestors did millennia ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment