This summer I decided I wanted to grow gourds. I didn't get an early start, but there was still plenty of timeto get a small crop of them. I had collected seeds from an apple gourd and a luffa gourd, and I had a pack of mixed gourd seeds as well. I started the gourds in seed flats - I knew I had lots of apples and luffas, but I didn't know what type the mixed gourds would be. Gourds are a vining plant, similar to squash or pumpkins - since I have a small garden, anything that vines usually gets trained to grow on a trellis. In this case, it was the lattice hiding our garden tools from our neighbors. Once the fruit started developing, I realized I had a few Lagenaria siceraria, or bottle gourds, also known as Calabash. Supposedly the bottle gourd was the first cultivated plants in the world, but it wasn't used primarily for food - it was used as a water container.
Growing the gourds was the easy part - if you plant too many - like I did - they will be almost uncontrollable. Mine grew up the lattice and onto the roof and started fruiting up there too. I had to do some pruning, and pull up several plants that hadn't thrived like others. Once the fruits finish growing, the vine leading to the gourd will slowly dry out and turn brown. When it's completely dry, harvest the fruit by cutting the vine several inches above the fruit. Like any warm-season plant, you will need to harvest before the first frost, to avoid any damage to the fruit. When harvesting, be careful and avoid damaging the fruit - any bruises or scrapes could lead to rotting.
Once harvested, you need to clean the gourds with soap and water and let them dry. After they are dry, soak them in a 1:10 bleach and water solution to kill any fungus or bacteria that might form. For the gourds to completely dry, they need to be in a warm, dry area out of direct sunlight. Place them on clean newspaper or cardboard, spaced so that they do not touch. Depending on the size of the fruit, drying could take as long as six months. The bottle gourd you see here was harvested on August 27th, so it took less than a month to dry completely.
Now that the bottle gourd is completely dry, there is one more step for a Lagenaria type of gourd - you have to scrape off the outer skin to reveal the hard inner shell. Soak the gourd in warm water for about ten minutes - this is harder to do than you think! Then take a scouring pad and scrub off the outer layer. Almost anything rough will do - I used a stiff-bristled brush and some steel wool. Once the outer layer is completely gone, let it dry, and you'll be ready to harvest the seeds, or make it into something that holds water, or a ladle, or whatever you can think of. For more information, see Harvesting & Curing Gourds.