Growing Gourds

It is summer… still time for garden enthusiasts to wake up and prepare the backyard to plant our own vegetables… Even people with very little space use their terrace to plant vegetables in containers. Gourd varieties like Ridge gourd, Bitter gourd and Snake gourd are some of the popular vegetables which can be very easily grown in the home garden. These plants do not require much attention. However, by putting in a little more effort you will enjoy a great yield.

Step 1: Let us start with seeds…

Either you can save seeds from previous year’s fruits allowing one or two to fully mature and dry on the plant itself or you can buy seeds from shops.

Step 2: Pit  or Container Preparation, Germinating and Planting

Preparing the pit

    • Select an area where you can erect a trellis to support the plant, which also receives full sun light.
    • Mark 2 feet x 2 feet area and clean all vegetation
    • Dig a pit of about one foot in depth. Keep the soil separately
    • Mix compost with this soil and refill the pit

Preparing the container

    • Select a large sized plant pot that has been thoroughly cleaned. Cover the bottom with a layer of broken clay pieces. Above this add some dried leaves and twigs. Then fill the pot with a soil mix made of 1 part garden soil, 1 part compost or manure and 1 part cocopeat.
    • Directly planting the seeds
    • Either you can plant the seeds directly in the prepared pit or container, or germinate the seeds separately and transplant. You can use paper tea cups, polythene bags or any other container for this.
    • Another natural method is to wrap the seeds in banana stem with moist soil. The banana stem will help in retaining the moisture and will not allow the seeds to go dry. You can open up after about ten days and transplant the sprouted seeds in the prepared pit.

Step 3: Care for the Young Plant

Once you  have transplanted two seedlings to the prepared pit  or container, you will need to provide good support to these young plants till they reach the height of the trellis.

Step 4: Lateral Shoots and Tendrils

Lateral shoots grow from every node of the plant. Remove all laterals below the trellis level. These laterals will hinder the growth of the main plant and make it unmanageable. The tendrils, a specialized stem with a threadlike shape, are used by climbing plants for support by twining around nearby hosts. Pinch away all tendrils. We do not need them as we will provide support and guide the plant on the trellis system.

Step 5: Trellis

The plants need a trellis system to grow and spread. You can make one using timber poles and GI wires about seven to eight feet above the ground level

Step 6: Pruning and Training

Pruning and training the vine over the trellis is very important to get maximum yield from the plant.

Allow the plant to grow without any laterals and tendrils to about 12 nodes above the top of the trellis. Now prune the main stem. Lightly tie the stem with the trellis wire using a string. You may find laterals growing from the nodes. Do not allow any laterals below the trellis.  Train the vine over the trellis system by tying the laterals with a string.

There are different views as to pruning the laterals. Some people suggest pruning after 5 nodes. But in the view of  experienced gardeners,  the nodes between fourth and tenth produce good quality fruits, so it is better to  prune the shoots after every 12th node.

Step 7: Watering

Water judiciously. Under-watering as well as over-watering will destroy the plant. You can visually inspect the plant everyday and water as required. There is no set rule.

Step 8: Fertiliser / Manure for the Plant

The waste of any cattle (gobar khad) can be used as manure for the plant. Also  feed with a liquid fertiliser every 7 to 10 days.

Step 9: Prevention Against Pests

Gourds are rarely attacked by pests. However, prevention is better than cure. Do not use any chemical pesticides in  your home garden. You may use a paste made with equal amounts of onion, ginger, garlic and chilies, dilute it with water and spray on the foliage.  Take care not to get this in your eyes as it may hurt.

Step 10: Male and Female Flowers

Shortly after training the vine on the trellis, you may find lots of flowers on the plant. All gourd varieties produce male and female flowers. A female flower can be distinguished by the small fruit attached to the flower. The male flower is just plain without any fruits.

Step 11: Pollinating the Flowers

The female flower with a small fruit attached to it needs to be pollinated to grow into a matured fruit. Honey bees and some insects help in pollinating the flowers. However you can find lots of unpollinated young female flowers withering away. It is a good practice to always hand-pollinate gourds (this is possible only in kitchen garden in a small scale). Pluck a fresh male flower and rub it over a female flower to transfer pollen. You can use a soft brush also for pollination.

Step 12: Fruits of Your Labor

The pollinated female flowers slowly mature into fruits ready for harvest.

Step 13: Harvest in Time

Harvest the fruits at  a young stage before the skin becomes thick, otherwise the fruits will become inedible with lots of fibre. If you find any ripe gourd, just leave it in the plant itself. You can then collect the seeds when it completely dries out.