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All About Gourds

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More information about gourds, including: 

What's a Custom Order?

A Custom Order is one that meets your specific criteria, including size and shape of the gourds you want.

Welburn Gourd Farm only ships gourds that meet strict quality standards, both for Pre-Boxed and Custom Orders. Only 10% to 15% of the gourds we grow are considered high enough quality for shipping!

When you place a Custom Order, for example: 100 6-inch to 7-inch diameter bottle gourds that have a long, skinny neck and a sit up (i.e. have a flat bottom), the order filling department typically must sort through at least 50 gourds jut to find ONE that can be used for a Custom Order.

With Gourds by the Box, the labor cost is greatly reduced because the shapes and sizes are consistent and we can pre-box many identical orders at the same time. Which means you save money! See the great selection of Gourds by the Box available online --click here!

How to Get the Best Price on Gourds:

To get the lowest prices on gourds, buy wholesale at the farm! You'll enjoy leisurely browsing through the gourd racks under a grove of ancient Oak trees, and you'll have thousands of gourds to choose from!

If you are unable to visit the farm, you can still get great prices on gourds with the huge selection available in Gourds by the Box!

With Gourds by the Box, you'll save 20% to 50%off Custom Order prices!

 Why Choose Welburn Gourds?

Known for their thick shells and beautiful, natural markings, the Welburn Gourd is the gourd of choice for artists, crafters, and musicians who want quality above all else.

Thick shells are important for gourd projects because there is less chance the gourd will crack or break while being worked with.

A thick-shelled gourd is especially important for artists who incorporate heavy cutting, carving, or Dremil™ work in their gourd art.

Another important factor when purchasing gourds is how easily they can be cleaned. When gourds are growing, they have a wax-like skin, which protects them until they are dry. Unfortunately this skin can become baked on in the drying process, making the gourd almost impossible to clean!

Before they are washed, gourds have a natural, dried mold on their exterior shell.

A washed gourd on left, and an unwashed gourd on right.

Welburn gourds clean off easily with just water and a pot scrubber. When you purchase gourds at the farm, one of the reasons you get them at rock bottom prices is because they have not been cleaned. (Although, there is usually a small stock of cleaned gourds available.)

When you order Welburn Gourds online or over the phone for mail order, they are already cleaned on the outside and ready to craft! (We only ship pre-washed gourds in order to guarantee quality and that the gourds do not have any cracks or blemishes.)

What You Must Know When Selecting Gourds

(1) How Gourds Are Categorized:

Because gourds are a product of nature, no two are alike. Gourds come in every shape and size imaginable!

The Welburn Gourd Farm categorizes its gourds into six main shapes: Bottle gourds, Canteen gourds, Kettle gourds, Pear gourds, Tall-Body gourds, and Specialty shapes (which include apple gourds, snake gourds, sculpture gourds, and warty gourds). (for photos, see the Custom Order page)

Within each of these six shape categories are countless variations!

Here is just a small sample of how varied Bottle Gourds can be.

Canteen gourds are the exception to the "countless variations" rule. They tend to grow in a perfect canteen shape every time, the only variation being height.

Two canteen gourds of different heights.

(2) The Shape Factor

Gourd shape is often specific to size. In other words, not every shape grows in every size. Canteen gourds, for example, don't grow much smaller than 4 inches in diameter.

Jewelry gourds, like giant gourds, are grown from a specific seed that is "genetically programmed" to produce that size.

This "jewelry gourd" is under 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Apple shaped gourds drying in the field.

Apple gourds only grow in sizes around 5 inches to 8 inches in diameter. Kettle and Canteen gourds will grow extremely large, but Bottle Gourds and Pear Gourds usually don't (and when they do, the quality is often poor).

This shape-size correlation has led to a great deal of confusion and debate in the gourd community about how to classify gourds. There are many charts out there that categorize gourds using both shape and size references.

For example, the "Cannon Ball" gourd, named on some charts, is a gourd that is very round shape, and has a size of approx. 6" - 8" in diameter. A "Martin House" gourd is a tear-drop shaped gourd of approximately 8-inch diameter because this is the size gourd needed for the Purple Martin birds to nest in!

Rather than try to categorize every gourd by shape AND size (which would mean literally hundreds of different categories), the Welburn Gourd Farm uses 6 main categories according to shape only and does not categorize by size.

(3) Size Matters...At Least When It Comes to Gourd Quality!

When you order gourds for mail order, you will find not every size is available for every shape. This is because gourd quality is actually related to gourd size for certain shapes!

For example, one of the most popular gourds we grow is the 3-inch to 4-inch Pear/Kettle gourds. This is because 90% of them are top quality, thick-shelled, perfectly symmetrical, with flat bottoms and stems! All of the qualities Gourd Artists love!

But just because the Pear and Kettle gourds grow so perfectly in this size range does not mean they grow that way in every size! For example, it is very difficult to find high quality Pear gourds bigger than 10-inches in diameter.

Why? Because the seeds that produce the Pear shape have the genetic disposition to grow smaller!

As you get into the larger-sized Pear gourds, quality starts to diminish. Pear gourds over 10" in diameter rarely grow symmetrical. They usually have a flat spot on one side, and often the shell quality is not as smooth and flawless.

This does not mean you cannot find quality 10-inch Pear gourds when you come to the farm. You can if you're willing to look hard enough!

For online orders, because it is harder to find 10-inch Pear gourds that meet the high quality standards of our shipping department, you may not be able to receive this shape and size gourd through mail order.

If you want giant gourds (like those pictured left), your best bet is the Canteen or short Kettle shape, which can grow over 25 inches in diameter! (Diameter is the distance straight across at the widest point, as opposed to circumference, which is the distance all the way around the outside).

These two shapes consistently produce excellent quality in the larger sizes. However, quantities of these gourds are always very limited (only a few hundred are produced each year), so if you are interested in giant gourds, it is highly recommended that you join our mailing list so you receive a notice the moment the new crop is available (usually March)!

Simple Ways To Clean Your Gourds (inside and out):

To clean Welburn gourds, just soak them in water for 10 or 15 minutes, then scrub them with a stainless steal pot scrubber (we've found that's what works best!). No soap is needed, although you may need to place something on top of the gourds to keep them submerged since they do float!

To clean the interior of the gourd, just dump out the seeds and dried membrane and scrape off the walls. To keep the dust down, you may prefer to clean the inside using water and a scraping tool.

IMPORTANT: When cleaning the inside and especially when sanding the gourd, it isrecommended you use a dust mask.

If you are extremely sensitive and commonly have allergic reactions to things like dust and pollen, a professional mask or respirator, such as the one shown on the right, may be best.

For a complete guides to cleaning, cutting, and working with gourds, you can order books. Visit the  Gourd Books Page to order.

Why Gourd Markings Are Prized by Artists:

The beautiful, natural markings on this gourd are caused during the drying process as the waxy cuticle covering on the gourd breaks down and peels off to reveal the shell underneath.

A gourd with designs and markings in the shell is prized by artists who enjoy having the natural characteristics of the gourd to inspire their work and incorporate into their design.

What About Those 'Crazy' Shapes?

Gourds cross-pollinate, which means gourd shapes can get pretty interesting! It also means planting the seeds from a specifically shaped gourd will not necessarily produce gourds with that same shape. In fact, often times the gourds we get come out looking nothing like the gourds we planted seeds from!

These Sculpture Gourds were the result
of a lucky cross-pollination in the fields.

This unpredictability with gourd shapes means, for mail order, we can only advertise shapes we know we can grow in a certain quantity.

One of the reasons people love coming to the farm is they get to browse through and select from thousands of gourds of every imaginable shape and size!

Why Organic?

Other than the obvious reason of helping to protect our environment and groundwater from harmful chemicals, there is also an important health reason for purchasing organically grown gourds!

Several people have reported having sever reactions when cleaning out gourds that are not grown organically. This is because when chemicals are sprayed on gourds they can become trapped in the membrane and fiber of the gourd.

One East coast customer told us he needed gourds in a hurry one time and did not have time to order our organic gourds from California, so he bought a truck load from a local farmer.

After an hour of cleaning and cutting the gourds, he said he had a severe headache, his eyes were red and watering, and he could actually taste the chemicals inside his mouth! He told us he would never buy a non-organic gourd again!

The Secret to Growing Thick-Shelled Gourds:

One of the most common questions is, "Why are Welburn gourds so much thicker than other gourds?"

The ideal climate of Southern California is definitely a factor. That combined with Doug Welburn's over 25 years of experience in gourd growing is the secret!

Through years of trial and error, trying different watering systems and soil enrichment strategies, Doug is now able to produce gourds with shells that average 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch in thickness!

The Welburn farm is famous for its Canteen gourds, which have a shell thicker than most other shapes. Pictured left is one of our exceptionally thick canteen gourds, with a shell measuring over 1 inch in thickness!

How Gourds Are Grown

Gourd Growing Info and Timeline:

March: Gourds are planted after the previous year's crop has been harvested. Seeds germinate in 8-10 days.

These gourd plants are 6 weeks old.

April: Plants continue to grow and begin to set fruit.

At 10 weeks, the gourd vines have almost completely closed the gap
between rows. Some vines grow longer than 25 feet!

May-July: Most of the gourds that grow to maturity are pollinated during this time. The later in the season the gourd is pollinated, the less likely the chances that it will be mature enough to cure when the vine freezes in winter. (Gourds that have not matured will rot at that point).

Here is a female flower with the
small gourd fruit at the base.

May-November: This is the main growing period for the plants and gourds. The gourds that were the earliest to be pollinated will grow the largest in their respective size-classes. (For example, a mini gourd seed can never grow to be the size of a Giant gourd, but the first-pollinated will be the largest in the Mini-gourd class).

By August, many gourds are nearly mature.
Gourds are pale green in color and very
heavy like a pumpkin when they are growing.

Occasionally a very hot summer will weaken the gourd plants and knock down many of the broad leaves that serve to keep the gourds protected.

Whitewash serves to protect these exposed gourds.

When this happens, the entire Welburn Gourd Farm crew takes to the fields with buckets of whitewash to paint a protective, white shield on every exposed gourd. (The paint is water soluble, and what is not washed off in the winter rains comes off easily when the gourds are cleaned.)

Mid-November: First winter frost kills the gourd vines. Gourds are fully mature and now begin to dry (cure).

Gourd field just after frost has knocked down the vines.

Late November: Gourds can now be cut from the vines. There is no mechanical harvesting method. Every gourd must be cut from the vine by hand! (If you are growing gourds at home, you can cut your gourds from the vine as soon as the stem has begun to turn brown at the base).

Gourds just cut from the vine and placed in long rows,
called windrows, for drying.

At this stage the gourds will have often have big dark spots and almost look like they are rotting.

The waxy skin peeling away during drying.

The warm days and cold nights of Southern California's winter help break down the waxy cuticle layer on the outside of the gourd.

Gourds grown in other climate zones do not have this advantage and the waxy skin hardens on the gourd as it dries and takes hours of scrubbing to remove! One of the reasons Welburn Gourds are so popular is because they are so easy to clean -- just scrub off the dirt and mold and you're done!

Underneath the dirt, many gourds will have beautiful, natural markings. These give a gourd its own unique personality, and when gourd artists visit the farm they often search to find the most beautiful markings, which they feel will inspire their designs.

November-February: It takes approximately four months for the gourds to dry. To keep the gourds from cracking and to ensure even drying, every gourd is picked up and individually turned by hand 2-3 times during the drying season!

To give you an idea what this involved, it takes a crew of 6 men working all day for 5 weeks just to turn the crop one time!

By late February, most of the gourds are dry and ready to be harvested.

March - Harvest Time: The gourds are brought in from the fields and piled in the gourd racks for customers to purchase.

The gourds in racks under the oak trees -- not only protects them
from the sun, but you as well while you are shopping!

The Farm closes for 2 weeks during harvest time in order to bring in the new crop. In the past, the farm remained open during this time, but gourd-lovers were so anxious to get their hands on the new crop, they were pulling them out of the trailer before we could get them in the racks!

Eager crowd pulling gourds from the trailer.

Once all the racks are full, the farm re-opens. The first day the new crop is made available to the public is called Opening Day, and it is one of the most exciting days of the year for gourd lovers!

Be sure to sign up on the mailing list to receive an invitation to attend Opening Day!

End of March:The gourd fields are plowed and prepared for the next season's planting.

Between bringing in the new harvest, notifying everyone about Opening Day, and planting the new crop, March is a VERY busy month here at the farm!

To learn more about the farm, click here!

Gourds Shipped to Your Door: If you are not able to visit the farm here in Fallbrook, CA, you can always order gourds on our web site! See the full selection of Gourds-by-the-Box, click here!


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