Grow a craft project in your garden this summer?
Growing birdhouse gourds and then making a birdhouse is a great outdoor project to do with the kids. A good winter project when winter gardening is not very comfortable! Gourd birdhouses are attractive to many species of birds including Sparrows, Wax eyes, Swallows and Chaf-finches. It all depends on how big you make the entrance hole to what species of bird you attract.
Gourds are closely related to pumpkins and squashes. The fruit produced is hard shelled. I bought my seeds from the local garden centre in the specialty seed section. The planting and harvesting instructions will be inside the seed packet so don’t throw out.
Planting the Seeds
These plants are easy to grow. Remember all those pumpkin seedlings that germinate in your worm farm or compost Well gourds, being closely related, are just as easy! Plant the seeds in small pots or if you don’t get frosts, plant directly in the garden in spring. If you want to train them up a trellis or fence, plant the seedlings around one metre apart. As the fruit develops you will need to support fruit in some sort of sling. Try a small hammock or granny’s F cup bras!!! Birdhouse gourds like well-drained, enriched soil. You can get clever and try growing strange shaped gourds. As the gourd is growing place it in a small wooden box, as the gourd grows it will take on the internal shape of the container! This is what my boys want to do this summer!
Harvesting the Gourds
Gourds need to be harvested once the autumn frosts hit. Cut each gourd with at least 5cm of stalk attached. Handle the gourds carefully because they bruise easily at this stage. Wipe off any moisture and keep them in a cool and airy place to dry for around 3 months. Make sure the gourds are not touching each other to allow for plenty of air circulation. I use our garage as our curing area. If mould appears, and it does, just wipe it off with a damp cloth soaked in bleach. If any of the gourds start to rot – toss into the compost pile or worm farm.
Make a Birdhouse
During the curing process, the gourds change colour and each takes on it’s own particular hue of brown. Bottles when fully dry, or cured, will be light-weight, rattle when shaken and hard. I found that the little ones cured quickly but I am still waiting for some of the big ones, six months down the track.
Rub gourds with a medium sandpaper. Wear a dust mask as any mould may be toxic. Using a small hole-saw drill a 3-5cm hole in the middle of the gourd to provide a front door for the bird. Under this entry hole drill a small hole to fit a piece of branch or bamboo as a perch. I thread the perch right through the gourd and out a small exit hole to make the perch really stable. Sometimes you need a spot of glue to anchor it. I am still experimenting with entrance hole sizes. A diameter of 2-3cm seems to work for small sparrows and around 4cm for larger Blackbirds or Thrushes. It seems to be best to go too small than too large I have found from experience.
A few small holes will need to be drilled on the under side of the gourd for drainage as well as two holes on either side at the very top of the neck. Those last two holes will be for threading a wire through so that you can hang the birdhouses outside. Remove all seeds and pulp from inside the gourd. If you have trouble reaching some, put some small stones or gravel inside and shake to release seeds and pulp. You can also varnish the outside of the gourds before you hang them up to make them last longer. Alternatively, paint them to match your house colours.
Place them high in trees, protected from the weather and away from climbing cats!