Introduction: Growing Gourds (Ridge Gourd, Bitter Gourd and Snake Gourd)

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It is spring... Time for garden enthusiasts like me 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 from the same plant from which you used to harvest very few fruits only.

A step-by-step instructable on growing Ridge Gourd at your home garden... These methods apply to other varieties of gourds like snake gourd and bitter gourd also.

Step 1: Seeds

Let us start with seeds...

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

in the first picture you can see the ridge gourd seeds being collected from last year's dried fruit. The seeds are protected by the sponge-like network of fibers. You can extract the seeds from the fruit whenever you are planning to plant.

The second picture shows the seeds stored in cow dung. You can harvest the matured seeds and press them into flattened fresh cow dung and dry it in shade. Cow dung is natural protector and will not allow any pests to damage the seeds. You can break the dried  cow dung cake and take out the seeds any time.

The third picture is of the store-bought seeds. These seeds are treated with chemical pesticides and are artificially colored to show the presence of pesticides. Take care while handling store-bought, chemically treated seeds and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Step 2: Pit 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

Directly planting the seeds

Either you can plant the seeds directly in the prepared pit or germinate the seeds separately and transplant. You can see in the first picture that I have planted seeds holes directly in the prepared pit and watered. You can thin out to four or five when the seeds germinate and grow up

Second picture shows the dug-out soil being mixed with compost

Germinating and transplanting seedlings

You can also germinate the seeds separately and then 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

I have transplanted two seedlings to the prepared pit. These photographs are of transplanted seedlings after 15 days. You need to provide good support to these young plants till they reach the height of the trellis.

I have provided support with coconut leaf stalk and tied the seedlings loosely with fiber from Banana stem

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 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 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. I have used the fiber from the banana stem for this
  • You may find laterals growing from the nodes. Do not allow any laterals below the trellis
  • Count each lateral to 12 nodes and prune the rest. Remove all tendrils also
  • Train the vine over the trellis system by tying the laterals with a string.

There are different views as to pruning the laterals after how many nodes. Some people suggest to prune after 5 nodes. But in my experience, I have noticed that the nodes between fourth and tenth produce good quality fruits, so I 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: Fertilizer / Manure for the Plant

If you raise chicken, goat or any cattle, you can use their waste as manure for the plant. We collect goat dung from our baby goat and add it to the plant. We also make compost from kitchen waste using an old broken bucket as compost bin. The digested slurry from a bio-gas plant also makes a very good manure.

Step 9: Prevention Against Pests

Normally, gourds are rarely attacked by pests. However, prevention is better than cure...

We do not use any chemical pesticides at our home garden. We use a paste made with equal amounts of onion, ginger, garlic and chilies, dilute it with water and spray on the foliage. You can use a hand sprayer or just spray it on the plant with your hands. The solution is not harmful like chemicals. However, 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. You can see the male and female flowers in the pictures here.

Step 11: Pollinating the Flowers

Gourds have separate male and female 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.

We got lots of honey bees in the garden which help in pollinating flowers. They are friendly and never attack unless disturbed. However, use of chemical pesticides will kill or drive away the bees from your garden

Step 12: Fruits of Your Labor

The pollinated female flowers slowly mature into fruits ready for harvest. You can see here that an unpollinated female flower has withered and died.

Step 13: Harvest in Time

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

Step 14: Bottom Line

Hope this instructable is helpful for people new to growing gourds at your backyard.

Do not have space to grow your own vegetables...? Don't worry... you can turn your terrace or window sill into a mini garden and grow in pots, grow bags or in plastic buckets.

Here you can see a picture of Ridge gourds grown in a pot at our home and the hand rails of the staircase used as trellis...

If there's a will, there's a way. Enjoy growing your own vegetables...

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