How to Make Gourd Birdhouses
Planting Gourds Yields an Abundant Harvest for Craft Projects
Gourd birdhouses are not only both natural and unusual; they’re homegrown and homemade! What bird watching homesteader could resist a combination like that?
If you are wondering when to plant gourds to put your gourd birdhouses into service this spring, you would have had to been planting gourds seven or eight months ago. If you didn’t do that, plan on planting them in March or April of next year, and file these instructions for next fall and winter after you learn how to grow gourds.
The transformation process is quite simple, according to Jim Cooley, a master gardener with the Cooperative Extension Service, Maryland Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
How to Harvest Gourds
The first steps involve harvesting and drying. Cooley recommends that you:
- Harvest the gourds when the vines wither and the leaves fade. Leave stems attached, at least one-half inch long.
- Wipe the gourds using a clean cloth—first with water, then with a bleach mixture (one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water)—to remove dirt, stains and bacteria.
- Store the gourds outside for about a month in a partially protected area that receives some sun (like a carport).
- Move the gourds into a basement or attic when temperatures drop below freezing.
- Drill a small vent hole in the bottom of each gourd to accelerate the drying process.
- Store the gourds upright on their sides, making sure they do not touch each other. Rotate them about 180 degrees every week to 10 days, checking the vent holes to ensure they remain open.
The gourds should be dry and hard by mid-December. Gourd birdhouses make the perfect homemade Christmas present for a homesteader who values gifts that support self-sustaining living. You might be interested in other homemade gift ideas like how to make lip balm at home (great stocking stuffers!) and how to make homemade vanilla extract.
“A good way to tell if the gourds are completely dry and ready for carving is to shake them,” he says, “If the seeds are loose and rattle around, you can begin the final steps:”
- Wipe the dry gourds with an old towel to remove any mold that may have formed on the surface and clean the outside with sandpaper to obtain the finish, color or texture you desire.
- Mark the bird entrance hole with a soft pencil just below where the neck of the gourd enlarges. The hole should be one to three inches in diameter depending on the kind of bird you want to attract. For example, a one-inch hole is the correct size for a wren.
- Apply any outside finish material, such as paint, varnish, floor wax, magic marker or decals.
- Drill a hole in the middle of the marked bird entrance hole. Cut out the hole by inserting a small saw blade, knife or razor blade.
- Shake the seeds out of the opening and store for planting next year.
- Drill a small hole on each side of the gourd neck near the stem (which you can cut to a length of one-half inch) and thread a wire through the holes to form a loop to hang the birdhouse from a tree branch. Drill three or four small drainage holes in the bottom.
Now comes the hard part: Waiting for spring. But don’t wait too long; hang the gourds in early to mid-March so the birds can get used to them. Birds and chickens also love homemade suet cakes.
“Leave plenty of room between adjacent birdhouses so no feathered family squabbles occur,” Cooley warns. “And don’t disturb the gourds once birds have started building their nests.”
Occasionally, two — or more — broods will hatch in one summer, so leave the gourds out until September. Then bring them inside, wipe them off, apply another coat of wax or paint and store until the following spring.
Originally published in Countryside March / April 1993 and regularly vetted for accuracy.