Let your gourds ripen on the vines as long as possible. Wait until the stem turns brown, but harvest before frost. The fruit bruises easily, so handle it carefully. Cut the stems 2-3 inches above the fruit with a sharp knife, and dry off any moisture.
Most gourds will need some indoor drying time before they are ready to use. Wipe them down with a weak bleach solution and lay them out in a well-ventilated area to dry. Gourds are completely dry when the seeds rattle around inside. Small gourds will dry in less than a month, and large ones can take up to six months. If mold appears during the drying process, scrape it off with a knife. Thin-shelled gourds dry best when hung in a mesh bag.
Once the gourds are completely dry, remove the thin outer shells with steel wool. Now they're ready to decorate. Use a wax or varnish for protection.
Pick sponge gourds (luffas) when they are young and green for a soft sponge, or wait until they are yellow or brown for a hard, scratchy sponge. Soak them in water for a few days, then peel off the skin. To remove the seeds, cut off one end and shake them out.
Instructions for making a gourd birdhouse
Gourds, in all their fascinatingly unique shapes, are a member of the Cucurbitacex family. These fruits are used in a number of crafts, including painting the shells or hollowing out the insides and creating a gourd birdhouse. For those living in cooler climates, starting your gourds out inside, in pots, is the perfect way to ensure they will be ready for your garden once the risk of frost has passed.
Make a small chip in the hard, outer shell of each gourd seed with a small knife.
Soak the gourd seeds in warm water for 24 hours.
Moisten a paper towel and fold it into quarters.
Place the gourd seeds in a straight line atop the moistened paper towel. Lay the paper towel in a large plastic bag. A sealable freezer bag works well.
Set the plastic bag on a warm, flat surface in the light. A windowsill that receives sunlight throughout most of the day works well.
Plant the gourd seeds, three per 4-inch pot, when they sprout roots. Plant the seeds approximately 1 inch deep in good-quality top soil, with the roots pointed down or horizontal to the seed.
Place the pots in direct sunlight and keep the soil moist.
Transplant the small gourd plants into your outdoor garden when the risk of frost has passed and your plants have four leaves. Typically, it is safe to plant your gourds outside at the end of May or beginning of June.