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Q. I purchased many unusual gourds from a local vegetable stand. How is the best way to dry them? How do I save the seeds for next year?

A. First, let me address the issue that, due to potential cross-pollination with other compatible plants, saving seed from gourds is rather unpredictable. The offspring may include some plants that will produce similar to the parent gourd, but, then again, you can get some really diverse results! But, as long as you realize this going into the project, you won’t be disappointed.

Now, getting back to your questions about drying the gourds for use and saving seeds for next year. Let’s address harvesting and curing the gourds first. There are many different types of gourds, and, though each may vary in the details, most gourds should be harvested when they are fully mature but before frost. The rinds should be firm, and the plant stems should be turning dry and brown. Gourds should then be “cured” or air-dried prior to processing. Wash them with warm, soapy water and then place on layers of newspaper to dry for about a week. During this time, the outer skin hardens and surface color sets. Replace the newspaper with fresh sheets, and allow the gourds to dry for an additional 3-4 weeks in a warm, dry, dark area, such as a closet or under a bed.

If you are planning to harvest the seeds from the gourd to save for next year’s garden, you still want the gourds to be mature; however, you’ll find it easier to extract the seeds if you process them before they fully dry. Open the gourds and separate the seeds from the pulp. Spread the seeds on newspaper, paper towels or cheesecloth until thoroughly dry. Then, store the seeds in a cool, dry place until planting time next year. Under good storage conditions, the seed should remain viable for 4-5 years.

There are, of course, other types of gourds that require different handling, such as the loofa sponge gourd. You’ll find more information about gourds at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/outofyourgourd.html and http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-135.pdf.

The Indiana Gourd Society (IGS) is an active group of gourd enthusiasts who are happy to share their experience with others. IGS also hosts an annual gourd show featuring workshops, vendors, and of course fantastic exhibits. This year’s show will be March 30-April 1 at the Johanning Civic Center in Kokomo, Ind. You’ll find articles on these and many other ” gourdening ” subjects at http://www.indianagourdsociety.org.

Q. I planted a new raspberry patch last year and want to know if I am to remove last year’s canes by digging them out, or should I just cut them off at the ground? When is the best time to prune them?

A. No digging is needed, just cut back the old fruiting canes to the ground. This can be done anytime after the fruit has been harvested, since the canes will die after fruiting anyway. Raspberry canes only live for 2 years; they grow foliage only the first year, then flower and fruit the second year. After fruiting, the canes die and should be removed to reduce overwintering of diseases and insect pests. You’ll find more information on growing raspberries at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-44.pdf and, specifically, on pruning raspberries at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/prunerasp.html.

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