Apr 12, 2016
As you are browsing your local farmers’ market, or receiving your weekly CSA share, you are likely to see gourds of all kinds. They are staples of the spring and summer season, and common table and plate fillers throughout the year. You might not even notice how many gourds fill your diet, or your everyday life. Cucumber? Gourd. Squash? Gourd. Watermelon? Gourd. Your shower loofa? Gourd.
Cucurbits, or veggies that fall in the family Cucurbitaceae, have a long history as one of the first plants to be domesticated by humans. The bottle gourd’s (also known as a calabash) domestication can be dated to 10,000 years ago, which has been recognized by anthropologists, prehistorians, ethnobotanists and botanists as the origin of agriculture! It has been found all over the world at archaeological sites of early human habitation, being used not only for food, but as a carrying container. In fact, the bottle gourd had been a great mystery to anthropologists, who could not explain how the gourd found its way to the Americas from Asia and Africa. Dr. Logan Kistler, of Pennsylvania State University’s anthropology department, published an article solving this mystery: the bottle gourd actually floated across the Atlantic – talk about durable!
It is no surprise that a veggie so resilient is still important in our lives. They are often our favorite summer snack, which you know if you have ever eaten a Lowcountry watermelon in the dead of summer. We paint and carve them for Halloween and fill our tables and doorsteps with them all through the fall. Luffa gourds (or “loofa” gourds) are opened and used as shower sponges. Gourds are even used as containers still, dried and decorated by artisans, or as bird houses as both Clemson’s Cooperative Extension and Trident Technical College’s horticulture department have in the past. Gourds are so important to agriculture in South Carolina that the state is home to the Epsilon Chapter of the American Gourd Society, dedicated to educating about and promoting gourd growing. Not to mention the staple presence of gourds in farmers’ harvests. It is rare to walk through a farmers’ market or visit a farm without seeing one.
Though they are common, they are not easy or simple to care for. Here in the Lowcountry, gourd farming can be a challenging task. Powdery mildew is a common problem for gourds, and is especially prevalent in the Lowcountry as it thrives in humid conditions. This mildew attacks the leaves of gourds, exposing the fruit of the plant to harsh sunlight, or the fruit itself could be infected by the mildew. Downy mildew is similar, but only infects the foliage of fruit, and can stunt the fruit’s growth. It’s also common in humid areas, which even makes necessities like irrigation a struggle. Pests are a commonality as well, with cucumber beetles and squash bugs being two of the most common. Cucumber beetles can stunt growth of a plant, or kill it all together, feeding on all parts of it. Clemson studies have shown that the beetles feed on seedling beneath the soil surface as well. Not only do they infest plants in this sense, they also spread bacterial infections. Squash bugs are a common threat to gourds as well, sucking the sap from leaves, and halting the flow of water and nutrients through the plant’s veins.
These are only some of the challenges faced in gourd growing. The list of possible diseases and pests attracted to the plants is extensive. Farmers across the Lowcountry have to keep a constant keen eye out for these mildews, bugs and diseases. When you see a beautiful, bright yellow squash on a table at a farmers’ market, or taste a sweet, ripe cantaloupe, knowing the work put in to preserve and nurture these gourds will make them even better. Make sure that you’re looking out for, and tasting, gourds from your Lowcountry farmers this season! You can find a huge variety from Asya’s Organic Farm, Blackbird Farms, Boone Hall Farms, Compost in My Shoe, Dempsey Farm, Fat Worm Farm, Freeman Farms, Gruber Farm, Irish Farms, Joseph Fields Farm, Kennerty Farms, Lowland Farms, Middleton Place Organic Farm, Owl’s Nest Plantation, Pinckney’s Produce, Rosebank Farms, Simmons Farm, Spade and Clover Gardens, Wabi Sabi Farms, and Blackwater Farm. Find a map and more information on Lowcountry farms here.
– Guest Contributor: Lowcountry Local First thanks Cori Simons for her time and energy in gathering and researching this information!