Lakeview Farms

Green Peeling a Gourd

by Glenn Burkhalter past president of the Alabama Gourd Society

Why would you want to green clean?
Well, if done at the right time, a green cleaned gourd will come out without the mottling on the shell caused by fungi growing on the skin as the gourd dries. Some gourds will be a beautiful brown or bronze, and most will be uniform in color. Jim Story was the acknowledged master at gourd manipulation and many of his creations were green cleaned. While Jim did offer some basic instruction, much of what I learned was by trial and error, and that's a very painful and expensive way to do it. Tips and procedures outlined in this article should help avoid some of those heartaches. For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, "green clean", it simply means removing the outer skin from a gourd while it is still green, or at least while it still has some green color remaining.

So, how do you do it?
Most people use a dull pocket or kitchen knife and just start scraping. I do that too, but I also use the side of a fine wire wheel brush mounted on a bench grinder. Be sure to use a face shield if you do this. A wire bristle CAN and WILL fly off the wheel and you certainly don't want one in your eye.  I mentioned green cleaning the gourd at the right time; and herein lies the problem. If you do it too early, the gourd will dry too fast, shrivel and crack. Wait too late and there will be a lot of mottling from fungi already growing on the skin. So when is the right time? I surely wish I knew! I did ask Jim about that once, and the only hint I remember from him was; "if it bleeds, stop"! I have now green cleaned several hundred gourds and still have an occasional "failure". But here are some clues that I use to try to determine if a gourd is ready to green clean: (and here I'm assuming that you are selecting a gourd from a gourd farm, not a green gourd "off a shelf'. That's never a good idea whether you green clean or not). The stem should be dead (brown) and not showing any green. A green stem indicates that the gourd is still receiving nourishment from the vine and has not started to dry, or at least not very much. The gourd should be lighter in weight than gourds of a similar size that still have green stems. This is an indication that the gourd has lost some of its interior fluid. Once you've selected the "right" gourd, scrape a small spot and wait a couple of minutes to see if it bleeds. Bleeding is the oozing of moisture from the shell where the skin has been scraped off. If it is bleeding, STOP! Set it aside for a few days and let it dry more. In fact, the gourd may not bleed where you start scraping but start to bleed in another location. Same advice, STOP! White scrape marks on the shell are another indication that the gourd is not ready for green cleaning. This means that the gourd is not dry enough to clean, or the shell is so thin that it probably won't be worth the effort anyway. If the shell is showing a lot of greenish tinge where you've scraped, it might be a good idea to let it dry a couple more days before finishing. That's another indication that the gourd is not quite ready. Some greenish tinge is OK. If I first notice bleeding after I've cleaned a significant portion of the gourd, I will place it loosely in a plastic bag for a few days. This reduces the speed of evaporation and may prevent the cracking.

Once you've completed the green cleaning, place the gourd in a shaded, airy location. There is still moisture in the gourd that will diffuse out through the shell, and fungi will still try to grow on it. Good air circulation will reduce or eliminate that. If you prefer a white shell rather than the brown or bronze color, bleach it with a 50-50 mixture of Clorox and water. You may have to do this more than once to get the desired whiteness. Finally, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again! And gourd luck!