CENTERBURG — Nancy Long won many awards during the Oldtime Farming Festival this year. Her hobby brought her four first-place awards and one record-breaking award for having the longest gourd.
Long entered her sunflower which won for being the tallest at 13 feet and 11 inches, as did her cornstalk at 15 feet 8 inches. Her tomato weighed in at an amazing 1 pound and 13 ounces.
But it was Long’s gourd that out did them all by winning first place — and breaking the record set in 2000 of 77 inches long — with 98 inches.
Unlike their cousins, the pumpkin and squash, gourds are not usually eaten but are often used in arts and crafts and as decoration.
“People usually make bird houses out of them, baskets, paint them for Halloween, or they paint the smaller ones for ornaments,” said Long.
The large gourds have harder shells and last longer than the smaller ones, she said. And in some cultures, gourds are used as bowls, eating utensils, water jugs and for everyday living — after they have been dried and cleaned out.
Long started gardening 20 years ago when her father-in-law encouraged her to plant but it was within the past few years that she really found her passion.
“I started planting gourds about five to six years ago and then I found out you can sell them on eBay,” she said.
Long was surprised to learn how popular the fruit was and all the different varieties like egg, apple- and bottle-shaped gourds, Tennessee spinners, and she has even had a few that have cross pollinated producing unique shapes and sizes.
“There are so many different kinds and I have some in the back that were suppose to be bottle gourds but they look like big long clubs. And there are some in [the garden] with a new shape that I’ve never seen. They must have cross-pollinated in whoever’s garden they were in last year where I bought the seeds,” she said.
Long said she really doesn’t do anything special but maybe add a little bit extra “oomph” to help them grow with Miracle Grow and good seeds.
“I got these seeds on the Internet. The cornstalk is seed out of Mexico and sunflower seeds I got from a breeder, as well as the gourd seeds,” said Long. “I just put them in the ground and let them grow.”
She said she does put landscaping fabric down and grass for mulch to make weeding easier.
Getting started early with planting gourd seeds can be tough in Ohio’s cold weather sometimes, but since large gourds need 120 days to mature she may pot the seeds before planting them. Smaller gourds need only 90 days, so Long usually gets started around Memorial Day.
Because gourds are a viny plant, Long uses a trellis to allow the plants room to grow as long and wide as they like. On nice summery days, Long liked to sit out in her lawn chair underneath the trellis and just watch them grow.
“You can go out every day and see how much bigger they’ve gotten. Right now they can weigh around 20 to 30 pounds, but once they are dry they are about 3 pounds,” she said.
Over the years, Long has planted vegetables and flowers, but now she mostly sticks with her favorite.
“I kept researching and reading, and now I grow all kinds of gourds,” she said.
Several years ago, Long started attending the farm festival winning second and third place here and there, never minding what color the ribbon but just entered for the joy of it.
“I just do it because it’s fun,” she said.