Danny Collins stands Wednesday outside the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market with the gourds he raises on his Yelvington farm. Collins grows the gourds to turn them into an art medium.

For more than 20 years, Danny Collins has been living what could be described as the gourd life.

Since about 2000, Collins has been planting gourds on his Yelvington farm for the purpose of art.

It’s a process that he starts in the winter before planting can begin sometime between mid-May and mid-June to ensure a late September or early October harvest.

“In January, I’ll get soil tests through the University of Kentucky Ag Extension Office,” Collins said. “They can tell you what (fertilizer) you need to use for gourds.”

Collins grows his own starter plants inside his home to allow for growth time.

“These (larger) gourds here need 150 days of growing,” he said. “To get that here in Kentucky, I start the seeds around the 15th of April.”

The hard-shell kettle gourds raised by Collins are part of the cucurbit family, which includes melon, pumpkin, squash and cucumber.

Like all crops, Collins said weather and pests such as the cucumber beetle are factors in how good or bad the harvest is each fall.

“They need a lot of sunshine; they need the water, too but they do best in states like Arizona and California where it’s sun all the time,” Collins said. “They will grow well here in Kentucky and also North Carolina if we get enough sunshine. But weather has been so erratic these last 10 years; it’s hard on gourds.”

The vines the gourds grow on will stretch 25- to 30-feet long. Collins spaces his plants 6-feet apart in a row and 10 feet between the rows.

Collins said there’s a right and wrong time to harvest the gourds.

“After the vine dies, then you can cut these gourds off,” he said. “You don’t want to cut them off before that or they will rot when you try to cure them.”

Once they’re cut from the vine, they will be allowed to lose the water weight, drying them out into an almost weightless, hollow hard shell.

That process takes about five to six months, which is around March of the following year before they’re ready to be sold as an art medium.

Collins used to travel to various craft and art festivals around the country to get ideas.

“In Ohio, they had what they called a gourd band,” he said. “They had instruments made from gourds. They had one guitar and the rest of it was gourds.”

Collins no longer makes the festival rounds with his gourds.

Instead, he sets up shop at the Owensboro Regional Farmers’ Market with both gourd creations of his own and ones that customers can purchase for their own art projects.

Among the popular creations are birdhouses made from the kettle gourd also known as the martin gourd.

“Anything you can do with wood, you can do with a gourd,” he said. “You can stain it; you can paint it; you can burn it or etch it. …I’m always amazed what people can do with them.”

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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