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Hoards Of Gourds

Across the Ohio River from Stephensport in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, a child was born on May 3, 1973, in the little community of Rome, Indiana. Her name is Jennifer and her passion is gourds, gourds, and more gourds.

The best news of all is that she’s moved to within 15 miles from Plum Lick, and now I’m 10 gourd seeds richer.

You can be too. I’ll tell you how it could work a little later in the story, but for now let me tell you some more about the amazing young woman who takes a plain, ordinary gourd and turns it into art as fine as anything you’ll ever see.

Jennifer Zingg is 29 years old, and she likes to say, “Art is fearlessness…you learn from doing…if you fail you go on to the next step…I don’t think with one thing…I want to do mentorships with kids.” (That’s part of the reason why Jennifer’s 10-year-old son, Logan, is an avid arrowhead collector.)

Did you know that there are hundreds of varieties of gourds? And there I was thinking a gourd is a gourd is a gourd. No way. There is the “bushel basket” gourd for creating bowls, the “Calabash” gourd for making pipes out of curved stems, the “egg” gourd, the “canteen” gourd, and the “longneck dipper” gourd for scooping up drinking water on a hot summer’s day. And purple martins have been known to prefer gourd birdhouses.

It doesn’t take long to move past birdhouses to the eternal land of art by gourd. One of Jennifer’s favorites is her “Curly-Tailed Crazy Cat.” Others are her “Tulip Bowl” and “Cactus Flower.” She says she prefers natural things with a humble beginning.

There are gourd farmers who plant their seed in summer and harvest in fall, but I’m not advocating this as another alternative crop. Let’s just call it amateur gourdsmanship–a simple activity involving a child of nature (the unassuming gourd) and a willingness to have fun and be creative (that’s us).

It’s true, Jennifer Zingg has elevated the lowly gourd to works of art commanding prices ranging from $50 to $400. But no, that’s not the point.

Growing gourds can be good for several of the five senses: shapes are symmetrical and pleasant to behold; smooth to the touch; relaxing to hear when made into “rain sticks”; but–let’s be honest–there are better things to taste and smell (although properly dried and handled, the mustiness can be cured and, I suppose, a survivalist could turn a gourd into something to chew for a little while).

Jennifer tells me that the first thing she does is remove the gourd from the vine and let it dry. Turn it occasionally for a season or two. If you open the gourd, save the seeds. Work carefully with a sander and seal with paint. That ought to take care of the smell, but remember that mold and mustiness give the creature its character. Maybe that’s why the purple martins like it.

There’s plenty of good gourd information on the Internet. I typed in “gourds Kentucky” and came up with 2,628 opportunities, including the “Kentucky Gourd Society,” which has a newsletter and a Web site that tells how to become a member.

Are you old enough to remember Allan Trout, a columnist for the Courier-Journal? His “Greetings!” appeared 8,988 times and the noble gourd was not left out. He used this cousin of the pumpkin, squash, and cucumber as a way of connecting people. If it takes a gourd to do it, that’s reward and reason enough to be involved.

In case you don’t have access to the Internet, you’re invited to send to me your gourd ideas, your gourdiest thoughts, your successes, and your failures. From time to time, we might be able to swap some gourd seed: Kentucky’s most unusually shaped gourd, memories of gourds gone by, new gourds for a new day!

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