artists, growtips, info & more

It's harvest time at Northern Dipper

The time has finally arrived. Everything from Minis to Bushels are coming out of the field in the next week. At this time of year the selection is the best so stock up! For more information on dried gourds click here


In Search of the Tecomate


Guatemala is a beautiful mountainous country filled with mangoes, pineapples, coffee & rich Mayan culture that dates back thousands of years. Despite its beauty, it has suffered immensely as a result of a 25 year civil war that ended in 1997. Over 200,000 people went “missing” during this war. United Nations reports suggest the government was responsible for over 93% of those missing.


The effects of the war are still very evident. It is reported that 75% of the land is owned by 5% of the population. The result has been a large group of campesinos (peasants) that are well beyond our concept of poverty that struggle daily for existence. Since the war ended considerable funding & expertise has been provided by Non Government Organizations (NGO’s) to help the poor of Guatemala. Northern Dippers efforts in Guatemala in 2005 were aided & administered by NGO’s from Spain & Italy. Changes in 2005 will move the administration of the “tecomate project” to the United Nations.


On my first adventure to Guatemala in June of 2004 as I stepped off the airplane I knew that this was not my familiar northern clime. The heat, noise & all these little guys standing around with machine guns confirmed it. 


This was my first trip to view our first gourd plantations in Central America. We had plots spread between three villages & 50 campesinos (peasants) in the mountains of Guatemala. So here I was in a 4 wheel drive at 5000 ft having to move rocks off the road to get through to visit our first planting. As I became accustomed to the landscape & the people I realized that I had chosen an area that has grown gourds (tecomates) for 15,000 years. Many of the farmers were of Mayan descent, where gourds had been an important part of their culture. 


Nine months later in March 2005 I returned to view our harvested crop. Things had not gone well. Poor germination, too much or not enough rain, language & cultural differences, all added up to first year start up headaches. As this was my second trip, I was accustomed to the terrain and people involved in the project. I didn’t know what to expect for numbers and quality and everyone was a little apprehensive. In all about 4,000 tecomates were grown. After quality control only 2,000 were approved. This was far less than I had expected & not anywhere close to filling a container. At one point I considered just licking my wounds & walking away. My experience has taught me that business is all about developing quality relationships & throughout our many long discussions, which it appears is the norm in Guatemala, we all agreed we were all committed to making this work & developing our relationship further. 


Sometimes we all do things that make us feel good & as I left Guatemala committed to another year I must admit that our efforts in this war damaged country & the effect we can have on a few campesino families makes us feel committed to making this work. 


For a great article on Guatemala that shows the effects of the war click here   


Gourd growing - getting started

SCHEDULE – This is based on our planting season here in Southern Ontario.  You will have to modify it depending on the zone you are in.

Do not plant your seedlings outside until all danger of frost has passed.

  • Plant seeds inside now if you haven’t already.      
  • May 12-14 – Work up soil and spread plastic.
  • May 15 – Start hardening off – Set your seedlings outside next to a south-facing wall or in a warm protected area for a few hours during the warmest part of the day.
  • May 24th weekend (depending on weather) – Plant seedlings out depending on where you live.

Get your seeds started now if you haven’t started them yet.  It is important that gourd seeds have an early start as hard shell gourds take between 100 – 140 frost- free days to mature. Minis gourds (Mini Bottle, White Egg & White Ball) only take 70 days so they can be planted out May 24 from seed in most areas.  An early start will result in strong seedlings, which will result in a higher success rate as well as being less tempting to insects and other pests as well. Soak the seeds for 24 hours before you plant them to soften them up.


Three - inch peat pots work well. The beauty of peat pots is that they are planted directly into the ground. This lessons the shock that some plants suffer when being transplanted. Fill the pots with good seedling mix, (available at nurseries or garden centers) water well and press down. Place 2 seeds approximately 1/2” deep per pot.  Top up with soil and lightly water. Place in a sunny window and keep the soil moist. On gray days you may not have to water at all while on sunny hot days you may have to give them a secondary light watering in the afternoon.  Cover your peat pots with plastic wrap or a plastic bag and allow for air entry. Once your seeds start to germinate remove the plastic. Gourd seeds take anywhere from 1 – 3 weeks to come up.


The first leaves that come up are not true leaves but cotyledons. Soon after the first true leaves will appear. Start giving the seedlings a weak formula of fertilizer and water. The seedlings will grow rapidly and the next question will be where should they be planted?  Should they be trellising or ground-grown? What are the pros and cons of location? Wherever you choose to plant just remember gourds need full sun.


Trellising takes up less room but your structure must be very strong, as some green gourds can weigh 20 – 40 lbs.  Either a wooden structure or even a chain link fence acts as a great trellis.  On the ground gourds like to spread out so make certain you have the room. They can be planted in rows or in hills similar to pumpkins with approximately 8’ between hills or rows & 4’ between plants.


A couple of weeks before planting spread out black garbage bags to warm the soil. Use soil or rocks to keep the edges secure. Plastic keeps the weeds at bay as well as keeping the moisture in.  Keep in mind that the 3 most important factors to gourd growing are:

1.) Full sun     2.) Rich, well fertilized soil   3.) Plenty of water


At Northern Dipper:

We have planted our greenhouse and have had an excellent & quick germination rate in most varieties. A couple of varieties are just starting to poke through. Due to the cold wet weather & lack of sun we have had to keep the heater on some days and every night. We have laid the plastic in the field and now are moving on to harvesting last summers crop. 


 *** An excellent reference guide to growing gourds is GOURDS IN YOUR GARDEN by Ginger Summit.  It is thorough and covers a large variety of subjects. It is perfect for the home gardener. For information on this book click here

TOOL INFO - Jigsaws for gourd crafting

We use three of the more popular gourd jig saws. Each has good points and bad.

The most powerful of the three is the Proxxon. Made in Germany it is the Mercedes of mini jigsaws.


The biggest drawback was the flat plate on the bottom of the saw. It made it difficult to see the cutting blade and it was impossible to get close to the contours of many gourds we work with. Proxxon, listening to their customers, and competition, has developed a new cutting shoe that fixes all the problems listed above. You simply remove the flat metal plate by removing one screw, insert the rounded cutting shoe and put the screw back in. You now have a powerful jigsaw that can go anywhere, staying close to the work, with full visibility.



It is larger than the other jig saws but has twice the cutting speed in thick gourds. With the original flat plate reinstalled they are great for cutting plywood & metal. All new saws come with this attachment. If you have bought a saw from Northern Dipper then contact us and we will fix you up.


For more information click here


Our next issue of Tool Fever will cover the absolute beauty of footwitches

Tutorial: Pine needle gourd top & middle rimmed

This tutorial was written by JENNIFER HENRY, an Ontario artist whose love includes basketry, gourds & beading.  Jennifer wove her first basket in 1991.  She has taken numerous courses at the Haliburton School of  Art & has studied with both Canadian and American basket makers.  She uses pine needles, reed, willow, or whatever is available to weave with.  As a basket maker, the discovery of gourds as an art form opened the door to elaborate pine needle & reed rims.  Jennifer is a member of the Basketry Network, Canadian GourdSociety,  South Western Ontario Basketry Guild, and The American Gourd Society. 


Jennifer will be teaching PINE NEEDLE & TWINING RIMS at Northern Dipper Farm on Saturday June 25, 2005.

For information on this workshop and others click here


You Will Need


Hard shell gourd

Pine Needles (soaked)

Tapestry Needle

Waxed linen, artificial sinew, raffia

Straw (this is the gauge for the pine needles)

 Leather dye



Select gourd (I tend to use gourds that are smaller)


Clean gourd


Mark gourd where top will be cut off. Cut off top and clean out inside of gourd (sand if necessary)


Mark holes at top of gourd (approximately ½” from the edge and about ¾”-1” apart)


Mark a line where you want the middle pine needle rim to be placed (I do is a little more than half way from the bottom of the gourd or what looks pleasing to the eye)


Mark holes at this centre line mark, however please note that these holes will be a zigzag pattern (not directly under each other). 


Example: (the dots are holes to be drilled, line is where pine needle rim will lay)

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     . 
   .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .


Drill all holes. At this point you may want to put some designs on your gourd (i.e. wood burn) If you woodburn the gourd remember to clean the gourd after.


Dye both top half of gourd and dye bottom half of gourd with leather dyes (I use 2 different colours, 1 for the top and the other for the bottom).  Where the 2 different colours of dye meet in the middle is where middle the row of pine needles will be placed. Once the dye is dry, wax gourd using a paste floor wax.


Thread tapestry needle with artificial sinew, waxed linen or raffia.  Thread length is about 1 ½ to 2 arms length—measure from nose to arm) Thread is not doubled.


Knot thread at 1 end with about a 4-5” tail (you may have to knot several times as you want the knot bigger than the holes)


Bring needle starting from inside of gourd to the outside of the gourd. You will be working to the right


Place thick end of pine needles on top of gourd (use straw as a guide for thickness).  These pine needles should not be flush at the starting hole but be staggered.  (Meaning some of the needles should be started over a hole or 2 to the left of the starting hole—somewhat tapered).  Take threaded needle and go over pine needles, over top of lip of gourd and bring needle back to inside of gourd and out next hole to the right of the first hole. Continue all the way around. 


You may have to add more needles to keep a continuous length.  Insert needles at regular intervals if you are using caps as a pattern.  If bundle of pine needles gets too thick from adding needles, cut off needles at the back of the bundle. 


When you want to end the coiling, you don’t add any more pine needles.  You just let the pine needles run out. Continue stitching until there are no more needles.  Tie ends together on inside of gourd.


For the centre row of pine needles:


Thread tapestry needle with artificial sinew, waxed linen or raffia.  Thread length is about 1 ½ to 2 arms length—measure from nose to arm) Thread is not doubled.


Knot thread at 1 end with about a 4-5” tail (you may have to knot several times as you want the knot bigger than the holes)


Bring needle starting from inside of gourd to the outside of the gourd at one of the holes above the centre line. You will be working to the right


Lay pine needles on centre line between the 2 sets of staggered holes.  Again pine needles should be a little staggered


Stitch over pine needle bundle down the hole below the centre line and back up the next hole over the pine needle row.  Continue this pattern all the way around.  As you come to meet the centre row of pine needles stitch the needles down.  You can also stitch backwards to complete an “X” on the middle row of stitching.  Tie ends together on inside of gourd.


Cut ends of sinew, waxed linen, etc.  Trim any lose pine needles.


Other things to keep in mind

Wear safety glasses and respirator when cleaning, opening, sanding, or drilling gourds


Pre-soak pine needles prior to using (breakage could occur if pine needles aren’t soaked)


You may want to cut caps off of pine needle bundles for a smooth effect or leave caps on for a patterned effect


Pine needles can be dyed with Rit dyes.


Enjoy making a beautiful decorated gourd.


Volume 1, Number 2

In this issue:

Harvest at Northern Dipper


In Search of the Tecomate – Guatemala


Gourd Sightings & Trivia


Growing Gourds – Getting Started!


Tool Info


Tutorial – Gourd with Pine Needles -Top & Center






Bringing Gourds Down From

The Mountains in Guatamala
Tontino and His Children

Gualamalan Calabash or Tree Gourds


First Leaves - Cotyledons


Seedlings - Planted April 15

 Laying Plastic at Northern Dipper Farm

Gourd sightings and trivia
Chinese Bottle Gourds were spotted hanging from trees. They were portrayed as fruit. For further info  on HG Wells click here



 Flat plate great for cutting

wood and metal 


 New rounded foot

is perfect for gourdcrafting



Artist Jennifer Henry 



 Completed Tutorial Gourd



Marking The Holes



Attaching the Pine Needles




Gourd With Reed Rim



MASK - Mad Mordigan



MASK - Red Man


Bushel Gourd Drying Out In The Field


NEXT ISSUE:  We are thrilled to be able to present a report by London artist Jan Taylor on the exhibition of “Gourds at the Embroiderer’s Guild.” There are very few artists that combine these two mediums & the results are both unique & beautiful. Also a Gourd Grow Report, tutorial and more!

See you then… Pam Grossi & Peter Bell

Published by Northern Dipper Enterprises
Northern Dipper Farm
1666 Villa Nova Road
RR1 Wilsonville, Ontario
N0E 1Z0 Canada
(519) 443-5638