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  artists, growtips, info & more

Note: If using Outlook click the above bar where it says “Click to download photos” The photos are the best part!

A carved gourd by Jorden Straker
In This Issue: Jordan Straker is a name that is well-known in carving circles. He is an award winner, a mentor to many and an expert in his field. Two decades of experience in wood has prepared him for the intricate carvings he is producing in gourds. Both Jordan and his art are exceptional and we are pleased to feature Jorden in the April pages of Gourd Fever.
 Carolyn designed this unique umbrella luminar for a competition at the One Of A Kind Show.
How many of you have looked at a knotted long handled Dipper with fascination and wonderment? Ken Carlson use to wonder too but now he can teach anybody. Through this humorous account of how he taught his 80 year old mother to tie knots, we all can learn as well. We really enjoyed Ken's story and are now anxious to get some Dippers going so we can try out our new-found skills. 
At this time of year gourd seeds are on our mind and for some, germination proves to be a problem. To get off to a good start we have an article on a sure fire method of getting good germination from your gourd seeds.  
  April showers bring May flowers. Spring also brings lots of lambs looking so pretty against a field of green.
After germination then what? How much water should seedlings receive? Should they be fertilized? How much heat do they need? Read on and you will be prepared to take your seeds from the germination stage through to raising healthy seedlings.
Also gourd sightings, music pics and trivia but first off please welcome Jorden Straker.  

Jordan Straker

      Before gourds, Jorden's chosen medium was wood.   Pictured above are embellished gourds

As a boy, racing about on his grandmother's ranch, Jordan Straker never imagined that one day he would be an award winning artist. Nor did he imagine that wood would be his medium and carving knives and Dremels; his tools. Recently he has added gourds as a medium and they have proven to be a breath of fresh air for this artist. 

For the past few years his chosen theme has been the western lifestyle. He quickly states that he is not a cowboy at heart but growing up in Calgary, Alberta may have influenced his choice somewhat. Time has proven that everyone loves the west and Jordan's work is prized by collectors and art lovers alike.

Jordan expression through art was acknowledged at an early age. His family remembers when Jordan and his brother made complete paper families with clothes. Interestingly enough they seemed to be the clothes they really wanted, like cowboy jackets and boots. Such are the dreams of boys. 

A self-taught artist, Jordan has dabbled in cartoons, graphic design, sandblasted signs and granite memorial markers. Until gourds, he thought that finding wood was a dream come true.

As stated earlier, when Jordan started wood carving, his theme was primaily western and sports related items. How his designs evolved into more nature-related themes is unexplainable. Since discovering gourds, flowers and attractive designs is what he is leaning towards. They are fun and refreshing and although many of his customers are still drawn to the native themes, there are many who love his gourd art.
His biggest challenge is to hold himself back from getting obsessed. Many times he has to show his work to his wife to ask if it is finished. He knows that if he doesn't, he may add many details that are unnecessary.

The one thing that Jordan loves about gourds, other than working on them, is the fact that he now has the ability to produce a relatively expensive piece in a week. He explains that his wood carvings are very labour intensive and there are times when his brain has had enough. The gourds keep him mentally occupied until they are finished and often times, he is looking at a new one just as he is finishing up the current one.

When asked to describe his experience when working with gourds compared to that of wood, he replied that there were some real differences. His wood carvings all have to be shaped or laminated from thick boards. For example the replica of a pair of moccasins must be exact to get the true effect.

With gourds it is his goal to maintain the original shape as much as possible and to not add any embellishments that are not made out of gourd or wood. Gourd art is new and exciting and some days he cannot wait to wake up and try something new.

In a nutshell Jordan describes himself as a crazy artist who is eating, sleeping and breathing gourds these days.To stay connected with the outside world (standing for hours at a time in one spot can make one anti-social or just plain looney) Jordan is on a ski racing team.

Attending two high-end shows per year he is kept busy building inventory. Jordan's work is generally sold to a very supportive customer base and this year he is thrilled that his gourd art will be showcased at the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase in July. He also donates two items per year to a worthy charity; something everyone should do. 

As we leave Jordan in his workshop working on yet another beautifully carved gourd we ask him to keep in touch. It is our belief that that Jordan's name will soon be well known in the gourd circle as it is in the wood carving community. Jordan has the personality that inspires both up and coming artists as well as those who have been at it for years and we are so pleased that we were able to share a bit of his work and his life with you. 
To learn more about this remarkable artist click here:
Thank you Jordan, it was a pleasure meeting you. Good luck at the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase in July. We know you will be a hit! Carolyn and Linda 

Knotting the Long Handled Dipper Gourd by Ken Carlson

My 80 year old mother has an incredible vegetable garden and I have never found a weed in it. Her pumpkin and gourd patch however is planted on the side of a hill that use to be part of our old pig lot. She goes out to this garden when she thinks it might be dry and turns on the outside spigot. Later in the day she turns the water off. The water slowly soaks into everything as it makes it's way down the slight slope of the hill.

At the end of the season we go out and cut 120 plus pound pumpkins and some very large gourds off the vines. First however, we have to find them in the 3 foot tall grass and in koisha weeds so tall that you wouldn't want to be standing near them if lighting were in the area.

My mother does not care which is the male or female flower nor does she care about hand pollinating. She knows that big ones grow on the ground and the long ones grow on the trellis which I had attached to the old barn. Her philosophy is that she just lets nature take its course.

Here then is how I taught my mother to tie a knot in a long handled dipper. Let me set the scene:

I'm sitting in my mother's kitchen on the farm where I grew up. She has just finished cutting my hair, which she alone has done for the past 60 years.

"Mom" I say, "would you like to learn how to tie a knot in one of those long gourds that hang down off the pig barn?"

"Oh" she says, "I'd never be able to do that." To her the topic is now closed and she plugs in the vacuum to get my hair off the floor. 

"NO MOM IT'S EASY." I screamed at her over the vacuum.

"IF IT WAS SO EASY, EVERYBODY WOULD BE DOING IT." she yelled back at me. 

I unplug the vacuum since the cord was running over my feet. "Mom, I say "watch this." Now she has to watch but I know I'll only have her attention for a few seconds because she REALLY wants to get the hair off her floor. "See this?" I hold up about a foot of vacuum cord with the plug-in on the end. "You hold this right here. This 12 inches of cord represents the length of the stem and gourd coming off the vine for each new gourd. Now you go out some afternoon at about 3:00 when it's nice and hot. You take the new gourd and you do this."
I gently placed my left hand on the vacuum cord at about the middle and took the plug-in end gently with my right hand. I lifted the plug-in around the back then over my left hand and slowly down thru the loop newly created in the cord. As I let the cord go, there was a large loose knot in the cord which I gently pulled a little tighter. "We've just tied a knot in a dipper gourd." I said. The whole process took about 3 seconds.

Mom looked at me and said "With that little cord yes, but those gourds on the trellis are over 4 feet long and they don't bend."

"Mom", I say "You can only put the knot in when they are small and still flexible. Then you let them hang and gravity does the rest."

"Oh" she says and takes the vacuum cord. I think she is going to try to tie a knot but she unties my knot, plugs in the vacuum and gets to the hair on the floor. That's the end of that topic for the day.

The next week I go back out to the farm (20 miles from town) to take a golf club that I have fixed for my dad. As I get set to leave I decide to check my gourds in the old pig-lot. Each new gourd growing on the trellis is tied. I guess I'm a pretty good teacher after all I thought. Then I remembered what mom had said...if it was easy, everyone would be doing it! And now, with this simple lesson, maybe more of us will be tying knots too.

If this article has inspired you and you want to try growing long - handled Dipper gourds and other varieties too, click here:

Starting Your Seeds

Growing gourds can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Unfortunately some growers find their biggest challenge is to get the gourd seeds to germinate.
What are they doing wrong? Is there a method that will ensure good germination? Why do seeds from a cracked gourd seem to germinate so well?

Customers who come to Northern Dipper in the summer are generally in awe at all the gourd volunteers (self planted seeds) that are growing all over the property. On the gravel driveway, in the flower beds, on the grass, in the ditch... you name it and you will find the seedlings growing. I pluck them out as they are sometimes just like weeds!

These self seeded gourds seldom produce mature gourds as they sprout too late but the key point here is that they do germinate. This is mainly due to two factors...heat and warm July showers.

A Method That Works
I did a trial of several different germination techniques and choose the following as one of the easiest to follow.

What to do:
Fill the tray insert with about 2 1/2 inches of seed soil. Water it well so it is easily saturated. Let excess water drain out.

If you have the Styrofoam tray, place the heat mat inside and place the tray insert containing the soil on the heating mat. If you do not have the Styrofoam, place the tray with the soil on the heating mat.

Do not add the seeds at this time but rather turn on the heat mat and cover the entire unit with the plastic dome. The seeds will be planted in the following few days once the soil has nicely heated up. You will find that you will have a fair bit of condensation that will collect on the inside of the dome which is the excess water that you will want to dispense with.

Meanwhile fill the water container half full with hot water and add a couple of bags of chamomile teabags. Let brew. After a couple of hours top up the water but do not remove the teabags. This solution will be transfered to a spray bottle and you will use it to water your seedlings.

Chamomile tea is a natural remedy to fight "damp off" disease that can develop which will kill off the seedlings. (Once your plant your seeds, only water with your spray bottle as it will prevent overwatering. Always keep the water at room temperature and keep replenishing the water as you use it.)

After a few days of heating the soil and removing the excess condensation it is time to plant your seeds. Just tuck them under the soil, cover with the dome and be patient. Remember - easy with the water - I have had seeds germinate in bone dry soil.

Once these seeds sprout they will grow very quickly and will soon have to be gently transplanted to new containers. They will remain in these containers until it is time to plant them outside

Raising The Seedlings 

These seedlings were planted in peat pots. Like the newspaper pots, peat pots can be planted right into the ground at the end of May.

Your seeds have germinated and their tiny green heads are starting to push themselves through the soil. Within no time at all they will be up but now what do you do?

The seedlings should be placed in a heated greenhouse or in a window with a southern exposure as they will require heat to flourish. Keep moist but do not to overwater.

If humidity is a problem try to get air circulating around the plants as humidity can cause mold to develop. In a greenhouse keep the door open during the day.

Fertilize every second to third watering with a weak solution of water soluable 20 -20-20 fertilizer mixed with water. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to get the measurements right. You can pick 20-20-20 up at any garden center. Mix it up in a pail, water and the result will be strong vines and healthy leaves.

The Timetable:
Early to Mid April - Start your seeds

Mid May - Depending on the weather the seedlings can be put out in the day time in a sunny spot to harden-off. They are brought in again at night.

End of May - Plant out in the garden after all danger of frost.  

The Legalities of Using Feathers In Artwork By Carolyn Cooper

I was quite surprised by the huge response to the article last month explaining the difference between cast antlers and harvested antlers as well as the legalities in using them. It is always good to learn something new and to be able to share it with others.
On that note, I was equally surprised when I started writing my article on the legalities of using feathers in artwork. There is not just provincial or state legalities involved but also federal.
The subject is so intricate that I am going to have to do more research so I can give more accurate and educated information. This may take a couple of months as there are so many branches I have to go through. I will do my best to see what I can untangle and will keep you posted.

Out of the Mailbag
Hello there Northern Dipper
I wanted to drop you a line to let you know how much we enjoy Gourd Fever. Your articles are interesting and the artists are inspirational. I have only been working with gourds for a couple of years  but I must admit that it is my secret dream to be a featured artist in this newsletter once I get better.
I thought I might try to grow some gourds this year. I live in a condo but have a huge balcony and thought it might be fun to try to grow them along the railing. What do you think?
Keep up the good work...love what you do.
                            Sophia Morris - Long Beach, Ca
Dear Sophia,
Thank you for your lovely email. We would love to have you as a featured artist. It has been our experience that many artists, particularily those who are just starting out, are shy about their art and sometimes think that it is not "good enough."
But it is important to keep in mind that our readership consists of people who are just picking up their first gourd thru to those who are internationally known for their gourd art. Everyone has something to offer, every month we get excited and so do the people reading the newsletter.
So don't be shy...drop us an email to let us know what you do. Remember dreams can come true!
Re: Growing gourds on a balcony railing would be striking. Bushels would be out of the question but there are many other different varieties that you could grow quite successfully.
                                           Good luck, Carolyn
Hi there,
My name is Yolanda and I have just cleaned my gourds from last year. There is blackish brown green skin bits which I quite like. Is this spore carrying mold or fungus? Can I just varnish the gourds or do I have to scrape it down? Thanks.
Hi Yolanda,
Those bits are mold and it is best to clean it all off. If it is stubborn you can use a knife to gently remove these bits or just use a bit more elbow grease. It is not a good idea to varnish over them.     Carolyn

Looking Ahead: May 2012
                   Taking crocheting to new heights
Dig out your passport and pack your bags, we are on our way to Poland to meet with artist Przemek Krawczynski. Przemek works under the banner of Calabarte, a name known for its high-end, one of a kind gourd lamps. Sculptural in nature, this young artist's lamps are finely detailed with carvings and embellishments. At night they illuminate a room with a dream-like quality leading to a mood of relaxation. Przemek is interesting and extremely talented and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce him to you.
             Pysanka - Traditional Ukrainian Easter Eggs
May is a fabulous month. There is new life everywhere and our moods are rejuvenated and happy. It is time to get your gourd seedlings in the ground but in the interm keep your seedlings warm, water well and fertilize. Strong healthy seedlings equals a successful gourd crop which is the goal of every gourd grower.
                               Happy Easter, see you next month.
                               Carolyn Cooper and Linda Bond

Comments, stories or ideas can be sent to info@northerndipper.com


 Volume 8, Number 85


Email: info@northerndipper.com

In this issue:
Jordan Straker: Award Winning Wood Carver Discovers Gourds 

Dippers & Knots: "If My Mother Can Learn, You Can Too" by Ken Carlson 
Starting Up Gourd Seeds:  Good Germination Is A Must
Raising Strong Seedlings: Giving Them A Good Start
Out of the Mailbag
, Gourd Sightings & Other Stuff Too! 

The Bulletin Board
 Upcoming Shows

Peterborough Garden Show

When: April 5, 6 and 7th
Where: The Evinrude Centre
911 Monaghan Road
Peterborough, Ontario

This is a very good show that is small and intimate. There is lots to see and do and the people are very friendly. This is what you will find at the Peterborough Garden Show
- Lots of vendors with garden-related products
-Speakers and demos
- Lots of garden displays that will inspire any gardener or flower lover
- Floral competitions

For more information click here:

Springtime Scenes In The City

Cherry blossoms line the streets.

Bluebells are so pretty in city parks.

Sunny daffodils are welcomed after a long winter.

 Jordan Straker

Jordan Straker has just finished his 8th gourd and has now declared he is totally addicted.
Carved gourd
 This gun and holster are carved from wood.
This glove and cinch are wood too!
 Carved cradleboard in wood. It's unbelievable that this suede is really wood!
"My approach to design today is a simple one as I am a simple man. Basically it is an idea and a felt pen. I don't draw out plans...I just carve as I go. If it turns out, it does, if not, well, then there's always the discard pile."
Beautiful gourd art 
Advice For New Artists
"Experimentation is the key. I try my hardest not to examine the work or techniques of others too closely as I want all my designs to be original."
"My philosophy with all
my work is that if you have
 to say "It's good enough",
then deep down you know
 it isn't."
""Enter shows. Judges comments are what pushes you and what can make you a better artist."
"Donate! It helps you get
 known plus it gives you the opportunity to present a charitable donation that you may not be otherwise able to provide with cash." 
Shadowbox made
from wood 

Ken Carlson's Knotted Gourds 
These knots look like quite a challenge but thanks to Ken we will all be knotting up a storm this summer.

  Starting Your Seeds
What You Will Need:
- Seeding heating mat

(You can generally buy these
 in a kit with the Styrofoam, plastic tray insert and dome. Always follow the manufacturer's directions & safety guidelines.)

- Seed starting soil
(Pro Mix works well - do not use soil out of your garden or heavy potting soil) 
- Water container
- Spray bottle
- Chamomile tea
The past couple of years I have started making my own containers out of newspapers for the gourd seedlings. This  saves me money, helps save the environment in a small way and also is much better for the seedlings as the whole newspaper pot can be placed in the ground without disturbing the roots. 

The newspaper pots do become fragile over time and do require some extra care when handling but are well worth it in the long run.
The following sites have tutorials on making your own newspaper pots. Remember
 the key words are heat, water in moderation and patience is all that is required to have successful germination.

To view the above mentioned tutorials click here:

 and here:

 Gourd Sightings
We just finished watching a three - part series called The Spice Trail, a BBC documentary featuring Kate Humble.
Kate delves into the history of spices and the mythology  surrounding them. She travels from the UK to the Far East and mingles with the growers and harvesters of exotic spices. Very well done and informative, it is well worth looking out for.
The gourd sighting was gourd shakers played at a village festival.
To learn more click here:
  It's A Dog's Life  
Sometimes it is nice to be alone but when Mickey is at home in the front yard you never know who will show up.
A couple of days ago Morgen,
a 10 month old Old English sheepdog stopped by for a vigorous play. He is big and bouncy - a real beauty to watch. Energetic too, which suits Mickey just fine.

 Music Pic of the Month
(Photo by Steve Ford)
 The Musician:
Harry Manx
The songs:
Walking Ghost Blues
To learn more about Harry Manx click here:

 "Other Stuff"
Decorating Easter Eggs Using Natural Dyes

If decorating Easter eggs is your thing you will want to step back in time to Edwardian times and use the edible dyes that are stored in your root cellars and cupboards.

The colours will be gorgeous; soft pastel blues, yellows, pinks and greens and unlike the conventional food colouring which are petroleum-based, natural colours are safe. 

These eggs can be eaten if they are hard-boiled. That's right, don't blow them, boil them.
What About A Design?
  1.) Wrap them with elastic bands before dying. Leave the bands on until the egg is dry.
2.) Use masking tape. With tape you can do bunnies and flowers...do not remove until the egg is dry.
3.) Melt some candle wax and with a brush create some lovely Easter art on your eggs. White crayon can be used as well.
To learn more about Easter egg dying, and some egg science too, here is a link.
 Keep in mind that the woman in this YouTube clip does not use precise measurements.  Use this as a guide:
For every cup of chopped fruit or vegetable use 2 cups of water. Boil for 20 minutes and then stir in 1 tablespoon each of vinegar and salt. You are now ready to dye.
Here is the link to YouTube:

  Published by:
 Pam Grossi
Victoria, BC, V8R 2Z7


Northern Dipper
PO Box 1145
5376 County Road 56, Cookstown, Ontario
L0L 1L0, Canada
(705) 435-3307
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