“Would you like to choose a special kind of vegetable to grow in our garden this summer?” my mom asked me.
I was excited, and soon began looking through a seed catalog. After awhile I decided I wanted gourds, but what kind? I chose birdhouse gourds.
Mom ordered the seeds, and later they came in the mail. A greenhouse in our community started four gourd seeds with the rest of our garden seeds that were to be planted later.
When the plants were about five inches tall, I planted them in our garden. I used a cattle panel for a trellis, but in a few weeks I realized that it was not going to be tall enough. The vines had rapidly climbed the cattle panel and were starting to reach out into the air above the trellis, eagerly looking for more to climb on.
“Now what do I do?” I asked my dad.
“You could use tall bamboo poles to make a trellis,” he answered. “Pound the poles into the ground, and then wrap the twine we use for tomatoes around them for a trellis.”
I got to work and made the new trellis. Again the vines grew up the trellis, and I started seeing small gourds deep in the mass of vines. As the gourds grew bigger, the vines gradually stopped growing. I was glad because I couldn’t make the trellis any higher!
A couple of weeks later the trellis blew over in a thunderstorm. It was too heavy to pick back up, so I had to leave it lying at a thirty-degree angle. There were quite a number of gourds on the vines, and they were getting to be a good size. Toward the end of the summer, the plants began to die, and the gourds turned brown and dry. A few gourds lying on the moist ground were starting to rot, so I carefully lifted the delicate gourds back onto the trellis.
After most of the gourds had turned brown, I picked them off the vines. In all, I harvested about thirty-five. I put them in the loft of our storage shed to dry.
The next spring I started thinking about how to make the gourds into birdhouses. Fourteen were big enough to use. I had read in a book that you can use steel wool to get the skins off the gourds. I tried it, but it was a long process and didn’t work very well. It worked a lot better to sand the skins off with an electric sander. Next I cut entrance holes in all the birdhouses and shook the seeds out of the gourds. I then painted the gourds white. A week later I drilled holes in the tops of the gourds and put wire hooks through the holes to hang the gourds up.
Next Dad helped me hang a chain between two trees in our yard. We hung it about 9 feet (3 m) off the ground. Then we hooked the gourds onto the chain.
While I had been working on the gourds, I had noticed that Tree Swallows were going into our nearby bluebird houses and chasing away the bluebirds. I hoped the swallows would nest in my gourds instead of bothering the bluebirds. After the gourds were up for only a few days, the Tree Swallows left the bluebirds alone and started going in and out of my houses. I hoped they would build nests!
My whole family and I enjoyed watching the many Tree Swallows swoop and fly all around, often stopping to sit on the chain that held the birdhouses. They were very tame, and my brothers and sisters and I could walk and play underneath the birdhouses while they perched on the chain. They were fun to watch.
Soon I saw the birds carrying hay and other materials into the houses. They must be building nests! I thought excitedly.
Then one afternoon, my dad looked out the window and exclaimed, “The birdhouses are on the ground!”
We hurried to see what had happened and figured out that one of the eye bolts holding the chain to the tree had been too small. Since all the birdhouses were on the ground, I looked into each one to see if there were any nests in them. Every birdhouse had at least part of a nest, but the birds had not laid any eggs yet. My dad got a large eyebolt, and we hung the birdhouses up again.
The birds will probably abandon their nests now, I thought.
But as we watched during the following days, we noticed two birds were still visiting one of the houses. In a few weeks, we could hear faint chirps coming from their home.
“Those birds must have chicks now!” I said. The thought of little baby swallows in one of my birdhouse gourds was exciting.
One day I climbed a ladder to take pictures of the nest. From the pictures, I could see that the baby Tree Swallows looked like they could fly any time.
The next week the birdhouses fell down again! I looked into the little Tree Swallows’ house and was thankful to see the birds had already left their home. I replaced the other eyebolt with a larger one, and it didn’t fall down again the rest of the summer.
In the fall, we put the birdhouses away. This spring I want to hang them up again, and hope there will be more baby birds.
I am also planning to grow apple gourds on an arbor for a different kind of birdhouse to use the following year. Even though my project was sometimes challenging, I enjoyed being able to grow the gourds and turn them into houses for our birds.