Growing your own birdhouses is a fun project for the entire family. Any large hard-shelled (Lagenaria) gourds may be used; however, bottle or birdhouse kinds are most attractive.

After danger of frost is past, select a sunny, well-drained location and sow four to six seeds in hills of deeply-dug, enriched soil. Since the vines like to sprawl, allow six feet between hills. The fruit, which takes three to five months to mature on the vine, is cleaner and better shaped if you supply a place for vines to climb. Even a tree will do, providing vines are not shaded. Tip vines after several feet of growth to force lateral shoots. Lagenarias are not as attractive to borers and other pests as are other ornamental gourds.

When shells feel firm, harvest. Cut gourds with a few inches of stem attached. Handle carefully to prevent bruising. Store clean gourds in a cool dry place for several months until seed rattles or skin turns brown.

Dried gourds are sturdy but brittle. Mark off the hole with a compass and use a fine keyhole saw for cutting. (Martins require an entry 2 1/2" in diameter; bluebirds, 1 1/2"). Secure wire through stem for hanging. Use a bent wire to scrape out seeds and pulp. A coat of shellac preserves the natural color, making it less conspicuous to predators.

Give gourd growing and birdhouses a try and encourage our insect-hungry birdfriends to your yard.