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Growing long-handled gourds a hobby of Hartselle’s Johnny Self

How long do the gourds grow in Johnny Self’s back yard at 1638 Penn Road in Hartselle? This year’s crop has some that measure 51 inches in length and they’ll continue to grow until the first frost appears next month. His record is 59 inches.

Self began growing long-handled dipper gourds in 1990, a year after he retired from Lucent Technologies as a telephone installer. He also grows Martin gourds and pumpkins  on a 20-acre farm he owns in Eva.

“There’s no money in it,” said Self. “I just like to watch them grow and share them with my friends and neighbors.”

Self uses a 6-foot high arbor made from polyethylene pipe and wooden slats to support his dipper gourd vines.  The arbor has space for two rows, 10 feet apart, and 16 plants. The gourds hang from the top of the arbor and grow downward.

Johnny Self stands in his arbor where long-handled dipper groups are growing at lengths of up to 51 inches. | Clif Knight

“I use manure and 8-8-8 fertilizer in the seed bed and mulch the plants with a 4-inch cover of composed leaves,” Self pointed out. “After that I leave the plants alone with the exception of applying liquid Miracle Grow about once a week. If you cultivate gourds, they’ll wither and die.”

Self uses holding tanks to collect rainwater from outbuildings and pumps it to his gourd vines by means of regular water hoses and a soaker hose.

Self cuts the gourd form their vines after frost and places them in a wire cage to keep them away from varmints like rodents and allows them cure naturally.

“It takes them about five or six months to cure,” he said. “After that, I carve holes in them and use them as water dippers, birdhouses or simply as decorations.”

Self is still challenged by his hobby.

He has constructed an 8-foot arbor and plans to use it next summer to see if he can grow a dipper gourd longer than his 59-inch record.

Self is an active member of the Alabama Gourd Society and looks forward to the annual Alabama Gourd Show at the Cullman Civic Center in October each year. In addition to showing some of his gourds, he enters the Best Gourd Hat Contest, an event in which he has placed first two times.

Self is also an antique farm tractor enthusiast. He owns three restored Power King tractors and is in the process of restoring another one. Although he opts not to enter his tractors in local shows, he said he attends seven or eight tractors in Alabama and Tennessee every year.

His Halloween yard display is also noted for its originality and creativity. His display shows an old man pulling a wagon loaded with jack o‘lanterns and bales of hay. Newly harvested gourds are also a part of the haul.  The lanterns are set on an automatic timer to light up at 6 p.m. and go off at 10 p.m. The handmade wagon has the appearance of one used in the old days to haul luggage at train depots.