If you’re eaten your fill of
fresh garden bounty and put up the rest,
try a new tact this season and use vegetables
for interesting and useful craft material.
Colorful popcorn, gourds, okra, and peppers
can all be dried and transformed into unique
handmade gifts or added to your home decor.
From birdhouses made from gourds and mini
pumpkins, centerpieces featuring dried corn, to
jewelry and wreaths … all can be made from using
your imagination and dried vegetables. It’s a cool
way for gardeners to show their creativity, and a
perfect way to add a touch of “vegetable beauty”
to your home. Dried vegetables lend themselves
to a variety of decorations and projects and, not
only are these vegetables colorful, but many of
them become quite aromatic as they dry.
GOURD BIRDHOUSES & CONTAINERS
With the many decorative possibilities that ornamental
gourds offer, they are one of the easiest
and most versatile materials for craft projects
for every season. By combining some readily
available art supplies, and your own personal
touch of creativity, you can create some handcrafted
masterpieces ranging from birdhouses
and feeders, flower pots and caches, serving
bowls, luminaries, and even table centerpieces.
Bowling-pin shaped gourds, (Lagenaria s.),
such as ‘Big Apple’, ‘Gakhaa’ and ‘Speckled
Swan’ cultivars, make wonderful birdhouses.
Cucurbita p. gourds like ‘Japanese Nest Egg’,
‘Orange’, and ‘Small Apple’ make colorful
containers for potpourri or tea lights. Try ‘Bali
Sugar Trough’, ‘Bushel Basket’, and ‘Calabash’
to create a jewelry box or water jug. You can
grow these gourds easily yourself or buy them
fresh. Either way, you’ll need to dry and cure
them before making anything.
Harvest the gourds in fall when they are fully
mature. You’ll need a drill and drill bits, a small
knife, sandpaper, a 1/4-inch dowel, and wood
glue to make a birdhouse. Set these items aside
while you thoroughly clean the outside of the
gourds with a damp sponge and soap, removing
any debris. Wipe them down with some rubbing
alcohol and place them in a well-ventilated place
to dry. After one week, move the gourds to a
dark, dry place where they can start to dry on the
inside. This will take about four to six months.
When the gourds lighten in color and you
can hear the seeds rattling around inside when
you shake them, the gourds are cured and
ready to drill for your creation. Use sandpaper
to smooth the outside surface. Then take your drill and bit to create an opening for the bird
as well as a smaller hole for your dowel. Place
wood glue on the end of the dowel and slide it
into the small hole. Allow the glue to dry. Then
you can use paint to decorate the surface of the
gourd, if desired.
Multi-colored dried corn and mini pumpkins
can be used to make beautiful fall wreaths, or
wreaths for any time of the year. The cute, little
2 to 3-inch ‘Strawberry’ cultivar popcorn (Zea
mays), produces rich, deep red small ears of
popcorn that look like strawberries. Leave half
of the husks on some and remove them entirely
from others. ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’ is another
strain of a beautiful multi-colored corn that
makes an ornamental addition in fall wreaths
TURN SEEDS INTO JEWELRY
It’s easy to transform dried seeds into pendants
for necklaces, earrings, broaches and bracelets.
Suspend them in epoxy or back them with
polymer clay to make medallion pendants. You
can also use a small drill to turn the seeds into
beads. Then, string the new “seed beads” onto
beading thread with a needle. Add a little bling
with colorful glass seed beads and the dried
seeds are ready for a day at the farmer’s market.
A Mexican ristra is a good luck charm composed
of dried peppers and can hang in a long strip or
tied together to create a wreath shape. Dried
pepper wreaths are not only decorative, but
also can be used in many recipes for cooking,
as they add a burst of flavor. They also make
wonderful homemade gifts.
There are a wide variety of shapes and colors
to choose from to construct a Mexican ristra. Some of the popular hot pepper varieties that look great
are ‘Black Hungarian’, ‘Cayenne Long Thin’, ‘Chinese
Five Color’, ‘Corne De Chevre’, ‘India Jwala’,
‘Leutschauer Paprika’, ‘Pasilla Bajio’, and ‘Tabasco’.
Strung peppers make a charming decoration
inside and outside the home. Listening to the
seeds rattle around inside the dried peppers on
a windy day reminds me of living in the Southwest.
Place the chili pepper ristra in the kitchen
or near the barbecue area of your home for a
spicy touch whenever you need them.
Pick the hot peppers from your garden (or
purchase them from your farmer’s market) and
wash them in cool water. Spread the hot peppers
on cooling racks to dry. Do not proceed until
the peppers are completely dry. You will want
to use disposable gloves to protect your hands
from the irritant in the hot peppers. Whatever
you do, don’t rub your eyes!
Thread the needle with a 20- to 30-inch long length of dental floss. Tie a double knot
in the end of the dental floss. Insert the needle
through the hot pepper (near the stem). Pass
the hot pepper all the way along the dental floss
until it stops at the knot at the end of the floss.
Tie a knot in the dental floss approximately
½-inch above the hot pepper. This will space the
peppers along the dental floss and ensure that
air circulates adequately around each pepper.
Keep stringing until you get to the end of the
dental floss. Remove the needle from the dental
floss and tie a loop on the end of the dental
floss. Hang the hot peppers in a sunny window.
Leave the hot peppers drying in the sunny window
until they are leathery and shriveled. This
may take one to two weeks.
The large, globe-shaped cultivar called ‘Green Globe’, the lovely pointed, purple cultivar
‘Violetta Precoce’, and the large, round-headed
‘Purple of Romagna’ cultivar are very easy to dry
to use as decorations. This sturdy vegetable,
with its warm green to purple hues, stands out
when used in centerpieces. Arranged around
hurricane lamps with candles, used in a wreath
with small ears of dried colored popcorn, or hollowed
out just enough to set a candle inside, are
just a few of the many uses for dried artichokes.
It’s important to properly dry the artichokes
to maintain their shape. When fully dried, they
will be somewhat brittle to the touch, so use
caution when handling the dried artichokes.
Harvest the flower just before it fully opens
and hasn’t started to wilt, leaving about 2 to 3
inches of the stem.
Stretch a length of floral netting across an
area in your shed or garage. Pull it tight and
secure it into place. Poke the stems of the artichokes
through the openings in the floral netting.
Space them out so they aren’t touching
each other, or tie a heavy string to the stem of
the artichoke flower and hang the string so that
the flower is suspended, hanging upside down.
Check on the artichokes every two to three days to
see how the drying process is going. Depending
on the size of the artichokes, it may take one to two weeks for them to fully dry. They should be
brittle and not flexible.
Use a sharp knife or pruners to do any
necessary trimming after they’ve dried. Cut off
some of the stem to prepare the artichokes for
decorating. If left to mature on the plant, the
artichoke itself will develop into a lovely purple
thistle-like flower. The flower can be dried and
also used in floral arrangements or craft projects.
Okra is most often used in gumbo, or eaten sliced
and fried. Not only are okra pods green, but also
reddish orange (‘Jing Orange’), red (‘Hill Country
Heirloom’), and burgundy (‘Burgundy’) in color.
The pods resemble a chili pepper or jalapeno.
Okra is very popular and plentiful in the southern
United States, and is not only tasty, but is also a
versatile material used in arts and crafts. Dried
either naturally or with a moisture-absorbing
material such as silica gel, okra pods are perfect
decorations for an autumn centerpiece or wreath,
faux flower bud arrangement, or transformed
into painted pod lizards and pod butterflies.
A wonderful use for dried okra pods in their
natural state is to make an autumn centerpiece.
Start with a small pumpkin or gourd, carving out
a small hole to remove the seeds and that will
also serve as a vase. Using floral wire stems, arrange
the okra pods with dried corn, peppers,
dried flowers, and leaves. Place the stems in the pumpkin or gourd, arranging the pieces like you
would a flower arrangement. Have a few things
cascading down the side, with a few extra okra
nestled at the base.
With okra pods’ naturally tapered shape, they
are ideal for making odd, but interesting-looking
butterflies, alligators and crocodiles, snakes and
lizards. Begin by painting their features and their
distinguished markings on the dried pods with an
acrylic craft paint. Dip some pins into a little glue
to attach wings either purchased at a craft store
or constructed at home using cardstock or fabric.
Use thin wire to create antennae, curl one end
and insert it into the top of the pod. Polymer clay
works great for shaping into legs. When they are
finished, use them as refrigerator magnets, set
them on a bookshelf, or hang them up with a
piece of string or ribbon.
Faux flower bud arrangements make another
beautiful and different okra pod decorating craft.
Okra pods naturally resemble closed flowers just
before they bloom, such as Asiatic lilies, gladiolas,
and hibiscus. Use the acrylic craft paint to
transform them into glossy-looking spring buds.
Gently apply the paint, using different shades of
pink, yellow or orange on the pods with a small sponge to give it that more natural look. Finish it
off with a little dab of green paint on the caps of
the okra, attach them to green floral wire stems,
and arrange the painted pods with silk greenery
and complimentary ribbon as an accent.
So now get out there and harvest some
fall decorations from your own garden. Not
only can you let your imagination run wild,
but you’ll get the satisfaction of standing back
and looking at what you created, saying to
yourself, “Wow, I did that!”