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19 February 2009

Growing Luffas / Loofahs



Our luffas (loofahs) are almost ready to pick. They have snaked their way up a very high trellis, grown in the sun and rain of summer, and are now almost ready for harvest. Our season this year has been very disappointing. All the vines grew strong and healthy but there was a lot of rain and lower than normal temperatures, which resulted in very few female flowers. There are only about six good ones there this year. In a good year, we can grow enough luufas to see us through the year, but no matter, there will be another harvest next year. Those we have now will be harvested soon and all will be put to good use.

Luffas are gourds, and the only source of vegetable sponge. Although they can be eaten like zucchinis or cucumbers when young and tender, allowed to grow to their full maturity, they will give you a very good exfoliating sponge. The seeds and leaves are also edible.



They are usually used in the shower but are also very handy in the kitchen when cut into discs and used as pot scrubbers.

Luffas grow well in hot climates, according to the hardiness zone below, I live in zone 4, but I think you could grow them in any area where you don't have frosts. Even then, I'd try them in a sheltered area, possibly up against a brick wall that you attach a trellis to. Remember, the lower the temperature, the fewer luffas you'll get. You may be able to get them to eating stage in the cooler climates but they usually fail to develop to sponge stage.

It's best to germinate the seeds in trays or pots and transplant the seedlings. Soak the seeds for 24 hours before planting, they will germinate four or five days later if you're in a hot climate, or up to seven days later in a cooler one. Grow the seedlings in a tray or pot until they're a reasonable size, then transplant to the garden. To grow luffas, you'll need well drained, rich soil with a high content of compost and organic matter. When you transplant them, water in with a seaweed solution to help with transplant shock and to help them establish. They need a trellis or fence to grow on as they need to be off the ground.



When they're growing well in the garden, give them a drink of weak organic tea- like comfrey tea, or compost tea, once a week, to help them along. About eight weeks after planting, flowers start to form. When you notice the flowers, stop feeding them and give them a dose of sulphate of potash. That will give you the best chance of flowers and fruit. The male flowers will appear first then, slowly, the females appear; they bear the fruit. The hotter your climate, the more female flowers you'll get. Make sure you have bees around to pollinate the luffas, otherwise you'll have to hand pollinate them.

Don't over water.
Don't over fertilise.
Don't fuss over them.

If you're in a warm or hot climate, they're easy to grow but they do take three to four months to grow to a decent size. They're a good plant to grow in a sustainable garden because in addition to being edible, they will replace your kitchen sponge and pot scrubber and can be used like a sea sponge in the shower.

I'll do another post on my luffas when I harvest and skin them. I'll show you then how to process them after picking and how to harvest the seeds.

BUYING SEEDS
In Australia
In the UK
In USA

MORE INFO


Plant hardiness zones for Australia
Hardiness zones - USA, UK

Welcome to all the new readers. Please have a browse through the archives if you have the time. :- )



39 comments:

  1. Hi Rhonda
    This is knitting rather than luffa related.

    http://lizzieshomeworld.blogspot.com/2009/02/we-were-right.html Knitting is officially good for you!!!we all knew it but now everyone knows it!

    Lizzie

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  2. Wow, I had no clue that is how we got loofahs...I learn something new everyday. I am going to have to show my girls this page.

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  3. Wow... these pictures make me long for a garden and warmer weather. But for now, I'll have to settle for seedlings and coats. :)

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  4. Here in zone 7 - Oklahoma - some people are successful in growing luffa. I hope to try it this year in my garden. I look forward to your posts on how to handle them after harvest.

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  5. can you show us some pictures of what they look like after you prepare them to use them for scrubbers and do you know where you can find these seeds i would be very interested in growing these!!

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  6. Wow! that's amazing! It would be too cold to grow them here in the UK which is a shame. xx

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  7. I'm really interested in seeing how you treat them ready for use.

    I remember my mom buying one (ready prepared) from a shop when I was a kid. She made me and my sister guess what it was. Neither of us has seen anything like it, but I seem to recall asking her if it was a cuttlefish...

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  8. hey Rhonda!
    are these actually called Loofahs when looking for seeds? i have never seen them in the seeds sections! can't wait to see them harvested!

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  9. Rhonda,
    Thanks for this post. I'm hoping to try growing luffas next season.
    For some reason I thought they were difficult...looking forward to seeing how you 'process' them.
    Sandie in Oz

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  10. Good morning Rhonda,

    One day I hope to grow some Loofahs. I remember my New Zealand grandparents would always have a large loofah in the bathroom. They both had very good skin. Not really sure but I think they must have grown them as they had an amazing vege garden and certainly only bought the bare essentials because they simply couldn't afford much. They did not waste a thing. As a child I could not understand this but I realize now that they were just naturally doing what we are trying to do now, but in a much more efficient way. It's hard to unlearn bad habits and so satisfying to feel the sense of achievement when you have mastered another new self sufficiency skill. I was really chuffed last night when my husband asked me to make some more of those scones, as they were the best he'd tasted. Rhonda's recipe of course.

    Blessings Gail

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  11. Chiming in to report that you can get good loofah harvests in Sydney -- the main trick is keeping the fruit away from damp while it is drying.

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  12. Hi Rhonda, can you please advise - does the vine only last one season? IE, does it die off once it has produced fruit? Thanks!

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  13. I'm also looking forward to seeing how you harvest these. I would love to learn more about getting seeds from plants. It is very cold here but I'm hoping to have a green house in the next two years and then I will deffinately give these a try. Thank you!

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  14. wow.

    You learn something new every day!

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  15. Great info Rhonda I had not idea you could grow them!
    I will give them a try. I'm sure they will do quite well here in Melbourne.
    Serena

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  16. Lady Katherine (who I think reads your blog) recently sent me some of her seeds. I can't wait to try them! Since I'm in Georgia I think they should do pretty well here.

    Manuela

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  17. I'd love to try planting these this summer but the growing season here isn't long enough. I'll watch yours grow though!

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  18. I knew luffas could be used for skin exfoliating sponges (bought enough in my time) but thanks for the tip about disks for the kitchen sink!

    I've got seeds for these now, do you think it would be too late to plant a crop? I live in a climate zone similar to Ipswich, Qld.

    Frosts appear to be rare and light if any.

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  19. How funny that you should post this now! I just saw an ad in my state's Market Bulletin and there is someone selling loofah seeds. I am going to buy them and give them a try this year. My husband or I neither knew until just recently that this was a vegetable. I hope I get some to make it.

    Cassandra

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  20. Hello Rhonda,

    I'm one of your new readers and not usually in the habit of leaving comments on blogs, but I must tell you that I feel like I found a big treasure when I discovered your blog! I absolutely love what I've read so far. It is great to find someone who writes so well about the things I am passionate about, and it is also nice to be on the same side of the globe (I'm in NZ). I was born in the Netherlands, and follow quite a few northern hemisphere blogs, and often feel either homesick or out of step when people write about their seasonal activities. It was like coming home to see all your photos, especially of your simple living books, most of which are on my shelf as well.

    So THANK YOU for your treasure trove of a blog, and please excuse me while I dive right back in ;o)

    Marjon.

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  21. Your other luffa post is what brought me to your blog over a year ago!

    I tried growing them here (Idaho) and it didn't work well. We had a long, cold spring and an early, cold fall. *sigh*

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  22. I remember growing loofah's as a child - my mother taught me how to turn them into sponges. It was great fun and I hope to do it again someday.

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  23. Hi Rhonda,
    This is my first year growing luffas and sadly, they've done diddly squat! I would have thought they'd do better than normal this far south because it's been so hot and dry, but instead the vines have quite small leaves and no sign of any flowers at all. I try not to overwater but perhaps I've been too cautious and not fertilised enough? Otherwise they look healthy. *Shrug*

    Cheers, Julie

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  24. very cool. I am going to plant some this year. I love trellises.

    I love your blog! It is always so entertaining and informative,

    thank you

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  25. I buy raw loofah every year and there are always loose seeds that come in the package. I was wondering if those seeds would germinate. The loofah I buy is usually very lightly colored, so I assume they may bleach the gourds before shipping..any ideas?

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  26. Francine, I'll have those photos when I harvest the luffas. There are links to places where to buy the seeds. If they have a choice, go for the smooth luffa.

    Solomon, I think cuttlefish was a good guess. : - )

    Carmell, yes, they're called loofahs or luffas. You want the smooth loofah if they have a choice of two. I have left links to places where you might purchase seeds at the bottom of the post.

    I'm pleased he likes the scones, Gail.

    Karen, my vines only last one season.

    Chris, it's too late to start growing them now. They need several months of hot weather to produce female flowers. You've have to wait till next spring.

    Marjon, welcome and thank you for your lovely comment.

    Sarah, it's good to see you've hung on this long. : - )

    Julie, they are a tropical plant so you need to create that kind of microclimate, without going overboard with the water. They love heat and humidity. Don't give up and give them another go next year. Our crop this year was nothing like previous years so this year might be a bad one all over.

    Hi Don, thanks. :- )

    Judy, they usually do bleach them, I do too, because it stops mildew forming in the fibres. However, I would hope you still have viable seeds. To test them, soak two seeds for 24 hours. Then wet some paper towel or newspaper and let the water soak in so you have moist, but not dripping wet, paper. Put the seeds in and roll the paper up with the sides pulled in and the seeds completely enclosed. Leave it in a warm spot and make sure the paper stays moist. Leave it for one week then peek in to see if you have a sprout. If not, keep the paper moist, leave another week and check again. If there is no sprout then, they aren't viable.

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  27. That is so cool! I didn't actually know where they came from.

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  28. I just read an interesting article about someone trying to grow Loofah in chilly Minnesota (where I live). They got them to grow quite large, but our growing season wasn't long enough to get them "ripe". Bummer. I'd love to try this.

    I wonder if we couldn't start the plants now and they'll be quite a ways along by May. Of course, I'd have to have the room for this!!

    Great article. Thank you.

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  29. Good Day Rhonda...
    I got a query for you...
    My girls (chickens) have not all been laying, yet I find these large dung that look white on part of it as if it could be a ill formed egg maybe any Idea?

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  30. Hi
    I hesitated to write, because you get so many comments! But I wanted to thank you for welcoming me into your blog. It is so refreshing to read about people living simply, as well as to get some good ideas and tips. I did peruse your archives and I felt like I was wrapping myself in a warm blanket.
    Thank you! And please don't worry about responding! Your blog is response enough!

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  31. Thank you for this great post and the seed info. Right after reading I went and ordered some loofah seeds. Now I can't wait to get started. Hope they'll do well in AL...

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  32. I would love to grow them. Not sure if they will make it in Maine but I may give them a try. Are the seeds called Luffas?

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  33. I would just like to say to everyone that is excited to get luffas growing now that it's important that the seeds are kept good and warm for germination. That is the biggest mistake I see people make (including me, once!) is trying to start these when it's just too cold. These like HEAT! I would suggest that you need to have LOW temperatures no lower than the high 60's(F) before attempting to germinate luffas, warmer is even better. So, if you are going to start them in containers, you need a way to keep the soil warm (and be sure to water with warm water, not cold!). Where I am in Florida, I've found it best to start these in mid summer when it's hot since they germinate easily then and they are ending in the fall when the rains are also ending. In areas with shorter seasons, you have no choice but to start in the spring, but trying to start them when it's cold without providing heat for germination will be disappointing. Ideally, the soil temp should be kept in the mid 70's (F) for good germination on luffas.

    -Onalee

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  34. My father grows loofah's in Far North Qld - climate is great for them. I find they last ages in the shower! I've had one for about 4 years! They also are the best scourers for the kitchen.

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  35. Well there you go! I officially learned something new today. I had no idea where loofahs came from. Thanks!

    Jodi

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  36. Rhonda, The last time I was here you inspired me to try growing loofahs. A friend and I are trying to get our families 'back-to-the-basics' including growing our own foods, making gifts, etc. I just received my loofah seeds and can't wait to get started. My girls (10 & 8) are excited about them too. My friend wants the first one and my husband is hoping we'll harvest enough to have for gifts and to make a few dollars on top of it. Oh, and I plan to try the laundry soap too. Thanks for the inspiration! Kate (Upstate New York, USA)

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  37. Can you tell me how tall the loofa plants grow to be?

    Wonderful blogsite, btw! Thank you!

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  38. Hi Rhonda
    I grew luffas for the first time this year and have had six good size luffas. The base for the vine looks dead but the end has shot off and is producing babies and flowers. Do I pull it out and start another vine, Has about 30 fruit on it.
    Jos

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  39. I've just purchased my first Luffa Seeds, I can't wait to give them a go!

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