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8 November 2011

Growing and harvesting loofahs


You often see loofahs being sold in shops; in Australia they're sold at the Chemist. People see them and know they're sponges but often they're mistaken for sea sponges. Of course there are beautiful sea sponges but loofahs are plant sponges and we grow them in our backyard.

I discovered something new about loofahs this year and last. If you don't pull out the vines when you harvest your summer crop, they'll rest over winter, then start producing flowers and loofahs again the following year. At least they do that here in the subtropics. We planted the loofahs late last year - they went in during November, flowered soon after, produced loofahs in March/April, were harvested in August and we left the vines in.  They're flowering again now on very healthy lush vines.

This was taken yesterday. There are about six loofahs growing now.

Loofahs are a member of the vine family of cucurbits, such as pumpkins, squash and zucchini. If you want to grow them, you'll need a warm climate, a large study trellis and about 110 days of warm-hot growing days. They grow well from seeds harvested the previous year so when you pick your loofahs, choose your best ones to collect seeds from.

Loofahs are pollinated by bees but you often see ants on the flowers and vines. They're attracted to the plants and don't usually cause any harm. Plant into rich soil, water in with seaweed tea but don't over-fertilise with nitrogen. A sprinkling of sulphate of potash when planting and another sprinkling when the first flowers appear will keep them producing flowers and fruit. They need to be kept fairly well watered but once the loofahs have grown, you don't want a lot of rain because that will start mould growing in them. The young shoots are suitable for stir frying and the young fruit can be cooked like zucchini but they become hard and fibrous quickly and are then unsuitable for eating but great for washing yourself.


When the flowers turn into fruit and grow, wait until they go brown and start drying out. They can dry out completely on the vine but if you have a prolonged period of rain forecast it's best to pick them brown and not completely dry and leave them in a sheltered position to dry out completely.  When the skin is dry and brittle, you can crack them open, shake the seeds out, remove all the outer skin and soak them in a bucket of water to which you've added about quarter a cup of peroxide or a tablespoon of bleach. That will clean them up nicely and kill of any mould spores they might be hiding.

So these are the loofahs we picked in August. They'd been on the vine far too long so some of them were full of mould and had to be thrown on the compost.  The rest are fine and will keep us in loofahs for the year.



And these are the vines: above is the vine when I picked the loofahs in August, below is the same vine yesterday afternoon.

If you live in a warm climate, loofahs make a great addition to a sustainable and productive backyard. They're multi-purpose, so would make a good choice for a permaculture garden, and they're easy to grow. One crop will keep you in loofahs for the year and they also make a lovely gift with a cake of homemade soap.


23 comments:

  1. Wow, I feel so naiive...I had no idea that loofahs grew on trees! Thankyou for enlightening me! That is so interesting.

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  2. I wonder if loofahs would make a good substitute for unhygienic kitchen sponges?

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  3. I think I tried these once and not very successfully. We lived up in Northumberland in England and the weather was not right for them. However if I can get some seeds I might try them again here is Crete.

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  4. I was one of those people that thought they were like sea sponges until i read one of your posts a while back! Very sturdy trellis you have there Rhonda...good tip re the mould, i wouldn't have thought of that.
    Is the best time to plant them now? I don't think i have seen seeds anywhere unfortunately.Am sure the twins would love playing with them if we can get them to grow!
    Jode x

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  5. Tricia Rose, you can use them in the kitchen. They're often cut into thick discs and have soap poured in to set. They won't replace an absorbent dishcloth or sponge though. Loofahs are not that absorbent. However they're very good as a soft scrubber for pans and dishes you don't want to scratch.

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  6. That is cool. I had no clue that loofahs were from a plant. Great post!

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  7. I tried growing loofahs for the first time this year (you inspired me!). Final tally: 1.5 good loofahs, three that were so rotted inside for some reason I had to throw them out (not sure what went wrong, it's almost like the inside never dried out properly), and one still drying, so the jury's still out on that one. We got a lot of seeds from the good one, though, so we'll replant next year and try again.

    Helena

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  8. Helena, it sounds like you had a lot of rain when they were drying out. The same thing happened to some of mine. When they're a good size and have gone brown, if you think there will be a lot of rain, pick the loofahs and let them dry in a sheltered place on your verandah.

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  9. I do like the idea of growing loofahs, they are great to exfoliate your skin, I like the way you can drizzle your homemade soap through them. I actually thought they grew on trees near the coast but if they're an easy to grow backyard vine then I might just give them a go. I'll add it to my seed list, probably for next year now! :)

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  10. What a great organic gift! Will have to try growing them.

    Would also love you to share about your yellow criss-cross apron. This is exactly what I would like to make for all the women in my family! Could you show us a photo of the front and back of your beautiful apron please?

    Thanks in advance,

    Julie

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  11. We can grow them here (cool climate) however they need to be started off early under cover/in a greenhouse so the plants are big enough to get a go along and grow whilst the summer is hot. Unfortunately though the frosts kill the vines here and they can't be kept in all year. I have also read that you can't plant loofahs near pumpkins and the like as if they are cross pollinated, the pumpkins and squash become more 'woody' and have no flavour - have you found this? I planted some last year but because we had a very mild summer here they didn't grow big enough. Mine weren't anywhere near as big as yours but good to see a pic of what they should look like! Thank for a great blog - a wealth of information!

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  12. I never knew the loofah was a vine plant. I wish I could grow them here in the NW United States - but we don't get enough hot weather in the summer. I love trying something different every year in my garden.

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  13. Holy Moly! Who knew? Well... obviously you knew, but I had NO idea that loofahs were a plant... or at least I thought they were a plant that grew in the ocean. I am totally flabbergasted! Thanks for the info!

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  14. Thank you so much for the comprehensive explanation of everything from start to finish. I know you have blogged about loofahs before and appreciate it. I want to thank you too for having a Search on your right side bar for searching your blog. I have used it to find information many times and it is sooo wonderful! I wish more bloggers would have this tool for searching their own blog. I bought loofah seed and I Will give it a try!! :) Sarah

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  15. Have you tried eating them Rhonda? I can recommend them in a stir fry. The ones I used were about the size of a continental cucumber and I sliced them into rounds. They release quite a bit of juice which really flavours the stir fry and would be good in a stew I think.

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  16. I tried growing loofahs years ago and failed miserably. But now that I know how Good they can be I'm up for the challenge again I think? Would it be too late to plant them now? - similar climate to yours...now to find some seeds...

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  17. Thanks for sharing that info. I tried to grow them last season, had only one plant which had a lot of flowers but no fruit. Will try again this year hopefully I'm not too late.

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  18. Hi Rhonda, thanks for the great pictures. I've got some luffah seedlings started and wasn't sure just how big they would get. I was keen to give them a go after reading about them last year. I think I might need to rethink where I put them after seeing the strong trellis you're using. Thanks for the great info.

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  19. Hi Rhonda, I live in Darwin. The wet season has come upon us. Is this the time to grow them so they can dry in the dry season. Or do I need to wait for "ANZAC DAY" to plant? That's the time we put in tomatoes and cucumbers.

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  20. frugal, I think you'd have to be concerned about the humidity there. I've never grown anything in a climate like Darwin's but I think they'd be better when you planted your cucumbers - they're in the same family.

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  21. I'm thinking of growing these next year -- I think they should do well here in Northern California. We grew some acorn squash on a trellis which worked out fabulously, so I'm thinking the same approach should work for these. Thanks so much for all the great information!

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