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 the flowers start, 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.  They'll probably attract ants too but generally, they aren't a problem.

Don't overwater.
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.

In Australia
In the UK


Plant hardiness zones for Australia
Hardiness zones - USA, UK

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