Grow your Own Loofah Sponge
The first thing that probably comes to mind when you hear the words “loofah sponge” is a mesh of rough, exfoliating bath scrub. But did you know that a loofah sponge is actually the dried exoskeleton of a vegetable? In fact, some people don’t even know what a loofah sponge is. They use what is known to be the fancy version – a round, soft net mesh that is wet and slathered with soap. Loofah or luffa/loofa is actually a sponge gourd that originates from the Cucurbitaceae family; it includes squash, watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin, and other kinds of melons and gourds. For the price of one loofah sponge at the supermarket, you can buy yourself a packet of seeds that will yield a year’s worth of homemade loofahs. And the best part? They’re vegan-friendly! How awesome is that? First, let us learn how to grow a loofah plant.
Choosing the Seeds:
Like every plant, loofahs have to grow from seeds so that’s where we must start. The first bit to understand is that there are two varieties of gourds that can be used as a loofah. Luffa aegyptiaca, more commonly known as ridged luffa, Chinese okra, or vegetable gourd, and L.acutangular, also known as Egyptian luffa, smooth luffa, or dishrag gourd, are both sold as loofahs. So don’t panic if you bought a packet of seeds and it turned out to be a different variety from the ones specified. Both can be pretty much used the same way. These two varieties grow at least twenty to thirty feet in length with annual vines that have pretty yellow flowers. However, an angled luffa has lengthwise ridges divided by deep groves; the smooth luffa fruit has shallow marks running along its length. Depending on the variety selected, the fruit can grow anywhere between eight to twenty-four inches in length when mature. Given a choice, the smooth luffa is a better option to be used as a sponge. If you’re in doubt, head online to seed companies that sell both cultivars.
Planting the Seeds:
It can take up to 150 to 200 warm days for a luffa seed to sprout, turn into a vine, flower, and produce a fruit that can then be harvested. For gardeners living in Zones 1 to 6, it is best to plant luffa seeds indoors, preferably in five to six-inch planters. It is advisable to keep them inside for four to six weeks until the last bit of spring frost is gone. Those living in Zones 7 or higher can plan the seeds directly outside in the soil or an outdoor planter once the weather starts turning warm around late spring. If you don’t have a backyard or garden, you may plant them in a planter and place it in a sunny spot on your balcony or terrace. Remember, the soil temperature has to be at least 70ᵒF or more to ensure proper germination. Do NOT force the seeds to grow in a colder temperature or they will rot.
Harvesting Luffa for Sponges:
Unless you’re planning to eat the loofah fruits, leave them on the vine until their green skins start turning yellow. Once they start turning brownish, it is a good sign. The ripe gourds will become lighter in weight and the outer skin will dry and start separating from the inside pulp. Check by gently shaking the vine – if they rattle, it means that they’re drying out. Remember that the longer a ripe luffa stays on the vine, the tougher its fibers will develop which will yield a better sponge. If they are harvested too early, the fibers will be thin and fragile and will crumble upon touch. Once the loofah is dry and the skin cracks when squeezed, they can be plucked from the vine, peeled, and stored in a cool place for use. If there is a threat of frost, harvest the most mature fruits first, peel as much skin as possible, and remove the seeds. If a particular loofah is being stubborn and won’t peel, soak it overnight. Then wash the sponge to remove all the sap, air dry, and store in a dry place.
Tips to Remember:
Cover your vines with organic mulch to keep weeds away.
If there is no rain or it’s too dry, water the plant well.
Germination might take up to two weeks. Have patience.
Before planting the seeds, soak them in water for a few days.
Place three to four seeds in a group, space them to about an inch apart, push them ¾ inches into the ground, and leave four to six feet of space between each group.
Disinfect your loofah regularly. Wash it well, and keep it completely dry.
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