Are you looking for a creative way to show young ones how plants grow, how bees pollinate flowers, how flowers are the starting point for vegetables to grow and that patience pays off? Growing Loofah is a great way to show how preparation, timing and setting schedules produces results. As budding gardeners, children build their confidence in trying something new. Growing loofah plants is an enjoyable and educational gardening and crafting project for any gardener looking to add hanging vines to their garden decor. After the first season of loofah growth, they will have plenty of seeds to share with friends and others.
What is Loofah?
Many people use loofah as a washing sponge or dishcloth and are surprised to learn that loofah (Luffa aegyptiaca and Luffa acutangular), does not come from the ocean but grows on a vine. Loofah, also spelled luffa, is a vegetable of the cucumber family. Loofah is an easy vegetable to grow and can be eaten in the young immature stage when it is about two to three inches long. The texture resembles that of a cross between okra and zucchini. It is wonderful in soups as it does act like a sponge in sopping up the liquid in your recipe. When grown to maturity, loofah has a very fibrous skeleton that when dried makes a wonderful bath scrub to lather your soap and exfoliate your skin.
Growing Luffa from Seed
Loofah grows best in southern tropical climates due to the long growing season. Loofah grows best in USA zones 6 or warmer. In zone 5 and lower, seeds must be started indoors to ensure sufficient growing time. If you start them in a pot, transplant outdoors after the last frost. This gourd can be a bit finicky about being moved and may not recover from transplant shock. Loofah takes up to 150 days to reach maturity after pollination. Depending on where you live, this may be the limiting factor of how successful you are with growing loofah.
Because loofah grows on a vine that can reach 25 feet in length, it will need space like a fence or trellis for support. Look around your property for somewhere to plant your seeds. Loofah plants love full sun and grows best in temperatures around 85 to 90 degrees. Loofah likes well-draining soil so an all-purpose plant mixture will do. Mulching helps to retain the soils moisture but be careful not to put mulch around the base of the plant as this can cause root rot. To get your seeds to sprout make a small cut in the side of the seed to allow moisture in as the protective coat on the luffa seed will slow the sprouting process.
You can plant 2-3 seeds in a mound and space your seed groupings apart by about 2 feet. Cover your seed groupings with 1 inch of soil. I grow my loofah on a trellis that overhangs my vegetable garden. By planting seeds at both ends of the trellis you provide shade for your herbs, spices, and delicate vegetables. Only water to keep the plant moist but not saturated. Well drained soil will help the roots grow and your vine to flourish.
1. Choose an area in your yard that has full sun.
2. Plant along a fence, trellis, or something to support the vine.
3. Cut into the edge of the seed to allow moisture in.
4. Plant your seed by covering in 1 inch of soil.
5. Water well
Once your plants start to sprout, watch for both the male and female yellow flowers that act to draw the bees, ants and insects to visit. This step is important for pollination of the female flower. In a short time, you will see small cucumber-like vegetable growing out of the female flowers on your vines. Both flowers are important. Male loofah flowers are on long stems, waving in the open air to invite bees to visit. The male flower will only last a few days and then pops off the vine. The female flower stays close to the stem and is a potent attractor for bees as it is full of pollen.
Loofah takes from 100 to 150 days to reach maturity. You will notice a change in weight of the loofah as the inside begins to dry out while on the vine. Another signal that the loofah has reached maturity is when the outside skin turns yellows and then brown. Depending on the climate zone you reside will determine whether your fruit matures on the vine or you finish drying by hanging indoors.
When the skin of your loofah turns yellow with brown spots you can cut it from the vine. Leave this loofah out in the sun for a day which will soften the skin making it easy to peel the skin off. What is left is the inside loofah skeleton that may still have some extra plant material in it. Fill a bucket with water and rinse your loofah to remove this extra stuff. Collect the whole seeds that are rinsed from the gourd and set aside to dry. You can leave your loofah on a clean table-top or hang it on the clothesline and allow the sun to naturally bleach your loofah. When it fully dries you can shake the remainder seeds out and share with friends and family. Children have creative minds and will find many different uses for their loofah like a new form for sponge painting, using it as a scrub in the tub, a back scratcher and more.