Growing Luffas for the Sponges

A long time ago, 2017 to be exact, a fellow seed saver sent me luffa seeds (Luffa aegyptiaca). Although I had been interested in growing luffa for a long time, for some reason I just never got to it. Then it occurred to me that if I don’t sow these seeds, they may no longer be viable.  This year, in April, I sowed the seeds indoors under lights, much like starting tomatoes. Despite being 5 years old, the seeds germinated quickly. I transferred the seedlings into larger containers and moved them outside in May. After they hardened off, I planted them in the ground in my garden in several places.  There are some plants by a low, wooden fence, several are draped over a metal A frame, and one is climbing up a trellis. Luffas are vines with grape-like leaves that need vertical support.

the weight of the luffa pulled it down to the ground but it is still growing

As members of the cucumber family, they are grown much like cucumbers – they need to trail up a structure, they need full sun, and they prefer plenty of soil moisture. However, unlike cucumbers, they do not seem to be as prone to diseases and pests. They are easier to grow and can be eaten if the fruit are young. I did not eat mine though, I grew mine for the sponges.

In the summer, they bloomed yellow flowers, about 3 inches wide. The bees loved them, which is good because you need the bees to pollinate the flowers in order to get the fruit. Like summer squash, there are male and female flowers. After pollination occurs, you will see little green fruit behind female flowers.

Luffas take 90 to 120 days to mature. As the summer progressed, they bloomed, they grew, and they did just fine in the garden. I could tell they did need constant soil moisture – when it was dry, I needed to water with a hose.

I have several long, green “fruit” now in November except one that turned brown.  It is interesting that despite several frosts, these fruits are still quite green although the vines are dying, and the foliage is unsightly. I also just spied several large green luffas in the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum. These are in the tree tops so another way to think of growing of luffas is to have them climb a tall plant such as a large shrub or small tree.

luffa vines draped over tree tops showing the grape like leaves on the left

Luffas should be picked when the skin is yellow or brown, the fruit is lighter in weight, and the fruit “gives” if you lightly squeeze it. Cut it off the vine with about 2 inches of vine. Let it dry further (bring inside the home where it is dryer and warmer than outside). Remove the skin and remove the seeds. If it hard to remove the skin, soak in warm water for about 20 minutes. Save the seeds for next year.

The interior part is not white like store-bought luffas. The natural color is tan and may look “dirty.” The store-bought ones are bleached. You can bleach your luffas if you want in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for about 20 to 30 minutes.

this one is ready to be harvested

Most people grow luffas for their interior fibrous structure. This structure is stiff when dry but softens and is flexible when wet. It makes an excellent scrubber for pots and barbeque grills, as well as for exfoliating the skin.

When you start to use your luffa often, like in the shower, make sure it is allowed to dry between showers so does not harbor bacteria or mold. Tie a string on one end and allow it to hang for air circulation outside of the shower stall.

They can be put in the dishwasher or boiled in water to clean them. If you think it is no longer useable you can put it in the compost pile.

I intend to use mine in the shower and for scrubbing pots, especially the terra cotta pots that get the white salts on them. Janice Cox’s book, Beautiful Luffa, has lots of interesting bath and beauty items to make with luffa as well as ways to use the leaves and vine juice.

I was able to harvest one so far and saved the seeds but look forward to picking the rest at the end of November or in December. This is a great plant to grow and would be a good plant for a children’s garden. Try growing luffas next year!

dry skin peels off easily and there are still more seeds inside that have to be removed

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