Yep, that Loofah in Your Shower is a PLANT

I have to say, this was a huge shock to me. I had no idea the brown loofah from the store actually came from a plant. I thought it was engineered in a factory like everything else. Granted, the hot pink plastic ones are factory-made, but not the natural ones!

Luffa was my "grow something for fun" plant in 2019. I was really curious about this process and couldn't wait to begin. This was really a fun learning process. And aside from that- it was a success! Read more to see how this process went and why I'm adding it to my "grow every year" list.

This is a really fun plant to grow. It needs full sun and thrives in the heat. It's a climber that produces beautiful bee-loving flowers all summer long!  




DEFINITIONS:
Luffa: variant spelling of loofah. When you order seeds they will most likely be spelled "luffa." 

Loofah: 1. the fibrous interior of a fruit that resembles a marrow, dried and used as a sponge for washing the body.
              2. the tropical Old World climbing plant of the gourd family that produces loofahs, which are also edible.


First off- you need to decide on a location. Luffa is a climber so the plant needs to spread out on a trellis or a fence. It also needs plenty of sunshine. I hemmed and hawed about 'where' to put it for longer than I should have.

By the time I had settled on this, seeds from my main sources were out of stock. I was able to buy some seeds on Amazon though. (You can now buy seeds from my etsy shop.)

I started the seeds in seed starting soil and let them get a few inches while I kept deciding on where to put them.

Like I mentioned before, it took me awhile before I figured out where to put my plants. I chose a sunny spot against our fence. I'm not sure why that decision took so long. It's part of the cucumber family so I planted it on the opposite side of the cucumbers (that were in the straw bale garden.) That way they could trellis together. Since they are in the same family, I wasn't afraid of cross pollination. (I'm not sure if that affects loofah but I didn't want to risk it.) 

I added the small plants to my clay heavy ground with a heaping hand of compost and mulch in the hole. I mulched all around the plants as well.

And then they started growing, and growing, and growing. The bottom of the plant doesn't look like much.


But this thing spread like crazy! It likes to climb so make sure to give it space to.


Unfortunately I didn't make note of the first day I saw flowers. To be honest I may not have even noticed as the cucumbers were growing all around and their flowers are smaller but similar.


One day I noticed my first luffa! I was SO excited.


From that point, I knew I needed more. I wasn't sure if the flowers were getting pollinated so I did some research and figured out which were male and which were female. I then watched a youtube video on hand pollinating and from then on, if I saw a female flower in bloom, I hand pollinated it with a male flower.



How do you hand pollinate? You find your female, she will have her fruit behind the flower.
Then you locate your male.... they are easier as there are lots of them. They have a cluster of buds.


You pinch off a male flower and match it up to the female and while it sounds a little provocative, you rub it all around. Get that pollen in there! Be careful that you don't break off any pieces, but rub that pollen all around.



Once I do that I just toss the male flower on the ground. His job is done. 😀

One thing to note that if you don't hand pollinate, that's ok. In fact. nature will take care of it with bees. Bees LOVE these flowers.

At first I wasn't sure if the bees were around enough but after I found the growing plants I realized they were present. I only hand pollinate because I want to ensure pollination.

Once she's pollinated, you will notice her flower wilt and she will close up shop. Kind of like in real like, eh? (hehe)


Now your loofah will start growing! This will be a longer process and all that's required of you is to sit back and keep it watered.  They will get large, the dark green and you will be able to feel the hardness/toughness of the fruit. (These are edible when they are smaller than 6-8 inches, but I had no desire to eat them so I can't tell you how they taste.) 

One thing with this plant is to have to be patient. They are very slow. They are slow to vine, they are slow to get large fruit and they are slow to turn brown.

They are incredibly easy and nearly care-free- but you have to have a lot of patience.


Ok- let's talk for a minute about the not so pretty part- BUGS. Ugh. I hate garden bugs, don't we all? The luffa is actually a part of the cucumber family, it's a cucurbit. Which means it's susceptible to the same pests. The only one I found to be a problem was the lady squash beetles. They look like a beneficial lady bug, but they are not. They are leaf-wilting squash lady beetles. And they will damage your plants.


Now, I will admit as frustrating as these are, I didn't notice they did any 'major' damage to my actual luffa. They just damaged the leaves. But you need to keep an eye on them. Anytime I see one of these I go ahead and squash it. It used to freak me out but there's a breaking point with gardening and now I can pinch any of these pests with my bare hands. If you are queasy, don a pair of gardening gloves. I'm convinced gloves give me magical powers.

Another option is to knock them into a cup of soapy water. Whichever you are most comfortable with. But get them off as soon as you see one so they don't get out of control. If you are a little more nervous about them, you can google other options. But in my experience, squishing them seems to keep them somewhat contained.

OK, back to the fun part.....

You will know they are ready for harvest when they turn yellow and brown. You can pick/cut them from the vine when they are brown. This ensures everything is finished on the inside.


To harvest you pop a hole in the bottom (you can do this with your fingers, the skin will be quite brittle.) Then shake out the seeds into a bowl. Try to get all you can out of it. It'll take a couple of shakes. You can then easily peel the brown skin off.

You can see a video of this process in my Instagram highlights.

Ahhh! Your loofah!

Give it a good rinse. From here you can do a variety of things:
1. Let it dry out naturally either in the sun or in a dry spot.

2. Let it sit in diluted beach water for a bit and then let it dry out. Most people do the beach water thing because it helps turn the loofah that light brown color. It also helps kill any mold or whatever spores that could be lurking.

Once done, using a knife (I found a serrated one to work best) cut into smaller pieces and do what you want. Give as gifts, keep for yourself, the choice is yours!


Oh yeah- What to do with the SEEDS.
Well, dry them out and keep them for next year of course! One loofah will yield tons of seeds so give some away as well. Spread the loofah love!


This really is a fun plant to grow. If you have success with yours, let me know! I'd love to see how this plant is taking over!

Remember you can buy seeds from my shop! :)








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