|The luffa has many names,
both common and scientific. It is known as luffa sponge, loofa,
loofah, sponge gourd, and many other common names. Also known
as Luffa cylindrica, Luffa aegyptiaca, or aegyptica. We have
been growing and enjoying our natural luffa sponges for many years
here in Due Canali Farm.
FOR LUFFA SPONGES
|These natural sponge wonders
of the vegetable world have many uses. They'll make your skin
squeaky clean or shine up your dirty dishes. The luffa fruits
are soft and edible when young and can be cooked and eaten like
squash or okra. When mature, the fruits become a tough
mass of fiber that makes a great sponge. The leaves and vines
should not be eaten. When crushed, they produce a noxious
smell that seems to repel insects, animals, and even other plants.
Luffa are most excellent in the bath or shower.
The exfoliating action leaves your skin feeling the cleanest and
tightest it could possibly be. Having someone scrub your
back with a luffa sponge is an incredibly pleasurable experience.
Home soap makers can include slices of luffa in their creations
to add an extra cleaning boost to their soaps. A sponge
on a handle or rope makes a great back scratcher. They can
be cut into many shapes for scrubbing pads, bath mats, and other
craft items. Cut the sponges lengthwise and remove the core
to make sheets of sponge material.
Luffa sponges are great for washing items like
TupperwareÂ®. We use them for cleaning
almost everything, including cars, boats, plastic buckets, and
anything that needs scrubbed but can't withstand steel wool.
Non stick cookware is one example.
Most of our sponges end up as gifts
for family and friends. People tend to find them very interesting
AND MAINTENANCE OF LUFFA SPONGES
|Luffa sponges will last
a surprisingly long time if they are allowed to dry between uses,
usually a few months. When they stay wet all the time they
tend to deteriorate more.
Most commercial sponges are a light color from
being bleached. Natural mature sponges can be any shade
of brown to white in color. If you want to lighten sponges,
then soak them in a weak chlorine bleach solution for about an
hour or so. Commercial growers often use a hydrogen peroxide
solution. Bleaching them for too long can significantly
weaken the fibers. Bleached sponges look better for commerce.
They are also cleaner and less likely to contain insects or other
organic matter. Slightly green and/or stained ones can benefit
from bleaching. Most sponges are fine in their natural state,
without bleaching. Exposure to sunlight can also lighten
the color some but not as dramatically as bleach.
A LITTLE ABOUT LUFFA VARIETIES
|Most garden varieties of luffa are less
dense and more flexible than the large white chunks of commercial
sponges. The commercial luffa is bred for size and strength.
Most are also grown in a warm climate and have the benefit of a
long growing season. Harder dense sponge would be better for
things that require strength. A less dense sponge is more
flexible and good for making things like luffa soap. The thickness
and number of the individual fibers can vary greatly among sponges.
A hard or soft sponge can have thin or thick fibers. Usually
the more fiber the stiffer the sponge. There are also varieties
that are grown primarily for eating and these tend to produce weaker
fiber. Luffa cross pollinate easily so it might be difficult
to grow different varieties together. Whatever characteristics
the luffa have, they can be altered somewhat by careful selection
of the seeds. The plants do seem to have a lot of natural
variability among different plants grown from the same sponge and
even between sponges grown on the same vine.
We started with a typical garden variety and kept saving our
best seeds. Over time, the quality and quantity of our sponges
improved significantly. We saved seeds from the earliest
large sponges with good fiber. After a few seasons, they
were arriving sooner and larger. Recently we had a sponge
that all the seeds fell out of easily so those seeds became part
of the genetic mix. It has been our limited experience that
the denser varieties have been harder to grow in our particular
Luffa can grow arrow straight, slightly curved, or very curved.
Seeds from straight ones tend to grow more straight ones, but
a few curved ones usually appear. The curved ones make good
back scratchers in the shower. When small, the fruits are
very flexible and will conform to whatever shape they are against.
This can result in some very unusual shapes. Sponges can
also be much wider on one end, usually the bottom.
OWN LUFFA SPONGES
|Growing your own sponges is fun and rewarding.
Once they get established, the plants are quite vigorous.
They grow on vines that can reach 30 feet or more in length.
A strong supporting trellis is a must. Chain link fence works
great. Lattice will also work well. Luffa will survive
in partial shade but tend to produce more in full sun. In
a very hot dry climate they may do better with some shade as they
tend to wilt if it gets too dry. Yearly rainfall here is typically
40 to 50 inches (102-127 cm). After the roots have developed,
our vines don't usually need to be watered. If the leaves
are wilting noticeably, then they may need additional water.
These plants are tropical in origin, believed to have originated
in southern Asia. They need a long growing season.
Starting the plants indoors may be necessary for cooler climates.
We live around 37 degrees north latitude and the outdoor season
is barely long enough to produce mature sponges planted outside
from seed. Starting them indoors and moving them outside
after the last frost gives the best chances for success in our
area. Germination rates may be slightly lower for outside
plantings. Putting the seeds in a moist environment before
planting helps increase germination rates. There can be
a lot of variability in the time needed for germination.
It could be 3 days or up to 3 weeks! Typically it is around
a week. The time it takes for luffa growth, flowering, and
maturity can vary widely between plants. It usually requires
around 130 days or more, but it could be anywhere from 110 to
The small seedlings grow very slowly while the roots become established.
Once they are about 6 inches tall the increase in growth rate
is phenomenal. After about 3 months of growing, the flower
clusters appear. The flowers bloom in an orderly progression,
one at a time. When the vines are blooming, the bright yellow
flowers attract many pollen gathering creatures. Bumblebees
absolutely love them. Ants enjoy cruising all over the vines.
Some flowers will wilt and fall off while the lucky ones will
form a luffa sponge. The flowers are quite pretty and abundant.
When the flowers produce, slender cucumber-like vegetables appear.
The vines continue to grow and produce fruit until the sponges
begin to mature. They can be harvested whenever they feel
ready. Typically they turn a yellow/brown color and become
lighter in weight from drying out. Mature luffa sponges
can be any color from green to nearly black. Very small
sponges can be mature and very large ones may not be ready.
Size and color doesn't matter much. The important thing
is that they start to dry and lose weight. Time to maturity
varies considerably as our sponges are picked from early September
to late November. Many of our sponges are harvested after
a frost occurs and the vines quickly die off. The more mature
they are, the better the sponge fiber quality. Some smaller
ones may mature more quickly, yielding a small soft sponge, good
for washing delicate skin.
PREPARING LUFFA SPONGES
|If the vines die before the sponges are
ready for peeling, they can be hung in a dry place to cure before
peeling. If the weather is dry, then cutting the vines to
stop the flow of sap and letting the sponges hang may work.
Hanging them in a dry place is the best way to get them dry.
Generally if the sponges are good they will dry enough to peel.
If they are really immature they may rot no matter what you do.
Peeling green luffa is difficult but can be done if needed. When
the sponges are ready for harvest they can be peeled. If they
have matured they are usually easy to get open. Soaking in
water will help the opening process. After peeling, high water
pressure from a hose sprayer can remove much of any remaining green
and brown coloration. Wash them with soap and water, lay out
to dry, rotating occasionally, as the water settles in the lower
side. Placing them in sun and wind outside dries them quickly.
The sun tends to lighten them some.
If they are stained, a soak in some bleach and water will lighten
them considerably. A wet harvest season tends to cause more
rot and brown spots in the sponges. An unusually dry fall
in one particular year yielded sponges that were very light in
color, an almost fluorescent white. Getting all the seeds
out can be a challenge, but the drier the sponges are, the easier
the seeds will fall out. Save the best ones for next year.
You can also cut open the sponges in any shape you want to remove