Monday, January 4, 2010

Life of a Loofah

In the fall of 2008 I read about growing loofah, or luffa gourds. That sounded like a neat garden experiment that might even produce some home-grown gifts. So I started planning for spring. Here's what happened:

In March, I started seeds of Luffa cylindrica indoors. Here are the seedlings April 25th, just before I planted them out.

I hung some trellis netting from the garage roof for the vines to climb. Thanks to a very cold and wet spring of 2009, the luffa didn't do much for a while. Two months later, the plants were barely taller than my little Easter lilies:

The stunted growth would be important later. Things warmed up in July, and the vines finally started climbing.(apologies for the bad picture, I had to do some serious cropping) Looks like they also needed water!

At the end of July, I finally had a flower. One flower, and it was male. It would be another few weeks before I saw a female flower. Would there be time for the slow-growing luffa fruit to develop?

Out of four luffa plants, I got 8 luffa gourds. Here are some on the vines at the end of October. Not ripe yet:

I'd hoped the long fall without a frost would extend the growing season enough to make up for the slow start in the spring. But I think it was too cold, and the gourds never did ripen. I finally harvested the first one in mid-November and the rest over the following month. Here's my first luffa:

Now, what to do with it? In order to turn this zucchini-looking gourd into something useful, it must be peeled, washed, and dried.

Peeling the luffa:

Hanging up to dry after washing with a hose:

Look at those nice fibers! Not too bad for one that wasn't ripe yet.

Now what to do with it? The basic luffa can be cut into sections and strung on a rope for use in the shower. I opened up several of the luffas and removed the inner fibrous core so I would have some flat material to work with. I also extracted all those pesky seeds that didn't come out whith the washing. If the luffa had been ripe, the seeds would have been black, and I'd be able to save them for next year. But that was not to be with my luffas - I was left with white, unviable seeds.

I folded over the flat luffa pieces and sewed around the edges to make scrubby cloths for the shower. I put some of the small luffa pieces in decorative soaps. Some of the inner cores I shredded and added to soaps for some extra exfoliation, and the remaining cores I sewed into coils for use as kitchen scrubbies. Xmas gifts for the whole family! Here are some examples of the finished products:

This was a fun year-long project, but I probably won't grow luffa again next year. Cleaning and preparing the luffa was a lot more work than I expected, and had to be done at the wrong time of the year. I'd planned to make the gifts in October, but because I was waiting for the luffa to never ripen, I was still processing these things on Christmas Eve! And while one luffa Xmas was a fun novelty, I think my family would appreciate some variety in their gifts next year.
Any suggestions for a garden experiment for 2010?


  1. You did a great job making them into gifts. It does sound like a lot of work. At least you have the photos is you're not going to repeat the process.

  2. Thanks, GonSS. The main reason I probably won't plant them again is that they didn't have enough time to mature here in z7. I think preparing the luffas would have been much easier if they had been ripe.

    Of course, it has been so hot so early this year they might have done just fine. Oh well, I have pole beans in that spot now.