Thursday, August 23, 2012

Growing Luffa ~ Loofah ~ Lufah

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The luffa, loofah, or lufah (from Arabic ليفة līfah) are tropical and subtropical vines comprising the genus Luffa, the only genus of the subtribe Luffinaeof the plant family Cucurbitaceae. The fruit of at least two species, Luffa acutangula and Luffa aegyptiaca (Luffa cylindrica), is grown, harvested before maturity, and eaten as a vegetable, popular in Asia and Africa.

The ripe, dried fruit is also the source of the loofah or plant sponge.
Luffa species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Hypercompe albicornis.

Parts of the plant are used to create bath or kitchen sponges, a natural jaundice remedy, furniture and even houses. The term is also used to describe synthetic bath tools that serve the same purpose.

 Growing luffa gourds for my first time this season I didn't think I would have much success with the slow start to our summer with temperatures in the 60's and 70's in June and the first half of July.... so here is my experience so far....

The Luffa vines are known to grow very large, up to 30 feet and since I don't have a large garden I wondered if I could contain the vine in a small space. I setup one of my medium cucumber trellises in bed 3 to support the vines giving me 4 feet of vertical and 3 feet of horizontal space to grow on.

The seedlings started out very slow as the roots developed but once they took hold and the weather started to warm the plant growth picked up. Since I had to control the size of the plant due to space constraints I wasn't sure the vine would produce many gourds. I'm happy to report I have six very healthy gourds ranging from 12 to 15 inches in length.

Below is a pictorial of my setup and the stages of growth so far.

Luffa vine sharing the trellis with a unknown melon that taste like a cantaloupe. At this point in the growth I have not yet trimmed back the vines.
June 21, 2012 

Male flowers.
Each stem has a cluster of buds with one
flower blooming at a time.
June 21, 2012

In this photo you can see the buds as this bloom starts to fade. These flowers are to bees and wasps as catnip is to cats. It is amazing to see so many pollinators on this plant.
June 28, 2012

First gourd as of June 28th

Female flower just starting to open on June 28th.
I never let the vines get much longer than this. Keeping the tips trimmed off knowing this would limit how many gourds the vines would produce.  Since this was an experiment I was OK with six gourds this time around. Also if you click on the photo to enlarge you can see the unknown melon.
Aug 4, 2012

Male flower
Aug 5 2012

Bed 3
Aug 13, 2012

Luffa gourds as of Aug 17th

Aug 17, 2012
These will be harvested once the gourds start to dry or once the skin pulls away easily from the gourd exposing the fibers we know as the luffa sponge. I will post again once I have gone through the harvesting process.