Loofahs are an interesting and fun crop, learn how to grow loofah with this simple guide.
Learning how to grow loofah will leave you with enough sponges to last you the rest of your life – and you can share them with friends and family too!
Loofahs are surprisingly versatile. We usually associate them with use in the bathroom for washing and exfoliating our skin. But many cultures eat loofah gourds when they are small, and they are a brilliant, sustainable alternative to plastic scrubbing brushes. They can also be ‘blended’ and mixed into a facial scrub.
The intricate and delicate-looking structures of loofah often lead people to believe they come from the sea, like coral. But they are actually a type of gourd that grows on a vine and are entirely made of plants.
HOW TO GROW LOOFAH
Many people try and fail to grow loofah. They can be tricky to germinate, and getting them past the flowering stage, particularly in the UK can be a difficult task. So learning a few key tricks about how to grow loofah will get you underway.
The first – and most important – is that they need a lot of space and a lot of warmth. If you live in a temperate climate, you will need somewhere indoors to grow them; either a polytunnel, greenhouse or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous a conservatory. Just like tomatoes, the more warmth and light you can give them, the better your results will be.
HOW TO GROW LOOFAH FROM SEED
Loofahs need a long growing season. They are quite slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to a month. Under the right conditions, however, they can be persuaded to germinate faster. They are also quite slow growing early in the season, so sowing in mid-late February is usually advised.
Loofah seeds have a very tough seed coat, which is why they take a long time to germinate. To help the seed coat break down, and allow the root to escape and the leaves to burst out they need a lot of water. But not so much water that the root and shoots rot when they do come out.
The best way to do this is to allow the seeds to sit somewhere nice and warm, loosely wrapped in a wet paper towel for around 7 days. This will allow the seed coat to break down, and won’t allow for any rotting.
Once they have sat in a wet paper towel (I usually put mine on a plate on the windowsill and wet it every day) you can transfer them to a pot of compost, and plant them in the same way you would sow a courgette seed.
Alternatively, you can opt to file a small area of the seed coat, which helps water to get in. Watch the video below for more information on this method:
WHERE TO PLANT LOOFAH
Loofah plants get really big. They’re a vining plant and like to have support to grow up. Loofahs also have a large root system so they won’t enjoy growing in a pot unless you can provide them with one that is large enough. In my experience, you will have much more success if you are able to grow them directly into the ground.
As with most vines, you can assume that the root system is approximately the same size as the plant above the ground, so if you are growing in a pot that is too small, this may limit the size of the plant, and therefore its ability to set fruit.
Loofahs are tropical plants and therefore enjoy high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. So, plant your loofa in full sun in a greenhouse or polytunnel to give it the best chance.
A well-drained soil, rich in organic matter will be best for loofahs. Once they get going they are fast-growing, so they will need plenty of water and nutrients to be able to sustain this growth.
WHEN TO HARVEST LOOFAH
It is so exciting getting your first fruits on your loofah plant. They can grow surprisingly quickly on a mature plant, but they do take a while to reach maturity.
In some parts of the world, they eat the young fruits. They are known as bitter gourds. I cannot personally vouch for how they taste, but I think the clue is in the name!
If you are harvesting loofah to eat, make sure to harvest when they are small, no longer than a pencil.
If you’re wondering when to harvest loofah for sponges, you will need to be slightly more patient. They take around 2 – 3 months to be ready to harvest, although if you are worried about frost, it’s worth harvesting them before they are frost damaged. They will ripen at home, albeit not as well as on the vine.
Check out this video on growing loofahs:
IS MY LOOFAH READY TO HARVEST?
There are a few ways to tell if your loofah is ready to harvest. The first is by feeling the weight of the fruit. Developing fruits will be very heavy and full of juice. As they start to become ready to harvest, this moisture will be reabsorbed back into the plant and the fruit will start to feel light. It’s a good idea to start acquainting yourself with how they feel early in the season.
The other clue that your loofah is ready to harvest is that it becomes slightly soft at the top and bottom. When you press in with your thumb you should be able to create an indentation. The mature fruits have a very thick, skin, like dried-out leather, so you may find that the skin breaks slightly, or bounces back out. This is the perfect time to harvest.
Finally, the colour will start to change on a mature fruit. Loofahs will be bright green for most of the growing season, but as they ripen they become slightly yellow and may start to develop brown patches.
If you notice a large brown patch, like rot on your loofah, harvest and process it right away before this rot affects the inside structure. If the loofah is too small to process, it will need to be discarded so the rot doesn’t spread to other fruits.
HOW TO PROCESS LOOFAHS
Congratulations on growing your first loofah! It is so exciting, and the long period of anticipation has probably left you wondering what to do once your loofah is ready.
Processing Loofahs is surprisingly easy but can get a little messy. So, roll up your sleeves and let’s get stuck in!
You will need:
- A sharp knife
- A washing-up bowl of warm water
- 2 chopsticks
- A tall glass or jar
You will not need to bleach or treat your loofah with anything other than water.
All you need to do is cut from the top of your loofah to the bottom, in one long line, making sure not to press too hard. You only want to go through the skin, not the sponge.
Once you have done this you can gently peel the skin off. If your loofah was perfectly ripe when you harvested it, you will find that the skin comes off very easily. If it was slightly under-ripe it may come off in chunks, and if it was over-ripe it might be a little hard and tough to get off.
WASHING YOUR LOOFAHS
The next step is to wash it. Lower your skinless loofah into a washing-up bowl and squeeze it inside the water. Keep doing this along the whole length of the fruit. Pick out any bits of flesh still left on (a fully ripe loofah will not have this, so use this as a guide to get used to when to harvest).
At first, your loofah may feel a little slimy, so keep washing it until it feels less slimy.
You will notice that a lot of seeds come out into the water, this is ok, and you can collect them using a sieve and save them for next year.
Next, remove the seeds. Squeeze the water out of your loofah sponge and then shake the rest of the seeds out. You may need to use a chopstick or something similar to ease out the last few seeds.
DRYING YOUR LOOFAHS
Finally, you will need to dry your loofah. For this, you will need to push your chopsticks through the sponge and wiggle them a little to avoid breaking the structure. Measure how deep your sponge sits inside the glass or jar you have chosen, and insert your chopsticks in a cross shape, around an inch below where the top of the jar would be. Then stand your loofah into the jar. The chopsticks should keep it suspended about an inch from the bottom, allowing some space for water to drain out.
Leave your loofah to dry for a week or so, and then you’re ready to go! You can either tie a string to the end, using a chopstick to poke it through and create a hanging sponge, or you can chop it into segments of a few inches and use it as cleaning sponges.
Check out this video for more information on how to process loofahs:
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