Loofa, Lufa, sponges First time growing them HELP

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I am growing loofa sponges for the first time. I am having a hard time finding information on how to grow them, keep them, dry them. I live in Richmond, VA. I started the seeds in June and they have grown to my second porch. I have one big loofa the size of my forarm (looks like a zucchini) and I think I have about 10 one the size of my pinky finger. My problems are -- My leaves at the bottom of the vines are turning yellow and drying up--why?? ----- How big should the loofas be before I cut them off the vine,before what point???---- how do I dry them with out rotting them?? and anything else that i should know...thank you

-- Cindy (cindyblanchard@hotmail.com), September 06, 2001


Aren't they fun to grow? The vine gets so huge! Don't worry about the leaves getting yellow. Allow the luffas to stay on the vine until the plant dies and allow them to dry on the vine. When they dry, the skin will pull away from the pulp and it will be easy to pull off the skin. Run them through running water to remove the seeds. I have run them through the washing machine with a little bleach to whiten them. This also removes the seeds which you can then remove from the machine. Let them dry after washing and cut them to the size you want.

-- Mary in East TN (barnwood@preferred.com), September 06, 2001.

Cindy, I grew loofa sponges a couple years ago. I still have several. Your vines are seasonal and have probably reached the end of their growing season. Let them dry on the vine. The skin will get hard and brittle. If I remember right I then soaked them and peeled off the skin. Then soaked the loofa in breach water I think they can colored after rinsing. Let dry. They make great dishrags or complexion scrubbers. Linda

-- Linda (awesomegodchristianministries@yahoo.com), September 06, 2001.

One of Janice Cox's books on natural cosmetics has info on growing and drying the loofahs. I think it was the second one. You should be able to see which book it is at a larger bookstore like Borders or Barnes and Noble.

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), September 06, 2001.

Cindy, Luffas require the same cultivation practices as grapes. Specifically the vitis labrusca varities such as the Niagara and concord. I find the best practice is to let them grow up any tree. They will grow beyond your reach if you have a long enough growing season, but to go out into the garden during the winter and listen to the rustle of the luffas being blown by the wind is enough to stir the mind and heart of anyone. If they are allowed to grow in this manner, they will dry naturally on the vine and during the winter a small circular piece of the luffa will fall from the end and allow the seeds to be scattered by the wind to become new luffa plants next year. And last but very important, use mulch to keep their roots cool during the growing season. Remember, their culture is that of a grape such as the afore mentioned La Brusca or the muscadine which is native to your area.

-- Jesse Van Winkle (jvanwin@worldnet.att.net), September 06, 2001.

OK. Im sold. Im gonna have to plant these next year!

-- Ann Markson (tngreenacres@hotmail.com), September 06, 2001.

Luffa sponge is actually a type of squash, not okra as some folks assume. I have been trying to discover more on it, however the data appears to be quite limited. I have a hunch it may be a type of okra/squash hybrid from times gone by. We pick ours at about eight to ten inches in length and dehydrate it. it aquires a slightly sweet taste when dehydrated and reconstituted, I use it in cassaroles as I would squash slices. For seed for next year, we have six pods going in excess of 3 feet long. We planted ours on a eight foot diameter fence wire ring (which now resembles a giant bush). It bloomed a total of three times this season before bearing any pods (I was told this was normal). Since it started bearing , I have dehydrated 12 one gallon storage bags. The man I got our seeds from called it "climbing okra" and let it run up a guywire on his security light. When the pods reached about 10 inch long and 2 inch diameter, the weight brought it down the line and he picked it. Without the pod weight it went right back up the wire. What a way to tell when it's harvest time :>) BTW when picked and processed at that length, they are very tender and succulent and no seeds. If you look in the older threads, you will see where I was in the dark on this also and the folks here gave me info on em. It's now going to be one of our staples. Hope this helps you with your crop.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (jayblair678@yahoo.com), September 06, 2001.

Wow, I learned something new here today. You can EAT a loofa. Hmmmmm...and I always thought they came (miraculously) from the sea like the sea sponges. Squash? Okra? Looks more like shredded wheat to me - LOL! Wonder what a little milk and sugar would do.

-- Greenthumbelina (sck8107@aol.com), September 07, 2001.

I live in Arizona and had about 46 lufas from 12"to 23" on about 6 plants. found how to grow them by typing " lufa growers" on yahoo search got lots of web pages that way. Also found i got better product when i picked them green and cleaned them under water to prvent them for browning when cleaning them. finished up with rince in bleach and water good luck try this site http://www1.sv.vccs.edu/pmoore/hobby1/PeggysLoofahPage.htm

-- (len1gun@hotmail.com), September 09, 2001.

Cindy: I'm like you a complete novice on lufa's, however my experience may help you a little. I live in Boynton Beach, Fl and had a few seeds send to me from a daughter who lives in the panhandle of Florida. I just put them in the Ground under one of our acre palms and believe it or not they germinated and I have a couple of plants. I had three gordes that were about 16" long. They started to get brown and I picked them too soon however with a little storage time in the AC they hardened up and the skin was easy to remove and a little shaking and the seeds came right loose and fell out. Now, I still have the original plant with varying size lufas on them. 4 to 8 inches but nice and full. just picked one today and it is full of seeds. The main stem of the plants are all ugly looking. brown, yellowish mushy colored but the upper leaves are green and full of small lufa's. On occation I spray them with a little 'peter' fertilizer and then forget about them until the lufa's appear. I call them berries. they are quite a novelty and from the 4 or 5 i have harvested, i got a couple of zip loc bags of seeds. getting ready to try again as down here they should grow the year around. I'll see. have fun

-- ernest sayles (saylee@bellsouth.net), October 11, 2001.

Wow, This is my first year growing loofas too... I just put them in the ground and they gave me wonderful HUGE vines growing on a chain link fence. I am amazed. I have an abundance of fruit, all sizes. My largest is about 2 feet long. I was surprised by the variety of uses. I just wanted to dry them for sponges but am going to try dehydrate some. There seem to be two schools of thought about sponge making. One is to leave them on the vine... the other to take the fruit off while they are still green. My vines are still growing and blooming, none of the fruit has turned brown. These are beautiful plants and I have found some great recipes online. Thanks for all the info.

-- Sharon Clark (rainwoman@prodigy.net), October 14, 2001.

Found the following information online to assist those of you who have never grown them...interesting info, I think:

Luffa Sponge Gourd Luffa sponges are the fibrous interiors of the fruits of the luffa sponge gourd plant (Luffa aegyptiaca Mill.). A tropical member of the Cucurbitaceae, the luffa sponge gourd plant is an annual vine with tendrils and large, cylindrical fruit that are edible when young. Most luffa cultigens are monoecious; male flowers develop in a cluster, whereas female flowers develop singly or in association with male flowers. The lower nodes of luffa usually bear only male flowers, followed by nodes having both male and female flowers, which are followed by solitary female flowers at the uppermost nodes. The mature, dry fruit consists of a hard shell surrounding a stiff, dense network of cellulose fibers, adapted for support and dispersal of hundreds of flat, smooth black seeds. Luffa is closely related to cucumber and modified cultural practices for trellised cucumber production can be used. One must keep in mind, however, that luffa is a tropical plant which requires a long growing season and warm temperatures.

Selecting Seeds and Producing Transplants

Presently, one of the most difficult aspects of entering into commercial luffa sponge gourd production is obtaining large volumes of high quality seed. Much of the luffa seed sold for home gardens produces small, low-quality sponges with weak fibers. Once you have produced luffa sponges of the quality you desire, save your own seed. Keep in mind that luffa gourds cross-pollinate easily. To maintain trueness-to-type year after year, do not grow different luffa cultigens within 1500 feet of each other. Luffa seed germination is often slow and sporadic. To obtain good plant stands, luffa gourds should be produced from transplants. Soak seed in warm water for 24 hours prior to seeding. Sow seeds, two to three per cell, in flats. Thin to one plant per cell after the first true leaves appear. Grow for four to six weeks in a greenhouse at about 65-70 oF. Luffa should be transplanted outdoors after all danger of frost is past.

Site Selection and Fertilization

Luffa gourds require a well-drained soil in a location where they will have full sun and good air circulation. Conduct a soil test prior to planting and follow lime and fertilizer recommendations for cucumbers. Two or three times during the growing season add 20-25 pounds nitrogen per acre as a side-dress or through the drip- irrigation system.

Planting and Trellising

To speed growth in the spring in cooler climates, luffa gourds should be grown on raised beds with black polyethylene mulch. Irrigation is required with drip-irrigation being the preferred method. Luffa sponge gourds benefit greatly from being grown on a trellis system. If luffa gourds contact the ground, fruit rot, discolored sponges, and misshaped gourds are usually the result. A vertical trellis, similar in design to ones used for trellised cucumbers and pole beans, is most commonly used. It must, however, be VERY STURDY!!. To support the weight of mature gourds, 4" x 4" posts set ten feet apart are recommended. The top horizontal support should be a heavy gauge wire or cable. Several other wires can be run horizontally between the top wire and the ground. To help train the vines to the trellis, string can be run between the top and bottom wires in a V-pattern, as for pole beans, or a nylon mesh can be used. Space rows five or more feet apart to accommodate equipment. In-row spacing of 12-18 inches has produced the highest yields of marketable sponges. The plants need to be hand trained weekly until they reach the top wire. Try to keep all fruit off the ground and away from the trellis wires. Prune plants by removing the first four lateral shoots (from the soil line upwards). As for all cucurbits, luffa gourds need to be pollinated. Position one or two hives of bees per acre nearby when the plants are in full bloom to ensure adequate pollination.

Harvesting and Processing

In autumn, mature gourds will begin to turn brown and dry. Check plants frequently and remove any dried gourds. These will be brown, feel light and dry, and rattle with loose seeds when shaken. After the first killing frost, go through the field again and remove any more dried gourds. Remaining gourds can be allowed to continue drying in the field or be brought inside to dry in a warm, well-ventilated area. Do not let dried gourds hang in wet weather for any length of time or the sponges will discolor. Store dried gourds in a dry, well ventilated area on racks or screens or suspended in mesh bags. If gourds are mature when dried, the skins will be easy to remove from the sponges. Simply soak in warm water, from five to twenty minutes, until the sponges slip out of the skins. When the sponges are free from the skin and excess pulp, a 10% chlorine bleach solution can be used as the final rinse to lighten the sponges. Another harvesting/cleaning method that can be used, particularly in areas with a long growing season, is to remove mature gourds (dark green) when they first start to yellow and the skin begins to release from the sponge. When the gourd is gently squeezed, the skin should kind of 'pop' indicating that it is starting to loosen from the sponge. At this stage, the blossom end cap can be broken off, and a vascular bundle can be pulled up the side of the gourd like a zipper. The sponge will pop out and be very wet and white. Quickly rinse the sponge in water to prevent the plant juices from oxidizing on the sponge. Allow sponges to dry thoroughly on racks or suspended from hooks or lines. These sponges do not need to be soaked or bleached. Harvesting this way, however, does require that you check the plants every day or two as the gourds mature.

Seeds can be removed before or after the skins are removed. If the skins are intact, break the cap off the distal (bloom) end of the dried gourd and shake the gourd or beat two gourds together. Depending on the final intended use for the sponge, seed removal can be expedited by cutting the sponge perpendicular to the long axis (as for bath sponges) or along the long axis (to make mitts and pads). Save seeds from good sponges for the next growing season.


Luffa, or loofah gourds are also called dishcloth gourds or vegetable sponges. The name comes from luff, the Arabic word for this plant. Luffa gourds are grown primarily for their fibrous tissue skeleton which is commonly used as a bath or sauna sponge, but young fruits, less than 7" long, can be cooked and eaten as squash or substituted for cucumber in salads.

Leaves and vines resemble cucumber foliage, a clue that luffas are related to cucumbers, squash and other gourds. Fruits look a bit like overgrown zucchini or cucumbers, reaching a length of 2 feet. They remain green until they're thoroughly ripe.

Luffas are extremely vigorous growers; vines reach lengths of 15 feet or more! They make an excellent summer screen plant, as they will thoroughly cover every inch of fencing available to them. The plants flower and set fruit all season.

Luffa gourds require a season longer than Minnesota's to ripen fully, but they will reach full size. (The author so far has been unable to produce fully-ripened fruit in the Twin Cities/USDA zone 4, between May 10 and the first frost.)

If you wish to try growing luffa gourds, start seeds indoors several weeks before the desired transplant date. Seeds can take up to 2 weeks to sprout. Pre-soaking in warm water for 48 hours will speed germination.

Set transplants out as soon as the soil has warmed, probably the second half of May, then protect the plants from frost both spring and fall. Space transplants 12" apart.

Grow the luffas on a sturdy, tall trellis or a fence at least 5-6 feet high. Without a trellis, vines will quickly overrun the garden. Mulch mid-summer with compost or grass clippings, to help conserve moisture and control weeds.

When the gourds are ripe, their skin will dry and stems turn yellow. Full-size fruits which are still green produce soft, fine-textured sponges that don't last. Here are several techniques you can use to make a sponge, if you get some gourds that ripen: Let the ripe gourd dry for 2 weeks. When its skin has hardened and turned brown, open the larger end of the squash and shake out the seeds. Soak the gourd overnight in water, then peel off the skin. Let the gourd dry in the sun.

Another method is to soak the gourds in tepid water for several days until their skin comes off easily. Rinse out the interior of each gourd with water to remove seeds and pulp. Set cleaned gourds in the sun for a week or so to dry.

Some recommend boiling the squash in water for several minutes then zipping off the skin and cleaning as described above.

-- Karen Marie (wuvie@intellex.com), December 08, 2001.

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