Gardening with Laurie: Grow you own luffa
This week's article is a reply to a question from a young lady that wants to know how to grow organic vegetables. One vegetable that she's very eager to grow is luffa gourds. She wants them for eating and to make body and kitchen scrubbers. Yes, tender young luffas are edible, as are the seeds and leaves.
Luffa gourds are part of the cucumber and gourd family of vegetables. Luffa is commonly grown as a food crop in Africa and Asian countries. Here in the U.S., luffas are more commonly grown as an ornamental vine that grows large (18-24 inches long) cucumber-like fruits.
As with most vegetables, first find a sunny planting area that has good drainage. Next, you will work lots of organic compost and some organic fertilizer into the existing soil.
Luffa gourds are typically grown from seed. Soak your seeds in a diluted mixture of liquid seaweed for a day or two before planting them.
May is a good time to start luffa seeds in your garden or anywhere you have room for a fast-growing, large vine. An empty fence line or a sturdy trellis can grow luffas.
If grown in a vegetable garden, I would suggest using a trellis. Without a support the vine will sprawl all over the garden space. Luffas grow much better when up off the ground.
Plant two to three seeds on a mound with each mound about 6 feet apart. If grown for gourds, it can take eight to 12 weeks to fully ripen depending on the weather.
As the vines grow and produce fruits, foliar spray them once or twice a month with liquid seaweed. Your organic luffa fruits will usually be ready for eating within a couple of months or less.
Luffa fruits are ready for eating when they are about 5 to 7 inches long and resembles a cucumber. At this stage of growth, the fruit should not have formed the tough fibers yet. Left on the vine, these luffa fruits will begin to form a very tough fibrous mass inside their toughened skins.
Luffa gourds are ripe when their skins dry and start to loosen and their stems have turned yellow. Ripe gourds will also be lighter in weight as they lose their water content. Let the gourds dry for two to four weeks after harvesting.
When the gourd skin has hardened and turned brown, open the larger end of the gourd and shake out the seeds. Soak the gourd overnight in water and then peel off the skin.
Set skinned gourds in the sun for a week or two to dry. Now you have grown and processed your own natural organic body scrubbers. A bar of herbal soap and one of your luffa sponges make great gifts.
Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.
Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.