This post needs some explanation, unfortunately. A few weeks ago, I wrote about advertising to sell sponge seeds as an April Fool's Joke. Well, you know you have told a bad joke when no one gets it and you have to explain it. Such is the case with the "sponge seed" blog - no one got it - so now I have to go and make it worse by explaining it.
A lot of people are amazed that you can actually grow the popular Luffa Sponge in your own garden. You see the popular luffa sponge that you may have in your bath or shower, is actually a member of the gourd family, closely related to squash and cucumbers. The Luffa, as we know it, is native to South America and Southeast Asia where the long growing season allow the Luffas to proliferate.
Luffa seeds are shaped quite a bit like a pumpkin seed, and are normally a blackish gray color (see picture on the right). Most growers agree that is best to soak the seeds overnight before planting in a small peat cup. For best results, plant 3 seeds per peat cup – after the plants produce their first leaves, you should thin out the weaker plants and keep just one strong plant. Luffas require a long growing season, and are not tolerant of frost – so it is best to start them indoors in early spring – and transplant them when there is no longer a great of frost. These plants prefer full sun.
Luffa’s bloom virtually all summer with bright yellow flowers. As it turns out the Luffa plant, produces male and female flowers. The male flowers eventually fall off, but the female flowers remain attached to the gourd. Pretty exciting stuff, huh. By the way, when you plant your luffas outdoors, you’ll need a good trellis of some sort. If the gourds are allowed to lay directly on the ground they will become discolored and most people prefer a clean looking “sponge”. A chain link or wood fence can work just fine of you can use a couple of 4” inch square posts and string wire between them for the runners. In any case be sure your trellis is sturdy because the vines can grow over 20 feet long and the gourds themselves are heavy.
Here is a picture of an almost mature Luffa aegyptica also called Luffa cylindrical. These gourds require 4-5 months growing season, so here in East Texas we could expect to harvest in the August / September time frame. These members of the gourd family grow fast (as much as 1 -2 inches per day) and a single plant may produce as many as 25 luffa gourds. Agriculture experts have estimated that a single acre planted with Luffa could produce as many as 25,000 sponge gourds. That’s a whole lot of back scrubbin! If you figure that a luffa sponge can sell for $2.00 - $8.00 each, the luffa could have potential as a cash crop.
A variety of methods have been used to remove the outer skin of the gourd once it has reached maturity. The best I have seen, is to wait until the gourd has begun to turn brown, but has not totally dried. At this stage, the gourd skin can simply be peeled off in one fell swoop with your fingers. However, if you wait until the gourd is too dry – the skin will become brittle and you will have to take it off piece by piece. Green luffa sponge gourds can be “peeled” with a knife. In any case, you will want to rinse the gourds out thoroughly, they have a milky interior which will be full of seeds. A luffa gourd will often have as many as thirty seeds. Be sure and save the seeds from your best gourds for next year.
Some people use a mild chlorine bleach mixture, to get a whiter looking luffa sponge but this is a matter of personal preference. Bleaching will reduce the useful life of the sponge – but can arguably make a “better looking” sponge. The choice is up to you.
Once you’ve grown and harvested your own Luffa Sponges the choice is up to you – how you want to use them. Some people use them in the kitchen to clean pots, pans and Tupperware. They make great back scrubbers. You can put soap in them and make Luffa Soap. You can tie ropes, or use them in their natural state. Luffas make great gifts – rubber duckey sold separately.
By the way if you want some luffa seeds - write me. I've got a pound of em. All the best, mike