A few months ago a post popped up on my wall about loofah sponges. Though I have used them for many years, I've never given any thought to where they come from or how they are made.
You, of course, have the synthetic ones made in a factory, but did you know the real ones come from a zucchini-like vegetable? I didn’t know and I was intrigued.
Scared I was going to forget all about this, I immediately sent the link to the article to my organic vegetable lady to ask whether this plant was available in Cambodia. The answer came back fast “Sure bong! Do you want me to look for some seeds or plants for you?”.... Yes, yes, yes!
When I picked up my veggies the next day, a small package with loofah seeds was included in my vegetable basket. Such a resourceful lady.
Although you can’t call me a loofah expert yet as I only started growing them at the beginning of the year, not much can go wrong. At least not when you live in the tropics.
I have read about people growing them in colder climates, but there you might run into a few issues. But it is doable! They grow so fast that when you start the plants indoors and then plant them outside during the warmer months you should be able to grow a year’s worth of loofah sponges.
In the tropics, you can grow them throughout the whole year. Though in the dry season you will have to water them a lot! In the rainy season, mother nature takes over. And they seem to grow faster and get bigger during the rainy season…. Though I am not sure if that is entirely true as I am only growing them for less than a year so I will know next rainy season!
Loofah, Luffa, Loofa, Sponge Groud Luffa acuntangular or Luffa aegyptiaca
Before I tell you how I grew my sponges from seeds, allow me to introduce you to this wonderful plant.
Loofahs are part of the gourd family. These zucchini-like vegetables grow on vines that if not trimmed in time can take over the whole garden. Loofahs can grow up to 30 inches or about 75 cm long. Maybe even longer for all I know!
This one is definitely on a mission to take over some other parts of the garden!
There are two different species of gourd that can be used to grow sponges. One is Luffa aegyptiaca aka angled luffa, ridged luffa, vegetable gourd, or Chinese okra. The other is Luffa acuntangular aka smooth luffa, dishrag gourd, gourd luffa, or Egyptian luffa. The latter is the one we have growing in the garden.
The sponge part that we are familiar with is actually the inside fibers of the gourd. Though you can eat them when they are still green and young, for me they are a bit too mushy and watery so if prefer to eat zucchini or cucumbers and leave the loofah grouds to make sponges.
Once the loofah turns brown and becomes as light as a feather, they’re ready to harvest.
How To Grow Loofah
As promised in my previous post MONSOON GARDENING - LET THE RAINY SEASON BEGIN ☔🌱 for the the Garden Journal Challenge Early June I will show you the whole process of creating your own loofah sponges. It is super easy and FUN!
Step 1: Seed germination
Apparently, loofah seeds don’t germinate quite as easily as cucumbers or zucchinis. Though many people seem to struggle with the germination process for us it all went quite smoothly. We tried 2 different ways and they all sprouted.
So make sure to germinate enough seeds to make sure you have a few plants to start with. Some might not survive the transplantation i\either. But again, for us, all of them survived!
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics of the germinating, sowing, and sprouting! After reading all the issues people had growing loofah I didn't expect much of it....
If you go on youtube you can find many videos on how to do it properly. Next time we germinate and sow I will take some pics to share with all of you.
Method 1: clip a piece of the seeds with a nail clipper before sowing to improve germination. Again go on youtube for this. We did the same. I can’t remember which video we clicked but I am sure you will find one.
Method 2: Soak the seeds for a few hours in lukewarm water ahead of sowing. This can help to encourage better germination.
Fill your pots up loosely with good quality soil and tap down lightly. To plant, hold the loofah seed between finger and thumb and push it sideways down into the loose soil, about 0.5 inches or 1.5 cm deep. Tap the pot again to settle the soil over the hole.
To germinate the seeds successfully, the pots will need heat, at least 25C or 77F. You can use heated mats if needed. Again I live in the tropics so we have a constant temperature around 30-32C (86-90F) which is perfect for germination.
Water the pots and make sure to keep them wet. Avoid overwatering though, as this can cause the seeds to rot. Germination can take up to 2-3 weeks in colder climates, for us it took less than a week. If I remember correctly, it actually only took 2-3 days before we saw their green heads popping up.
Step 2: Putting up support and moving them to the garden
Loofas need something to grow on. This can be a rack, an arch, a fence, etc. Loofahs don’t like to be transplanted and they will stop growing or might even die.
Though you can add them directly to the soil, we chose to keep them in large pots to make sure to give them good soil. The soil in Cambodia isn’t the best quality. We used a metal rack we found in the garden to let them grow on.
Water them every day and a lot during the dry season, if you live in a colder climate, you might want to go easy on this as the soil will not dry out as fast as here in the tropics. Now it is rainy season so we stopped watering the plants. Mother nature is giving us more than enough water these days!
As you will soon notice the loofah plant has 2 distinct flowers, though I didn't have any issues with pollination, if your plants are not giving fruit you might have to help them a bit.... we got butterflies and other critters that pollinate our crops.
After a few days, the yellow flower will start to develop into a tiny baby loofah-to-be
After a while baby sponges turn into bigger sponges.....
..... which eventually might turn into gigantic sponges. These are ideal for making back scrubs!
Step 3: Harvesting
After a while, the skin will change from green to yellow to brown. They will also become very light, almost like they are empty inside. You may even hear to seeds inside when you give them a shake.
Cut the loofah from the plant and now the fun part can begin. Squeeze the loofah and start peeling off the skin until you are left with a fibrous skeleton aka your loofah sponge.
Shake/squeeze out the seeds, wash and dry them and store them for your next-generation loofah plants.
The loofah sponges can last for ages, just make sure to always hang them to dry after you use them and properly rinse them so no soap is left behind. Now and then you can pop them into the washing machine or dishwasher to give them a proper rinse.
Use as a normal sponge in the bath, shower, or for cleaning around the house or doing the dishes.
Luxury shower loofah and back scrub
You can cut open the loofahs and make beautiful shower scrubs like these. I got the design for a loofah growing friend.
The funny thing was that I didn’t even know she was growing these until I started telling her about my new little experiment… she laughed and told me she was already using them for ages and designed a back scrub with long handles and one with a soap pocked to use in the shower.
She gave me one of each and now when I need a new one I just go to one of the retailers in town and ask them the replicate the design!
Ever since we started this project and I harvested my first loofah I haven’t bought any regular sponges to use for cleaning, dishes, or the shower.
We are in love! And it is such a lovely project to try at home!
Happy Gardening ღ ღ ღ
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PICTURE(s) TAKEN WITH GOOGLE PIXEL 3 XL