Loofah cultivation, the vegetable sponge in your pot and garden
Did you know that there are sponges that we do not take out of the sea, but we can produce in our garden? Let’s get to know the loofah, a kind of pumpkin, which gives us wonderful ecological sponges that do not need any treatment and are 100% natural.
The loofah sponge has been traditionally used for decades all over the world, as well as in our country where it is also known as lifi. The luffa plant (Luffa aegyptiaca), luffa or loofah, produces impressive fruits that reach up to half a meter in length and resemble huge cucumbers. The ripe fruit of the loofah is light yellow in color, and is surrounded by a kind of skin-peel in which the sponge hides.
The loofah crop has a climbing growth and needs proper support to grow, as its shoots can reach up to 9 meters in length. It forms impressive yellow flowers in summer that bear fruit from late summer to autumn.
The loofah can be planted both in our garden and in a pot in the yard or on the balcony. This is a relatively easy crop that does not have excessive demands on care. Let’s see in detail how we can cultivate the loofah to make our own vegetable sponges.
What conditions are suitable for growing loofah?
Loofah is a plant of subtropical climates, loves sunny days and high summer temperatures. In these conditions, it becomes quite productive within 2.5-3 months as its fruits show high growth rate.
The cultivation of loofah is sensitive to low temperatures, such as the cultivation of cucumber and the cultivation of zucchini with which it is related, and it begins to dry with the first frosts of winter. Loofah plants need fertile soil with good drainage to grow. Before planting, we incorporate organic matter into the planting sites in the form of compost and manure, along with organic fertilizer to help the plant grow and strengthen it with nutrients.
When do we plant the loofah and at what distances?
The loofah can be planted with seed directly in the soil in the spring, as well as with ready-made plants that we make earlier in bed or that we procure ready from nurseries. It grows fruits in summer, which are ripe in late summer and early autumn. Suitable planting distances for loofah cultivation are 50 cm between the planting sites and about one meter between the planting lines.
Does loofah cultivation need support to grow?
The loofah is a climbing plant that produces helical shoots and grows easily on pillars, stakes, wires, and even the canopy of trees. You will need good support and support of the plants in our garden or on our balcony due to the weight of the loofah fruits that can create a problem.
To support and support the loofah, we can make a vertical grid or at an angle of 45 degrees, made of stainless steel or reeds to climb the loofah plants and give their production.
How do we plant loofah in a pot?
We can easily grow loofahs in pots on the balcony by choosing a point with west or east orientation, for better growth and fruiting. In any case, we avoid a balcony with southern exposure, as the intense sunshine bothers the loofah plants, especially during the noon hours when high temperatures prevail.
For the planting of the loofah, we choose pots, relatively large, with a diameter of at least 30 cm and a height of 2 to develop the root satisfactorily but also to be able to make a suitable support for the plant. To fill the pot, we choose a special topsoil for vegetables that we procure from the trade.
How often does the loofah crop need watering?
The cultivation of loofah is water demanding and needs regular watering to have good growth and fruiting. We water every three days during the spring period, so that the soil is kept relatively moist, while during the summer period, we water the loofahs every two days.
Avoid over-watering the loofah in the early stages of development, as yellowing of the leaves and rot of the roots may occur.
How often do we add fertilizer to the loofah crop?
The cultivation of loofah has significant needs for nutrients and needs fertilizer to give us rich production. Every three weeks we add a complete organic fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to help the vigor, plant germination, flowering and fruit production.
What diseases and which insects affect the cultivation of loofah?
The loofah crop is quite hardy and does not often suffer from diseases and insects of other squash, such as cucumber and zucchini. In case of infestation by meligra and floury, we spray their foliage every 2 weeks with organic insecticides of potassium salts and natural pyrethrin that we supply from agricultural stores. Alternatively, dissolve a tablespoon of grated green soap and 1 tablespoon of sweet alcohol and spray the plant.
When is the loofah sponge ready to harvest?
During ripening, the loofah fruit turns yellow and gradually dehydrates resulting in the fruit losing weight and is noticeably lighter if we hold it in our hands. At this point, we can cut it and peel it with great ease to get the vegetable sponge. If we harvest the fruit when it is still green, we should wait for it to dry so that it can be peeled more easily. In this case, the sponges are softer while on the contrary if we collect the loofahs when they are brown, the sponge will have a harder texture.
Where can we use the loofah sponge?
The natural loofah sponge has several uses. It is ideal for skin care, as it is a product of plant origin with a hard texture that ensures deep cleansing and exfoliation of the skin. The loofah softens the texture of the skin and removes dead skin cells. In addition, it has many household uses from the kitchen and washing dishes, to scrape the skins of fruits and vegetables, even as a filter strainer to strain various fluids. It can also be used as a common sponge for cleaning various surfaces. After use, make sure to rinse the sponge to clean and leave it in a place without moisture until completely dry.
And a secret for the cultivation of loofah
When the loofah fruit is green with a length of 10-15 cm, the sponge has not yet developed, so it remains green and edible. We can, therefore, cut it and fry it like zucchini, cook it in soup or mix it finely chopped in salads.