“I thought luffa was a sea sponge?!?!” You’re not alone, I did too, until I saw luffa (loofah) growing in the demonstration garden for the University of Arizona Master Gardeners. Luffa is a delicious vegetable to eat (when picked very young) or you can choose to let it grow and develop into a useful sponge. I decided to give it a try, and planted a few seeds, and ended up harvesting dozens of luffa sponges.
Growing Luffa in the Garden
Growing luffa takes time, it can be over 120 days until the gourds are harvested.
Plant luffa seeds in fertile soil after danger of frost has passed. (Seeds must be started indoors in Zones 6 and above.)
Luffa gourds grow on a vigorous vine (over 10 feet long). Be sure to give them plenty of room to grow and a trellis for support.
Be patient… male flowers will be the first to appear. They are beautiful flowers and the bees will love them.
After a while you will see what looks like a miniature luffa. These are the female flowers, and once pollinated will develop into luffa gourds.
After pollination, small gourds will begin to grow. Harvest luffa when less than 6 inches long if you want to eat it.
Prepare these small luffa like you would a summer squash. It is delicious in stir-frys and when roasted.
Read here for more tips for growing summer squash.
Once it is longer than 6 inches, the insides become fibrous and it is too tough to eat.
When growing luffa for the sponge, leave it on the vine until it is yellow and feels lightweight and hollow.
- The green gourd pictured on the left side of the photo should stay on the vine a little longer.
- The brown one in the middle should be harvested and peeled right away, it may be brittle.
- The one on the right is ready to harvest. It will be easy to peel and fibrous inside.
This luffa was harvested a little too early. The fibrous insides have not developed. If you have to harvest at this stage, store in a cool dry place until the gourd feels lightweight and hollow.
This luffa was harvested at just the right time. It’s easy to peel. Let it dry once you remove the peel.
To harvest luffa seeds, cut off one end of dried luffa and shake the seeds out.
To remove seeds from a previously peeled luffa, allow the gourd to dry out and then shake out seeds.
This luffa stayed on the vine a little too long. The fibrous insides have become brittle. It is still usable, but not as durable.