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Luffa or Vegetable Sponge: How to Cultivate It in the Garden

Luffa is a plant that can be easily cultivated and can be used as a natural sponge, replacing industrial ones.

by BioGrow

The luffa, known as a vegetable sponge, is a plant that can be easily grown in a home garden. Botanically, it’s very similar to zucchini, cucumbers, and pumpkin. However, while these cultivations have food purposes, luffa is primarily grown to obtain a valuable product, the natural sponge. This sponge is recommended for those who don’t want to use industrial ones but prefer an ecological, economical, and plant-based product.

Let’s explore how to grow luffa in your own garden, the best period for sowing, and all necessary cultivation care.

Luffa Varieties, Botanical Identification, and Characteristics

Luffa cylindrica

Luffa cylindrica

The luffa plant is native to East Asia and belongs to the botanical family of Cucurbitaceae. The two most common species are Luffa cylindrica and Luffa acutangula, but there are also many other varieties.
Luffa cylindrica is very similar to a large zucchini. It has an elongated shape and reaches approximately 30 cm in length. It has a light-colored exterior with evident grooves and a hard texture. It’s not commonly used as food due to its very bitter taste.
Luffa acutangula has an even more elongated shape with pronounced grooves. The skin is dark green. Due to the typical faceted shape of the fruit, this variety is also known as diamond luffa.

Luffa acutangula

Luffa acutangula

Despite having similar characteristics, Luffa acutangula is more esteemed than the cylindrica species. This is because it has a better taste if someone wanted to eat it and has superior quality fibers. They are climbing plants. They develop extensive vertical growth thanks to numerous shoots the plant emits to cling. In this sense, they are very similar to cucumbers, and their leaf and flower shapes and characteristics also resemble them. Another peculiarity concerns the fruit’s maturation. If luffa is intended for food, for example, in a soup, it needs to be harvested when it’s still unripe. As it matures, the inner part of the pulp starts to transform and dehydrate, becoming a vegetable sponge. At the end of maturation, the fruit’s interior will be composed of 90% cellulose and 10% lignin, organic and non-polluting elements. To obtain the vegetable sponge, the harvest must occur at the end of the cycle (5-6 months), when the plant starts to dry, and the fruit’s skin turns brown.

Luffa Cultivation

Pedoclimatic Needs

Luffa prefers a mild climate. It has a cultivation cycle of about 6 months, so it needs to be cultivated in spring-summer. It thrives in warmth, so its position in the garden should be sunny, and shady areas are not recommended. The plant develops an excellent root system; therefore, it requires deep, fresh soil, preferably with a medium mixture. It’s essential that the soil ensures excellent water drainage. The soil pH must be neutral or slightly basic.

Fertilization and Soil Preparation

Vegetable luffa spongeLike other cucurbits, luffa benefits from excellent organic matter in the soil. Therefore, fertilization requires considerable attention. The ideal scenario involves deep soil cultivation in autumn, manuring with mature dung in the heart of winter, and allowing the manure to rest on the ground. At the end of winter, when the soil is dry, the manure can be amended by performing superficial processing. However, it’s not always possible to follow these steps, perhaps due to a lack of mature dung for the field. In this case, the best option is to use organic fertilizers, preferably enriched with compost. These alternatives provide a good amount of organic matter that the plant needs. The main operations include hoeing, fertilizing, and watering. It’s crucial to create a suitable environment for the seedlings by following these steps before planting.

Sowing and Planting

Luffa seeds are typically sown directly into the ground when the risk of frost has passed. This usually happens around mid-April. The seeds should be placed at a depth of 2-3 cm, about 3 seeds per hole, and then covered with soil. Given the plant’s need for climbing structures, you can create a small structure, such as a wooden trellis or bamboo canes, to support the growth. The recommended planting distances are about 100-150 cm between rows and about 50-100 cm between plants in the same row.

Irrigation

Luffa requires regular watering. It’s crucial to ensure the soil is constantly moist, especially during the plant’s growth and fruit development stages. However, excessive humidity can be harmful. To prevent this, proper soil drainage is essential. Mulching can also help maintain soil moisture and reduce the frequency of watering.

Pest and Disease Control

The main pests affecting luffa plants include powdery mildew, fusarium wilt, and aphids. To control these, it’s advisable to use organic treatments such as copper or neem oil.

Harvesting Luffa

The ideal time for harvesting luffa is around 5-6 months after sowing. At this point, the fruit should have reached its full size but should still be light green and firm. The skin starts to turn brown when the vegetable sponge is forming inside.
To obtain sponges, let the fruits mature on the plant until the skin turns brown and begins to crack. This indicates that the pulp inside has dried and transformed into a sponge. The fibers will be visible, and the seeds will rattle inside. If you don’t have the possibility to grow loofah, you can find ready-made natural sponges here.

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