Growing Loofah Gourds
My experience with growing loofah gourds in an ‘not recommended’ zone has been quite good. The farm is in Zone 5a which is not loofahs typical growing region (zone 6 or warmer is recommended) but with a little intervention I can manage to get a decent crop of loofah gourds. Your success of growing loofah will be dependent on your zone and your ability to work around the required 160 days to maturity of the loofah plant.
Starting Loofah Seeds
I have tested several time slots for starting the loofah seeds and have settled on March 1-15 being the optimal time for indoor starting of the seeds. Any earlier and they get to big by the time it has warmed enough to transfer them to their growing spot. Any later and they are not developed enough to make nice sized gourds before the frost comes in October. They are started inside much the same as tomato plants and transferred to larger pots as the plant size increases. Soil temperatures need to be 70 degrees or warmer for seeds to sprout and may take up to 14 days. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep. Even in ideal conditions germination rate is typically low at 50-80%. You will need a grow light or a sunny window. Occasionally a plant will get large enough to start making tendrils that want to climb, I give these plants a stick to climb on in their pot placed near them when the plant is pot transferred so as to do less root damage than just poking a stick near them would.
Transferring Loofah to its Home
When danger of frost has passed it is time to start thinking of moving your loofah pot babies outside. They will need a strong fence or trellis to climb on as they are prolific climbers so have one ready. Give each plant about 6-8 feet of climbing space all of its own. The earlier you can get the plants into their new home the more likely you will have larger mature gourds by the end of the season. Be prepared to cover and uncover your plants if night temperatures start to fall to below 40. Usually a piece of cloth draped over them is sufficient. You will want to harden the plants off before the transfer. Do this by moving them outside on a particularly warm afternoons and then back in when temperatures start falling in the evening. After you have done this for a few days next give them a bit of morning chill and the afternoon warmth, but again back inside at night. When they are use to the temperature changes and the nights are warm transfer them to their ground home and water. Again make sure you do not plant the loofah to close together, they need 4-6 feet of climbing space for each plant.
Care of the Loofah Plant
Like any other plant they need regular watering and minor weed competition. You also may want to help the tendrils find a hold. Gently guide the tendril to a spot it should be a wrap it around. The plant needs to get up high for the gourd to be suspended off the ground. Loofah gourds that are allowed to mature laying on the ground will normally rot before harvested. The plant will begin to flower yellow large flowers of both make and female. The female flowers are the solitary large stemmed ones. The males are located in clusters of buds with thin stems. If you have bees in the area they will take care of the pollination for you. If you want to help them out remove a male flower and rub it against the female. The pollinated female pod will first grow into a soft edible fruit and later will harden into a fiber filled seed pod.
Harvest of Loofah
Do not pick a loofah when it is still green, even though it may be big, the interior fiber is not fully developed! You want the loofah to have changed color and the weight of it to decrease, signalling it is done growing. You can also let them dry to a dark brown on the vine and pick them when the vines are completely dead.
Cleaning of Loofah
When you first peel a loofah you will notice that it is not the bright white like the loofah you can buy, but more of a creamy color. Dis-guard the peel, shake out all the seeds you can and soak them in a solution of 10% bleach water to whiten them up. Make sure to rinse the bleach out of them after. Letting them dry in the bright sunlight also helps to whiten them up.
How has your experience been with growing loofah and what zone are you in? Leave me a comment.