Gardening

How to plant loofah

Luffa aegyptiaca or Luffa cylindrica

Loofah, also known as sponge-vegetable, loofah-of-paulistas and hufflepuff, is a vigorous herbaceous vine native to South and Southeast Asia. Its ripe fruits, when completely dry, are widely used as a sponge. Immature fruits can be eaten in different ways, and can be prepared in the same way as zucchinis, or even eaten raw in salads when very young. Leaves and tips of branches can also be eaten cooked or sautéed. Flowers can be prepared and eaten like pumpkins. The seeds can be eaten roasted and salted.

There are cultivated varieties of loofah with cylindrical fruits that vary from about 30 cm in length to more than 1.5 m (the dowels). Varieties grown with smaller fruits are generally the most appreciated as food. Some cultivars can be very bitter, which are unsuitable for consumption, but the most common cultivars usually have both edible and immature fruits. Ripe fruits are fibrous and unpalatable. Fruits and other parts of the plant are also used for medicinal purposes.

In hydroponics, the sponge obtained from the loofah fruit can be used as a support matrix for the plants to be cultivated.

There are other species in the genus Luffa that provide vegetable sponges, but the species Luffa aegyptiaca is the one that has cultivated varieties that produce sponges of better quality and is the most cultivated species in the world for this purpose.

Climate

Loofah or vegetable sponge can be grown in tropical or subtropical regions. The ideal is a hot and humid climate, but it can be grown at temperatures above 16 ° C. Early cultivars can be grown in regions that have a cold winter, in the hottest months of the year (it takes at least 5 months of warm weather to be able to harvest some fruits). In regions of hot and humid climate, it can be cultivated all year round.

Brightness

This plant needs high light, with direct sunlight for at least a few hours a day.

Ground

The loofah grows well in fertile, well-drained soil, rich in organic matter and with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.

Irrigation

Irrigate to keep the soil moist, but not soaked.

Planting

The loofah or vegetable sponge is propagated through seeds. Sow cups made of newsprint, in small bags suitable for seedlings or other containers in the final location or in small pots, and transplant the loofah seedlings when they have 3 to 6 real leaves.

In the final location, pits are opened that can vary from 25 to 50 cm in diameter, fertilizing the soil removed as needed and adding it back to the pit. Two to five seeds are sown per hole, 2 or 3 cm deep, with the weakest seedlings removed when they are about 10 cm high, so that only one or two plants remain per hole.

The spacing varies with the cultivated variety and the growing conditions, usually ranging from 2 x 2 m to 5 x 5 m.

Cultivation

The bushing needs supports where it can hold and grow. These supports can be arbors, spreaders, fences, or even walls and walls, as long as they have something where the tendrils can be attached. The supports must be robust to withstand the weight of the branches and fruits.

Remove invasive plants that are competing for nutrients and resources, especially in the first two months, when the loofah grows relatively slowly.

The presence of pollinating insects, mainly bees, is necessary for the pollination of flowers and the formation of fruits. The plant normally presents male flowers in racemes and solitary female flowers, which have an inferior ovary (a “buchinha”) that will develop in the fruit if the flower is pollinated. If there are no pollinating insects in the area, manual pollination can be done with the help of a small soft bristle brush. Alternatively, you can harvest and use the male flowers themselves to pollinate the female flowers.

Harvest

Harvesting usually starts from four months after planting, and may take more than six months to start, depending on whether the fruits will be harvested for consumption or for use as a vegetable sponge, the growing conditions and the cultivated variety.

For their consumption as food, the fruits must be harvested immature, still young, before the vascular bundles of the fruit start to become more rigid. Almost ripe fruits are very fibrous.

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