Let’s clear one thing up first, they don’t grow in the sea – you’re thinking of sea sponges (or Spongbob Squarepants!). In fact you can grow loofah (or luffa, or loufa, they’re all the same thing) in the garden and it’s surprisingly easy. Loofahs are a gourd and are closely related to the cucumber. The bit you’re used to seeing in the bathroom is the dry fibrous core – the skin and the flesh has been removed.
Loofahs need a long season to ripen (150 to 200 warm days) so those of us in the north of the country should start their seeds in 5-6 inch pots inside around 6 weeks before planting time and then transplant them outdoors once the weather is warm and settled.
You will need a handful of loofah seeds (you can pick these up at most garden centres or online), 5 inch pots for planting indoors and an area in your garden with well-drained but moist soil. You’ll also need a decent amount of space and a sturdy trellis for it to climb. Loofahs grow long vines so a bit of planning will help.
Get started in: 30 minutes.
How to grow loofah sponges
- Soak your loofah seeds
To give yourself the best chance of germination, soak your new loofah seeds in water for 24 hours before planting.
- Plant your seeds
Plant your loofah seeds in 5-6 inch pots filled with diatomaceous earth granules. TIP Use biodegradable pots to reduce the risk of shock when moving to the outdoors.
- Harden your seedlings
Loofahs are prone to transplant shock so it’s good idea to harden your seedlings before taking them outside. When the air and soil are warm start hardening your seedlings for around a week. For tip on hardening seedlings visit www.fix.com.
- Move your seedlings outside
Loofahs love sun, so plant your loofahs in the sunniest spot you have. We’re now at the mercy of our great British weather! A freak frost could spell disaster. Make sure your loofahs are planted next to a trellis or other strong structure as they will shoot up surprisingly fast.
If a snap frost is expected, do what you can to protect your seedlings. A vented cloch made from a plastic tub with holes pierced in it will give your little loofahs a fighting chance.
- Water, water, water!
They love water and sun, so make sure they get plenty of both over the next few months. Be patient!
- Harvesting your sponges
In an ideal world you should wait until your loofahs are over ripe – they will dry out and go brown and you’ll be able to hear the seeds rattling inside. However, in our northern climate if you wait too long there’s an increased risk of frost setting in and damaging everysingle one. If you’re worried you can pick them while they’re still green but they will be harder to peel. Essentially, leave them as long as you dare – but be warned!
- Peel your loofahs
Soak your harvested dry goards in water for a few hours. Start peeling. Remove all of the outer flesh and you’ll be left with the fibrous inners. Don’t forget to collect the seeds. Give the peeled loofahs another wash and leave to air dry.
- Cut up
Cut your loofahs into smaller pieces and hey presto… sponges.