This year the Brain family decided to grow Luffa sponges (also spelled Louffa and Loofa and Lufah). This is a plant that grows a fruit that looks a lot like a big cucumber. Inside the fruit there is a lattice work structure that can be used as a body sponge, a kitchen scrubber, etc.
Why did we decide to grow them? I had never grown Luffas before, but when we were at the store looking at vegetable seeds for the garden last spring... there was a package of Luffa seeds. It seemed like it would be fun to grow them.
Would I ever do it again? Probably not, unless I had a lot of space. We grew 9 plants in three hills (three plants per hill). The problem is that Luffa plants grow like Kudzu and will take over a huge amount of land if you let them. To give you an idea, here is a picture from our yard:
The vines you see on the trunks are Luffa vines. The vines have grown about 15 feet up the tree. The nearest hill is 25 feet away. So those vines are at least 40 feet long. You could trim them back, yes, but you would be trimming every day and the fruit forms out toward the ends of the vines so I think it would limit your crop.
Another interesting thing about Luffa sponges is the time to harvest. Our plants were over 4 months old before they started blooming. And the bulk of the female flowers (which form the fruit) are just coming on now. The first frost will arrive in about 2 weeks if history is a guide. So while we will get some mature fruit, we will get nothing like the crop we might get if we had a longer growing season. We live in North Carolina. If I were to do it again, I would probably get seeds started indoors and plant them as early as possible outdoors to extend the growing season, like this:
I have not harvested Luffa sponges yet. I am waiting for the first frost to come and take care of the vines. But this is how I plan to do it:
What does one do with a Luffa sponge? You can use it as-is as a body sponge in the shower or as a kitchen scrubber. You can also make soap, like this: