Go the the store to buy an ocean-grown sponge and you’ll pay a few bucks for a medium-sized one; spend that same amount for seed of the natural loofah – luffa gourd and you’ll end up with enough sponges to scrub your skin and your friends’ to remove the dead skin cells for a lifetime.
Not only that – the bath sponges you grow yourself are bigger, better and more durable than the ocean-bred variety. When you take one in hand and start after that dirt, be it on sink, bathtub, kitchen utensil, car windshield, or human body, something has to give – and it won’t be the luffa!
Luffa The “Dishrag” Gourd
People grow various kinds of crops from the gourd family. But, few seem to realize the possibilities in the commonly-called “dishrag gourds.” Our pioneer ancestors appreciated them, as well as other types that provided a dipper at the well, a nest egg in the chicken house and a bowl for salt on the kitchen table.
Grow the Loofah “dishrag” gourd for several years and each year you’ll think more highly of it. In my opinion there is no comparison between it and the rubber, plastic, or genuine ocean-grown or sea sponge. It is soft and pliable, but at the same time, a demon for dirt removal; it can be rinsed clean in a twinkling and is practically indestructible.
A luffa sponge is the strange, cellular growth within a long melon-like rind, which, when peeled off, reveals the fibrous, spongelike interior, filled with jet-black seeds. There is a great quantity of these luffa gourd seeds, but Nature has thoughtfully provided a hole at one end of the natural sponge through which they are easily squeezed out, and the sponge, given a rinsing, is ready for action.
The gourd is long – from 6 inches long to 2 1/2 feet. Its vine is beautiful, with large leaves closely resembling those of the sycamore tree, and it can cover a fence or trellis with the speed of light. In a good growing season the vines fruit so heavily that a strong support is needed. It is not good to allow them to run along the ground, for the fruits need to hang in order to develop properly.
The luffa (Luffa macrocarpa), in common with other gourds, is a tropical plant, and a long growing season is necessary to mature the sponges. In the far north, try starting the luffa seeds early indoors, setting the plants outside only after all danger of frost is past. Some luffa species also includes Luffa acutangula, Luffa aegyptiaca and Luffa cylindrica.
Getting An Early Jump
To those persons rising en masse to assure me that cucurbits won’t transplant, try starting them in paper cups. When the time for transplanting comes dig a hole, peel the paper cup from the plant without disturbing a root (water it well the night before, and the soil will be just right) and set the cylinder of soil in the hole.
Of course, I would not want to handle the entire mature fruit crop that way, only if you like to get the jump on the season with a few melons and cucumbers. If your growing season is long enough to mature the luffa gourds, no problem, but where it isn’t, try getting an early jump.
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