Ever heard of Chinese Okra? Maybe you know it better as luffa. It is called Chinese okra because of the okra-like shape and distinct ribbing of its fruit. It is also knows as being a dishcloth gourd when fully mature and can be eaten when young and tender. Chinese okra are hearty growing vines that are related to melons and squash. Plants can produce 10 to 20 fruit per plant when trained on a trellis.
The fruits are long and cylindrical and can grow more than a foot long. The angled luffa (Luffa acutangular) is best used as a vegetable and is more tender. The smooth luffa (Luffa aegyptiaca) is best for growing as a dishcloth or a sponge gourd because it is much more fibrous and does not have ribs.
Plant seeds after the last frost in late spring in hills 3 feet apart in rows at least 4 feet apart. Trellis the plants for maximum fruit production. Fruit for vegetable consumption is ready in about 100 days. Harvest when the fruit is 6-8 inches in length and is still tender. When harvested young, the fruits are tender enough to be eaten raw or cooked like you would eat eggplant or squash.
When the fruits are allowed to grow larger and mature for another 30 days or so, they develop tough inner fibers that can be used as kitchen or shower sponges, better known as a luffa sponge, and can even be used as chew toys for pets like hamsters and rabbits.
Luffa sponges are ready to harvest when the skin feels lose and brittle around the harden fibers inside.
To prepare your sponges, peel the skin off, shake the seeds loose, (be sure to save some seeds for next year) dip the luffa in a bucket of 10 parts of water to 1-part bleach for about an hour to remove any stains and allow to dry.
For more information on Growing Luffa, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu. Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7 p.m. on SCETV or mig.org. E-mail Outen at [email protected]
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