Luffa: a niche vegetable for food and eco-sponges

Luffa is a vegetable of the pumpkin family which resembles a large cucumber or zucchini. It is grown mainly for the production of natural dishcloths and sponges, and it is not yet widely known in cooking, despite a number of beneficial properties for health. The plant is thought to originate in Northwest India, where it appeared in the 13th century. Gradually, it began to be grown in the countries of Europe and Asia.

Vladimir Zhdanov, the founder of the family farm Family Loofa (Ukraine, Kherson region), spoke about the three main stages of the production and sale of luffa, its prospects, and marketing during the webinar “Successful stories of niche cultures”. As Vladimir Zhdanov notes, in 2018 he sowed luffa in the aisles of grapes. The choice of such a crop was not accidental – the farmer did not fully understand how luffa would grow, but he knew that the plant needed support. For this purpose, he chose grapes on which the luffa vine then grew.

“Out of 50 seeds that were planted then, we got about 30 plants. From 20 of these we harvested fruits,” notes the founder of the family farm Family Loofa, stressing that today his farm grows this crop on an area of ​​0.3 hectares. According to Vladimir Zhdanov, there are three main stages in the cultivation of luffa: the cultivation itself, harvesting and packaging, marketing, and sale.

“Growing luffa can be compared to the production of cucumbers. At the same time, the climate in Ukraine is quite suitable for growing luffa, especially in the southern regions of the country. A trellis or a net is needed because it is a liana-like plant and if it does not twine properly, it is very difficult to get fruits of the proper quality.

Specialists have previously tried growing the crop in the field. However, they did not manage to get the proper volume and quality of the crop. The fact is that during the ripening period, luffa seems to tighten and take on an oblong shape – for this, a trellis is needed,” the farmer explains the features of the cultivation technology.

As to the selection of varieties, Vladimir Zhdanov says there are about 50 of them. The most suitable for growing in Ukraine is the cylindrical luffa. It is most convenient for the further production of dishcloths and sponges.

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