Okay, so what do you know about lufas? You know, those stiffly fibrous things on a stick that you use in the shower to cleanse and exfoliate? Last spring we found some old seeds in our greenhouse in a packet labeled “Lufa gourd” and decided to plant them to see what would happen.
After very vigorous growth throughout the summer, their vines actually create an effective, natural screen when given something strong to grow on. We decided to grow the the gourds on the wooden slats of our compost area, which in this particular area are a good 6′ tall. The alternate side of the compost area, thanks to those beautiful vines, naturally created a private space for a moment alone or a quiet conversation. We added two chairs and this winter plan to paint a canopy to shield visitors to the secret garden corner from the sun next season.
After some white and yellow flowers started to emerge our own anticipation mounted for the first Lufas to take shape. Although there were doubts (I myself am still a bit incredulous that we may actually end up with usable sponges), I told the kids with conviction that no, these fruits were not cucumbers or squash, as many guessed (although they are cousins.) One day these gourds will be something to be used in the shower: a Lufa sponge! (Or loofah, loofa, luffa, loufa.) One particularly wry student, Kevin, dubbed them “land sponges” as most (including myself) figured that all of the sponges we use in the shower are either from the sea or synthetic.
After harvesting our crop, we left the gourds to dry in a sunny window, noticing that their weight changed dramatically as moisture escaped. (Great teachable moment regarding dehydration.) Since most of our outdoor garden work is complete; garlic, cover crops and ornamental bulbs planted, beds mulched and tools cleaned, it is time to move inside to the greenhouse. What better way to kick off our autumn/winter activities than prepping gourds for their new purpose as sponges?
Everyone has been very excited to get hands on with the Lufa gourds and see this project through. The sheer amazement and wonderment, within both students and staff, has helped the transition from working in the garden to moving into the greenhouse.
Since the holidays often bring an energy with them that can create either very excited or very anxious children, I find that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the perfect time for crafting garden-related projects. These tasks are relaxing, informative, non-judging and attainable by all. Plus, who doesn’t like to leave class with something cool they made? The finished product can either be used as gifts or kept by the students. I’m thinking our sponges will pair perfectly with the soap we will be making. (Sidebar: the oils we are infusing with herbs from the garden are starting to smell really good!)
So far, this project is going great. The timeline has been long: starting the seeds in April, transplanting seedlings in May, training the vines in June, watering in July and August, marveling at their size in September, harvesting in October and now preparing them in November and planning to package in December. Wow! I’ll let you know how the lufas dry and post some pictures of our finished products. Keep your fingers crossed!