Take a tour and stroll the beautiful grounds
For many people, discovering luffas are plants and not sea creatures is surprising. Deanne Coon, owner of The Luffa Farm in Nipomo, and her family are often asked, “They’re sponges, right?”
“A luffa is a plant with an attitude, not unlike an orchid,” Deanne said. “You know how it is with orchids – they don’t do what you expect.” It seems luffas are like that as well.
Deanne’s introduction to luffas came when she received a bunch of seeds from a college professor in the Bay area many years ago; she and her family members took the seeds but had no idea what they were.
“We all thought they might be watermelon seeds,” she says. “We went to the library and we looked through books to try and find out what they were.”
Finally deciding that the seeds were some kind of Chinese cucumber plant, they planted the seeds in their individual gardens. Deanne planted hers up against fencing. As they grew, she attached fishing line to the fence, the vines took to them, and gourds began to form. As time passed, she finally checked on the plants and found that the gourds had turned brown, dried out, and appeared dead. She picked one, heard the seeds rattling inside, peeled off the outer skin and, behold, there was a luffa. Thus began her long journey as a luffa farmer.
Nowadays Deane grows her plants in pots in two large greenhouses.“I tried growing them here in the ground but the gophers just attacked them,” she says, “then when the afternoon winds came up, as they do in Nipomo, it blew the blossoms right off the plants. No blossoms, no luffas.”
Take a tour, visit the gift shop
The luffa gourd develops at the base of the flower, grow downward at one-half inch daily, and more than one gourd grows on a vine. When some magical moment occurs inside the gourd, it turns off its growing mechanism and begins to change from bright green to yellow and, finally, to brown. It will be hard and dry – shake the gourd and the seeds inside will rattle –and then it’s picking time.
The Luffa Farm is one of the few growers remaning in the United States and is a “must visit.” A tour of the Luffa Farm begins with a comparison of commercial luffas grown in other countries and imported here; these other plants are chemically-handled, affecting the feel of the luffas to become stiff and abrasive. Deanne’s luffas, however, have a slight amount of stiffness, but are essentially soft.
“You can use them to wash the car if you want to,” she says. “Our luffas won’t give you raw skin, just a good clean feeling.” They can be used on dishes and can be put in the dishwasher or the washing machine.
After a tour, stop by the gift shop. Deanne also grows a variety of aromatic and healing herbs, using them in products such as hand-poured glycerin soaps, lotions, bath salts, sachets, bath fizzlers and teas, eye masks, and neck wraps.
The Luffa Farm, located at 1457 Willow Road in Nipomo, Calif., is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.to 4 p.m. A free tour requires no scheduling. Groups, bus tours, and school groups are welcome and include a choice of a catered lunch or cookies and tea; reservations are necessary. Call (805) 343-0883. Luffa Farm products are available online at www.theluffafarm.com.