Last winter, one of my Master Gardener friends asked for suggestions on what to plant in our Ag Progress Days high tunnel this year. I suggested luffas. At our next meeting, Chris handed me a packet of seeds from Renee’s Garden.
Luffas, it was.
Few Centre County Master Gardeners have grown luffas, but I had the benefit of raising them over several years on our chicken fence at the Hottenstein Road chicken coop, next to the F-d-L cutting garden.
Just before I left for Belgium, I handed Chris a dozen or so healthy seedlings to plant in the high tunnel. While I was gone, Chris planted them and attached twine to the bar above the raised bed so that the luffas, being vigorous vines, would have direction. Up.
June 25, I got an email, photo, and another assignment from Chris. “Look at me, I can climb” was the subject line message. Here’s the photo. Chris named her Lucy Luffa. “You and Marie can name the rest,” she wrote.
Chris went to high school with my middle sister, Lee Ann. My mother has told her on numerous occasions: “I have five daughters and they’re all Ls. Laurie, Lisa, Lee Ann, Larissa, and Leslie.” Chris decided Marie would be the perfect person to help me name the Luffa family.
We came up with Lucky, LuLu, Luvvy, Laffy Taffy, Loopy, and Loony, and a whole lot of Laughter. Chris has a way of convincing you to embrace a project.
The luffa tendrils hugged the strings Chris hung, and the vines took off toward the tunnel’s support ribs. Then, bright yellow flowers appeared like headlights on an evening drive. My “Luffa Baby Alert” email went out July 24. While I was filling up the irrigation barrel on my watering day, I noticed tiny luffas smaller than my pinky.
Well, days later, our luffas lassoed the ladder we use to check the water barrel level, and completely took over a bamboo grid we used last year for our Square Foot demonstration plot, swallowing it whole. (Luffas are members of the cucumber family. The young fruit, under 7” long, can be cooked and eaten like squash, or eaten raw, as a substitute for cucumber, but most often they are grown to maturity so the fibrous tissue “skeleton” can be used as a bath or sauna sponge.)
During our next work session, I tied purple twine connecting a support bar on the backside of the high tunnel to the support bar opposite it, giving the vines traveling room. Purple, I figured, would become invisible once the luffas make contact.
By Ag Progress Days, I expect Lucy, Lucky, LuLu, Luvvy, Laffy Taffy, Loopy, and Loony will create a shady cave of leaves, flowers, and fruit inside the high tunnel. We may have to post a warning for visitors to enter at their own risk—they just might get caught up in the Luffa family. Laurie Luffa Lynch
Perks of Volunteering: One evening, while working at the MG high tunnel and demonstration gardens, we had a special visitor. A bald eagle perched high above us in the tree row. Magnificent. The eagle’s back was toward us. I’d guess it was a good two feet from the top of its white head to the tip of its white tail. It was the first bald eagle I’ve seen in the wild. When we have an environmental success, we must revel in it.
Perks of Attending APD: Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, August 18-20, is at Rock Springs amidst the university’s experimental farms. It is free, open to the public, filled with educational displays and the latest in farming equipment—and could pay off big time if you are an ice cream fan. This summer, there is a special Penn State Passport Program. Visitors get their “passport” stamped at each of the 15 Penn State exhibits (Master Gardeners are in the Yard & Garden Tent—and you can see the Luffa family in the nearby high tunnel, if you dare.). Turn your passport in and you get chance to win…Berkey Creamery Ice Cream for a YEAR (1/2 gallon per month).
Perks of Reading to the Bitter End: It’s cantaloupe season and I made Chilled Cantaloupe Soup over the weekend. It is so easy and so delicious. Place one chilled cantaloupe (peeled, seeded and chunked) into a blender with 1cup plain yogurt, ½ tsp. vanilla, and grated nutmeg to taste. Liquefy and serve in bowls, garnish with fresh blueberries or chocolate mint leaves. (Next time I make it, I’m going to try fresh grated ginger instead of nutmeg.) The chilled soup gets foamy and can be refrigerated for two days or so. It has a lovely color and can double as a treat for breakfast or a low-calorie dessert.