The Great Luffa Experiment

The only way to make an income from growing things on a suburban plot is to either go super-intensive and use every inch of space, or to go super-specialized and try to find a niche market. Now that the basic bones of the gardens are established I can start experimenting with niche markets. My goal is to earn enough money from the garden to replace our current garden spending, which is about $200 per month. This will make the garden sustainable in our household. Turning a profit would be good eventually but that’s a long-term goal. The first niche market I’m exploring is producing organically grown luffa gourds.

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The luffas got a slow start. I ordered and started the seeds with the idea of building large trellises on an empty lot across the street from our house. Then a new family moved in next door and their son cleared the empty lot to play in it. Large trellises cost money, and the trellises kept getting pushed down on the list when we were buying compost and amendments to plant everything else. So the poor luffa seedlings struggled along in their tiny seedling trays, waiting for me to find them a home.

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First fruit!

Finally I gave up on building trellises and decided to plant them on the existing fences around the property, trying them in every area possible to find which they liked best. By this time half of the eight dozen seedlings had perished and I was still a tad overwhelmed. I planted half along the north and east chain link fences in partial sun. Then we attached some cheap rebar mesh to our privacy fence and I planted the last dozen at the foot of the fence. This is the back of the “nuclear blast” area, the southwest-facing corner of the yard, which gets full sun all day. A little urine-bone meal-fish emulsion fertilizer and a lot of rain for encouragement, and the luffa plants in full sun took off like rockets.

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The fence is 6 feet tall, so these have grown at least 10 feet in the past month, and are now climbing the orange tree.

This year is document, document, document. If the yield is good and the disease and pest problems are manageable with minimal intervention, then next year we’ll expand the project and hopefully I will have enough to sell. I have two potential markets: direct to customers through the farmers market, and local soap-makers. Wish me luck!

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