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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Why Luffas Aren't Sold As Produce

Luffa Gourds, Edible Size
Last year we planted a few luffa vines and let them grow to their little hearts content until frost killed them back.  There were so many more luffa gourds than we were aware of, we were overrun with luffas.  They didn't look that great since they were hit with frost and ended up molding as a result.

This year we decided we would harvest the ones we could see as they were just big enough to eat.

Yes, luffa gourds are edible.  A little bit zucchini and a little bit okra.  Suitable in place of either, and we actually started making dehydrated ranch luffa chips - really good!

So, back to the headline...  why luffas aren't sold as produce.  In the beginning of the season, the luffas weren't ripe in large batches.  Maybe one every day or every few days.  I sliced them like zucchini and used them, but it does get kind of boring.  So, I started making chips, but running the dehydrator for half a tray at a time isn't wise.  I started harvesting and leaving on the countertop...  within a day, they started oxidizing and dehydrating and losing texture.  Next, tried the fridge, then they got mushy within a day.  Finally, just started popping them in a bowl of water on the counter top.  That did the trick.  This is not a viable option for the grocery store, so this is why they aren't sold as produce.  But, works for me!

Why We Grow Luffas
Agepostemon melliventris

The luffas are an all around pretty good plant.  They take off early.  Make great and natural summer shade for the hot summer desert garden, love the heat and produce something when little else does.  There aren't any pests or diseases that we know of that affect the luffa.  They make an excellent living mulch when the vines sprawl across the ground.

Luffas are really quite useful.  The vines, when cut back are great for the compost pile.  Lizards absolutely love the cover and chase after insects in there constantly.  The pollinators love Love LOVE the luffa flowers!  We have all sorts of bees all over them constantly.  One of the prettiest I've ever seen is the metallic sweat bee.

Carpenter Bee
When the luffas start producing, they produce plenty of very acceptable fruits that we have used in ramen, dehydrated for chips and sliced up for salad.  Mr. Man is not impressed with the okra like slimey texture, but I don't notice it.  The flavor is much like zucchini.

When the luffas get by us (and we have several large ones we missed already), then we just let them grow out to use for sponges or something for plants to start in.

And A Luffa Recipe

Luffa Ranch Chips

We slice up the luffas in 1/4 inch slices and lay them flat on dehydrator trays.  Then
nutritional value
dust a single 14 x 14 inch tray with two tablespoons of our Just Add Water Ranch Dressing, then dehydrate at 135 f for 14 hours.

Just Add Water Ranch Dressing:
1 cup non-dairy creamer
2 tbsp dried dill
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
4 true lemon packets or 1/2 tsp lemon powder
1 tsp mustard powder

As a side note, this is really good!  Husband approved.  I've mixed this with home made yogurt for a dip, water and / or oil for ranch dressing and oil and vinegar for a creamy italian.  It is very versatile and backpacking friendly!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bumbling Around

Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran Bumblebee (gender unk.)

Bumbling Around In The Yarden

I must lead an insect sheltered life, not being aware that we had bumblebees in our area.  For some reason, I thought they were exclusive to colder climates.  However, I was recently educated in the possibility of two bumblebees that may be foraging in our yarden.  The choices were Bombus Morrison or Bombus Sonorus.  Bombus Sonorus is currently under dispute as being under the American Bumblebee umbrella Bombus pensylvanicus or an independent subspecies.  In any case, either bumblebee species is over 50% decline during the last 10 years.

Based on the banding, we have Bombus Sonorus.

Why Haven't I Seen These Before?
Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran
Bumblebee (gender unk.)

Given the size of these bees, it is possible they were mistaken as carpenter bees (we have a lot of those), but never really noticed how fuzzy the butt was before.  Fuzzy butts are bumblebees and smooth butts are the carpenter bees. 

Since documenting the activities around the luffa gourds, more attention is being given to what is visiting these days and the Sonoran bumblebee is now on the list of luffa fauna.  Following achievement of awareness, the next question on my list is how can I attract more of these and what do they need for more stable sustenance throughout the year.

These questions are answered from understanding the life cycle of the Sonoran Bumblebee.

Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran
Bumblebee (gender unk.)

Sonoran Bumblebee Life Cycle

The bees start emerging from the burrows during spring.  Bumblebees are excellent pollinators of tomatoes, eggplants, blueberries and cranberries as they sonicate (vibrate) the flowers to expel pollen and distribute from flower to flower. You know you have sonicating bees when you have high yields of tomatoes, eggplants, cranberries and/or blueberries.

The population of bumblebees are most visible during August.  Visibility slightly tapers off through the fall months due to the males breeding and dying off in a few weeks and the worker females not living much longer.  A strong colony will produce a large number of queens to perpetuate the species in fall.

Queen Sonoran Bumblebees make nests out of old rodent holes.  The belief is the insulated hairs from the rodents make for a nice, warm and dry environment needed to raise a 50-500 cell brood. (Lucky us, we have hybrid ground/roof rats around here and may actually have made space for them when getting rid of the rats).  Queens enter diapause (hibernation) in late fall and start producing young in spring after awakening. 

Is It A Boy Or A Girl?
Bombus Sonorus aka Sonoran
Bumblebee (gender unk.)

It is possible the photos we have are of a male.  Males do not have pollen collecting hairs on their hind legs and have longer antennae (however the antennae length is relative and we have nothing for comps).  

The legs don't seem to be saddled with pollen, so could be male.  We really don't know much about these yet.