RUPERTO DONATO grows the cylindrical patola for loofah production. (Photo from the Internet)

RUPERTO DONATO is a part-time farmer. He is chief of the Horticulture Division of the Bureau of Plant Industry but on the side he also grows different crops on rented land.

IN DEMAND – One of his farm projects is growing patola for loofah which he sells to processors and exporters. Loofah, the fiber of the mature patola fruits, is a fairly recent product in the Philippines with a lot of potential because it is in demand abroad and locally.

SOMETHING NATURAL – Loofah is used as sponge for bathing, especially for health-conscious people in industrialized countries who are looking for things natural that they can use in their daily lives. It is also a new material for making lampshades as well as various other decorative items.

AFTER RICE – In Laguna where he farms, the right planting season is November.The patola is planted right after harvesting the wet season rice. By planting at this time, he will harvest during the dry season which assures good quality loofah.

ZERO TILLAGE – Donato practices zero tillage. He just cleans the rice field of stubbles then makes holes six inches in diameter and six inches deep where he plants the seeds. Distance is 2 x 3 meters.

CYLINDRICAL VARIETY – He plants two to three seeds of the cylindrical Spanish patola per hole. The holes are filled with compost so the patola will have a good start. He also applies complete fertilizer and Furadan to protect the young plants from pests.

In one and a half months after planting, the patola will flower and start fruiting. The first fruit is usually harvested for vegetable because it is often short. Buyers, according to Donato, prefer fruits that are 18 inches long or longer.

HARVESTING – After 45 days from pollination, the fruit is ready for harvesting. By then it will be yellowish and fully mature. The fruits are dried for a day or two and the seeds are removed by making a hole a the bottom end. The seedless fruits are then soaked in water for a few minutes and the skin is removed. The fibrous portion is recovered and dried ready for sale.

He collects the seeds for future planting or he sells them to others who are looking for planting materials.

NO TRELLIS – Most loofah producers grow the plants on a trellis. Donato is different. He just allows the vines to crawl on the ground. When a young fruit emerges, however, he uses a forked stick to raise the vine about two feet from the ground. The purpose is to allow the young fruit to develop straight. When this is not done, the fruit might become crooked or misshapen.

After a week or so, the fruit shall have developed more or less fully. This time Donato removes the stick and lay down the fruit on the ground.The stick would then be used on another vine with new fruit coming out.

BIG SAVINGS – By following this system, Donato saves a lot on production cost. Depending on the kind of materials used, the loofah farmer would spend from P20,000 to P80,000 for trellis alone, he said.

PROFITABLE SEASON – In the planting season lof 1991, Donato planted patola on 7,000 square meters. From that area, he was able to harvest 10,000 marketable fruits which he sold at an average of P6 apiece. It was a profitable season for him.

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