By John Bagnasco
Save on the high boutique prices for all-natural, luxurious bath sponges! It’s easy to grow your own Luffa Gourds and discover even more uses for this fascinating, porous fruit!
When luffa gourds are harvested young at 4″-6″ long, they are a sweet, tasty vegetable that can be stir-fried, sauteed, or cooked with meats or tofu just as you would zucchini squash or okra. They can also be sliced or diced in a salad like a cucumber and mature gourd seeds can be roasted. Also, the young flowers and foliage can be cooked for greens (great with butter and a pinch of curry).
Train the vine onto a trellis or fence to save space and to produce more rounded fruit. These gourds can reach anywhere from 6 inches to 2 1/2 feet long, and about 4 to 7 inches in diameter. They ripen to dark green in late summer, and for sponge harvest should be left on the vine until the skin begins to shrivel. When this occurs, harvest them and scrub the skin away, revealing the porous, dense network of tan-colored matter within. They will be full of seeds; just cut the gourd to desired size and shake out the seeds. They’re ready to use!
Pick a spot to grow your luffa gourd. A sturdy trellis about 5 to 6 feet high along the back of the planting area, which receives full sun is perfect. A fence or arbor also provides good support for the sponge vine.
Once danger of frost has passed, plant the luffa gourd in a hole that has 50% of an all-organic compost like Denali Gold mixed into it. Sprinkle 1 cup of Miloranite around the plant and water in thoroughly. Avoid overwatering established luffa plants, as excessive moisture, especially in clay soils, can cause root diseases and poor growth.
Remove all the first flowers that appear and the first four lateral branches of each plant to increase the yield and quality of fruit. Snip off branches using pruning shears and remove flowers by pinching them off with your fingers as close to the stem as possible. Remove any damaged or spotted fruit from the vine immediately, as it cannot be saved.
Harvest luffa sponges when they have matured on the vine, usually around the end of fall. Look for lightweight fruit with dry, dark yellow or brown skin. Leave the fruit on the vine as long as possible, but remove all luffa gourds immediately after the first frost or they will begin to rot.
If the gourd is dry, striking the luffa pod against a hard surface will loosen the skin and seeds. Slightly crushing the sponges can also loosen the skin. This is especially helpful for peeling less mature luffa with hard green skin. The skin will normally fall off easily if the luffa is fully mature
The bottom tip of the gourd can be cut off and many of the seeds can be shaken out before peeling. Use your thumbs to find a loose spot along a seam. Push in to create a tear and pull apart the skin. Tear up the seam. Try to get all the skin off as little pieces left behind tend to turn brown.
Apply water pressure from a hose sprayer to remove most of the sap color. It washes out many seeds also. Washing with soapy water in a bucket and then spraying is another option. Squeeze and shake out excess water. If your luffa fiber is very dark, or has many dark spots, soaking in a bucket of water with one cup of bleach for 3 to 5 gallons of water will remove most stains. Don’t bleach longer than necessary. Rinse well.
Finally, allow the luffa sponge to dry completely in the sun. Rotate as needed. Sunlight will also lighten and change the color. Leaving in the sunlight for longer periods will change the texture… it gets rougher feeling. Make certain sponges are completely dry before storing or mold may grow on any remaining sap. Dried luffas can be stored for years as long as they stay dry and dust free.