HOW TO: Luffa Vegetable "Sponges"
Luffa plants (sometimes called loufah) are very easy to grow in the garden. I live in Zone 7 (Northern North Caroliina), and this is among the easiest to care for plants in my garden.
I direct sow the seeds into my garden, after the danger of the last frost is past (usually last week of April or 1st week of May), water as needed, and provide some type of support as this is a vining plant, and can seeming grow a foot every couple of days under the right conditions!! This year I used tripods I constructed of bamboo poles, but I had so many gourds on the vines that the tripods fell over. Next time I grow them, I think I will try an arbor, and put the plants where they can be seen in the from yard. Maybe over our sidewalk?
The luffa vine is a very attractive plant, with bright yellow flowers (as shown in pictures above taken in June 2008) which bumblebees
will actually fight over. I have witnessed the bumblebees pushing each other of these flowers in order to get to the nectar.
The pictures above, of young luffa sponges, was taken in July 2008. If allowed to climb, the sponges will grow straight down, and
be easier to peel. Sometimes when left to grow on the ground, they will curl up. The picture on the right (above) is of a luffa vine
which wandered onto the cage where a volunteer birdhouse gourd vine grew with a tomato plant.
Luffa can be harvested 2 ways: you can leave the sponges on the vine until they dry, then pick the dried fruit and peel off the skin, and shake out the seeds. You will have a darker colored sponge if you use this method.
You can pick the green fruit as it matures, but before it dries completely, which is what I did with most of mine this year. We had a really good year for gourds this year, I ended up with probably about 50 pounds of green luffa, from 3 hills I planted in the spring. Sponges picked green will provide a lighter colored sponge, but require a bit more work to clean.
Using a good, sharp knife, cut off the ends of the sponge, and cut into sections if you would like smaller sponges.
Cut off the skin, and be careful not to cut yourself, the skins can be very tough.
Discard the skins to your compost pile.
Put the skinned sponges into a sink of warm water - I do not use bleach or any other cleaner, just water - and allow to soak for a few moments. This will make "kneading" out the pulp and seeds a little easier.
Knead each sponge, to squeeze out the pulp and seeds from the fibers of the sponge. This may take a while, but if you don't get this out, your sponge will feel somewhat slimey when first used.
Save the seeds from the nicest sponges to share with friends and plant future gardens.
Place your cleaned sponges in a warm, dry area to dry. Leave them for a few days, then you should be able to shake out any remaining seeds.
Your sponges are now ready to use for baths, washing dishes, or general cleaning.