Luffas
text by Linda McCartney, in "Gourd Gulch"
photos by Eva Pawlak taken at Rocky Ford Gourds

....I grew a few luffas for the first time last year, only planted 14 seeds, 12 plants grew. They were in a row, on the ground, right next to my hard shell plants. They were much slower growing than the hard shells; I was afraid the big vines would cover the little luffa plants, but as the luffas grew, I was surprised that the big vines flat refused to grow into the luffa's space, but the luffas grew into the other gourds.
 

These round luffas are about 1 1/2" tall and about 2" long. These more commonly grown luffas used for bath sponges are about 30" long.

When the first luffas were growing, ripening, and drying one by one and two by two, I didn't know how to clean them. First, I let one get real dry and crisp and started picking the skin off piece by piece. This was tedious to say the least, so I finally started experimenting and came up with this method. I started picking them when the stems were brown, the skins were brownish green but not totally hard and crisp, and the flower "button" was ready to fall out. I took the "button" out and cut off the stem just a little into the skin being careful not to cut the sponge. I then submerged the luffa in water (in my kitchen sink), holding it down into the water until the gourd filled with water. I let it soak for 30 minutes or so, turning occasionally. Then, from the stem end, I tore the skin noticing that the strings in the skin work almost like zippers. I worked my fingers of both hands into the slit (you may have to cut the slit, again being careful not to cut the sponge) and the skin just separated from the sponge, many times all in one piece. I just kept dipping the sponge into the water and pulling it out with the flower end down and the seeds and chaff just poured out. It took many times dipping and pouring. I took my kitchen strainer to scoop the seeds off the top of the water...they float to the top. When all the seeds I could see were out, I set that one aside and did the same with the rest. Then I set them all on a table in a warm, dry room to thoroughly dry to a brownish tan color. That took from one to three weeks.

When they were dry, back into the sink they went until totally soaked and soft. More dipping, more seeds came out. Then I put 15 to 20 of them, still wet, into my top loading washing machine, cool or warm water, delicate cycle with about 1/2 cup of bleach (optional). I let them go through the wash cycle...DO NOT LET THE WASHER DRAIN. I found lots more seeds and chaff floating on the surface and didn't want all that stuff going through the washer filtering system, so I scooped it all out with the strainer again. I then let the washer drain and continued with the rinse cycle, again scooping before draining. I rinsed 3 or 4 times, mainly to get all the bleach out, scooping each time as needed. The spin cycle didn't hurt the sponges at all. Then I put the luffas in the dryer on the coolest temperature setting and checked them every 10 to 15 minutes so the wouldn't get totally dried out. I let one batch air dry in the dryer, the other batches I just spread out on a table to finish drying. Sounds crazy? Yep, but it worked, and I'm looking forward to start cleaning this year's crop in a few more weeks.

For those who don't like to use the chlorine bleach and want to go "natural", yet still find those sunburn spots too dark, try dipping the wet sponges into hydrogen peroxide and hanging them on the clothesline in the sun to dry and "bleach". Non-chlorine bleaches don't work I found. And as an added note, if you're going to cut your sponges, cut them when they're totally wet with sharp scissors. I recently had to pack a round gourd in a square box (special order from my Daughter)...I wrapped the gourd in thin foam sheets and stuck luffas between the gourd and the corners of the box...that gourd didn't move in that box or get scratched, and I didn't have one or two pounds of packing to pay shipping costs on. Happy luffa cleaning!!!!  e-mail: Cntograma@aol.com.