The Q&A Archives: Luffa sponges

Question: My luffa gourds are almost ready to harvest. How do I harvest and store them to get the luffa sponges I see in stores? M. L. Atkinson, NH

Answer: It's important to let the gourds fully mature on the vine before harvesting so they develop the fibrous 'skeleton' that you'll later use as a sponge, says Rob Johnston, owner of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine. You'll know the gourds aremature when the skin color turns from green to yellowish brown. When you cut open a sample gourd, the seeds should be plump and fully developed. It would be best to let the gourds dry on the vine, but your area might be too humid, causing them to rot. If, however, your fall weather is mostly clear and dry, let the gourds stay on the vine, elevated off the ground, until the vine naturally dies back. Then follow these procedures for processing: Allow the gourds to finish drying in a warm, dry place, like an attic, for two to three months until the skin is dry and turns dark brown and the seeds inside rattle. Soak gourds in tepid water for one hour until the skin can peel off easily. Cut the skinned gourds into short sections, shake out any seeds and excess pulp from the interior, and wash the gourds in a 1:10 solution of bleach to water to kill any fungal organisms and turn the sponge from brown to white.

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