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Many people think that all-natural bath sponges come from the skeletons of sea creatures (some do), but they aren’t. The natural sponges that we call loofas (not those plastic puffs) are plant-based and come from gourds (Luffa aegyptiaca).
In other words, for those avoiding plastic and abstaining from animal products, there is still a great, natural, biodegradable, compostable option, perfect for the bathroom and the kitchen. Loofa sponges are completely natural and don’t require any chemicals to process. They are readily available to buy online.
Better yet, luffas are pretty easy to grow at home. Gourds come from the same family as cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins. For those who’ve grown them, it’s no secret that more often than not, the harvest is huge, more than a family can use. Well, the same goes for luffa gourds. A packet of seeds could keep a family in sponges for the year.
Growing the Luffa Gourd
The big challenge with growing luffas is that to reach maturity, they can take up to six months of frost-free weather. That doesn’t happen in much of the United States, so sprouting a luffa plant indoors can turn into a fun winter-spring project. Then, they can be planted out after the last frost date wherever one may live.
When planting a luffa seed (packets available online for about $3.50), it’s a good idea to rub it with a little sandpaper (it’s called scarification) or to soak it in water for a couple of days before putting it in the soil. They can take up to 10 days to germinate, so it’s important to be patient.
They’ll want to be planted in a place with lots of sun. The vines can grow to 20-25 feet, so it’s best to give them something to climb on, such as a fence, trellis, or porch post. Not only does this keep the vines from taking over the yard/garden, but when the fruits hang, they’ll be straight, which makes for better sponges.
When and How to Harvest Luffas
Ideally, luffas for sponges (young luffas can be used as vegetables) are best harvested when they’ve matured and mostly dried on the vine, turning a brownish color. At this point, seeds should be rattling around inside them, and processing them will be much easier than when picked young. Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in the right climate (USDA Zone 8 and higher) for this.
In colder climates, luffa gourds should be harvested as soon as possible, i.e., right away, after the first hard frost, even if they aren’t fully matured. At this point, the plant will die, and the gourds will simply begin to rot if left out. The immature fruits, even though they are heavy with water, can still be used to make luffa sponges, but processing them will just take a little longer than if they’d dried on the vine.
Source: Growing In The Garden/Youtube
Getting from Gourd to Sponge
With mature fruits, most of the work is already done. After being picked, they should sit in a shady, sheltered spot for a few days to completely dry out. The vine end of the fruit can be cut, the loose seeds rattled out (save them for next year’s crop), and the skin cracked off. This can take a little force, such as banging them on a cutting board and chucking them on the ground. Then, rinse the gourd and remove any remaining seeds. Finally, let them dry in a sunny spot for a couple of weeks.
For green fruits, the process has to begin immediately, with no drying time. It starts with cracking and peeling away the skin. If it’s mushy inside, then it’s compost fodder, but if it’s fibrous, then we are on to take out the seeds. Removing seeds from wet fruits requires some effort. Then, rinse the fruit, removing as much of the sap from them as possible. It’s best to cut these into three- or four-inch chunks and dry them in a sunny spot for around a month.
Once the process is complete, luffa sponges can be protected from mildew by soaking them in white vinegar for a while before drying them again and storing them away.
How Many Luffas to Plant
One luffa plant can easily produce five or six luffa gourds, and one luffa gourd can be up to two feet long. Do the math: That’s maybe 10-feet of sponge per plant, so at four inches sponges, we are talking 30 sponges. In other words, a couple of successful luffa vines will produce enough for most households to keep clean and wash the dishes with homegrown sponges all year.
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