Welcome to the luffa.info loofah sponge harvest page. Here are photos and videos with step by step descriptions of luffa sponge gourds from the home garden being picked, peeled, and cleaned for use.
When to pick your loofah is the big question. If the skin feels loose and thin like it will come off easily, then it's ready. That is the short answer. The luffa seed pods can hang on the vine until they are crisp and dry but you do not need to wait until the skin gets completely dry. It may be easier to peel them when they still have some moisture. If they stay on the vine until becoming crunchy brown the skin gets brittle and tends to break off rather than peeling. Most loofahs are still good after hanging until crispy dry and there is no question they are done growing. However, the loofahs tend to get darker the longer they hang. If it rains much it is more likely to develop rot or dark spots. If any part turns black from decay then it should be peeled before the whole thing rots. Brown is OK but black is not.
For the fiber to be fully developed you don't want to pick it too soon. Once the green color has started leaving and the weight has decreased, the fiber quits growing. Lift to feel the difference. It should be lighter and the skin should be loose. Anytime after that they can be picked and peeled. If you time it just right the skin will fall off very easily.
If the vines have died from frost the pods have quit developing and should be peeled soon before they begin to decay. If the vines have died off before reaching full maturity there may still be some good fiber, but green hard skin may be much harder to peel. An easy way to test the development of the fiber is by slightly crushing and/or throwing the luffa pod hard at the ground. If there is fiber worth peeling it may crack but will hold together. If it breaks apart, then it wasn't developed enough and belongs in the compost heap. If the skin is very hard then it requires much effort to remove. We crush, slam, and break the skin off to peel them. A hard freeze can break down the skin to make it come off more easily. Some people have baked large hard green ones at 300 degrees for half an hour to soften the skin and make removal easier. Another option is to just let them hang on the vine and see if they dry enough to peel. Often green luffa pods will rot instead of drying so watch closely for decay.
The first step is to select a loofah that is ready to be peeled. Luffa pods lose the dark green color and become lighter in weight when ready. Some varieties go from green to dark brown. Some types turn a yellow or light brown color. The photos show two different varieties. Sometimes just being a lighter green signals ripeness. The skin feels loose and thinner when they are ready to pick. If it feels like it can be peeled easily then it is ready.
The loofah sponges can be removed by twisting until the vine breaks. If the vine is still alive it may be desirable to neatly cut the sponges off in order to minimize damage to the vine.
Slamming the luffa pod against a hard surface will knock the skin and seeds loose. Slightly crushing the sponges can also loosen the skin. This is especially helpful for peeling less mature loofah with hard green skin. The skin will normally fall off easily if the loofah is fully mature.
The bottom tip of the luffa pod can be broken off and many seeds can be shaken out before peeling. Banging the loofah against the inside of a bucket is one way to get them out. Seeds can also be removed after peeling. Seeds should be allowed to dry for a day or two before storing so they don't get moldy. Luffa seeds have a thin clear layer on the outside that comes off after drying. Gently rub and blow off the seed coating outdoors. As soon as the seeds have dried, store in a cool place. Refrigerate or freeze in airtight containers for long term storage.
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. If the loofah is fully ripe it will come off easily. If not, then some slamming, crushing, and digging with fingernails may be needed. If peeling large numbers of loofahs it may be a good idea to wear gloves. The skin on your hands can become overly exfoliated and sore after peeling many. Getting the pods wet often makes peeling easier and will help the skin to separate. If your pods are dry and have hard or brittle skin then soaking in water for a few minutes will make it much easier to remove.
Peel the skin back off one end, usually the top, and pull off the other end. Do whatever works best for you. After peeling several you'll get a feel for the best method. 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 some chlorine bleach will remove most stains. It doesn't take much bleach, maybe one cup for 3 to 5 gallons of water. Don't bleach any longer than needed. Rinse well. Most loofahs are good with no bleaching. This one was sprayed with water only and then dried.
The final result is a loofah drying in the sun. Allow to dry completely. Rotate as needed. The sunlight will slightly lighten and change the color. Leaving in the sunlight for longer periods will change the texture of the loofah and make it rougher feeling. Make sure it is completely dry before storing or mold may grow on any remaining sap. Store dry loofahs in a bag or box where dust won't settle on them. They can be kept for years as long as they stay dry and dust free.
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