National Trust Staff Harvest First Crop of Home-Grown Kitchen Sponges

Published on February 3rd 2020
Home-grown loofahs
We are all trying to decrease our plastic use and be more environmentally friendly. Swapping plastic straws for paper alternatives and carrying reusable cups is certainly one way to do it, but the National Trust have taken things one step further by growing their own cleaning materials.
Staff at the charity are doing their bit to reduce plastic waste by producing garden-grown washing up sponges.
The team at the National Trust’s Knightshayes estate in Devon recently harvested their first crop of loofahs, which staff and volunteers are now using to wash their mugs and other dishes.
Home-grown loofah
Image credit: Liz Abdey, National Trust.
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Supervisor of the famed Victorian kitchen garden, Bev Todd says: ‘Many people think loofahs are sea sponges, but they’re actually the fruit of Luffa cylindrica – a vine in the cucumber family. Once they’ve matured, a few simple steps turns them into sponges that are great for cleaning dishes.
‘We have 80 volunteers and nine staff in our outdoor team, so that’s a lot of washing up and a lot of sponges. With the growing awareness of single-use plastics, and their impact on the environment, we wanted to find a more sustainable alternative to the disposable plastic-based sponges we had been using.’
Washing up with loofah
Image credit: Liz Abdey, National Trust.
The team grew 30 fruit which, once cut into segments, produced around 50 washing up sponges.
Now, they are encouraging the public to grow their own. The loofah vines were grown in an unheated polytunnel, meaning people can easily do this at home too. And the best bit – Bev claims they are as easy as growing courgettes.
Cutting loofah
Image credit: Liz Abdey, National Trust.
‘You need to grow them up some kind of supporting structure,’ she says, ‘but there’s nothing more complicated than that involved.
‘We know people are looking for ways they can live more sustainably. We hope what we are doing at Knightshayes will inspire others to think about creative, simple ways they can reduce their everyday impact on the environment,’ adds Bev.
She estimates that a well-grown loofah sponge, with average use, should last up to two months. They can also be put into the dishwasher or washing machine to be refreshed, if needed.
Volunteer harvesting loofahs
Image credit: Liz Abdey, National Trust.
Bev and her team plan to grow more loofahs over the coming year and are hoping for a sunny, warm growing season which will help make the very fibrous sponges suitable for bathroom use. Sponges not needed by the charity will be sold in the onsite shop.
The National Trust aims to phase out selling single-use plastics at locations under its care by 2022. The conservation charity has already eliminated plastic from its disposable cups and crockery, instead choosing plant-based compostable products.
Plan your visit to Knightshayes or join the discussion on Twitter @nationaltrust.
National Trust Knightshayes
© Tony Cobley

How to grow your own loofahs:

  1. Sow seeds in April or May in a warm, sunny spot – a sunny windowsill or frost-free greenhouse is perfect.
  2. Transfer to a large pot under cover (in a greenhouse or similar) for growing on. Fruit won’t achieve ripeness outdoors.
  3. Ensure plants have a support they can scramble up.
  4. Once the fruit has matured and withered, squeeze to loosen the skin, then peel skin off completely to reveal the fibrous inner ‘skeleton’.
  5. Wash the peeled fruit well to remove the seeds and flesh from the ‘skeleton.’ Hang to dry.
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