National Trust harvests homegrown kitchen ‘sponges’ to cut plastic waste

The National Trust has harvested its first “grow your own” kitchen sponges as part of efforts to cut plastic waste.

A crop of loofahs – the fruit of a vine in the cucumber family – has been grown at the Victorian kitchen garden at Knightshayes, Devon, and they are now being used by staff and volunteers to wash mugs and dishes.

According to the team, loofahs are as easy to grow as courgettes and in a few simple steps can be turned into an alternative to plastic-based sponges.

Harvesting the loofahs
A volunteer harvesting loofahs at Knightshayes (Liz Abdey/National Trust/PA)

They grew 30 fruit, which they cut into segments to produce 50 washing-up sponges – with any not needed by the team being sold in the onsite shop.

Staff are planning to grow more loofahs this year, and are hoping for a warm, sunny growing season to produce very fibrous sponges suitable for being used in the bathroom.

Kitchen garden supervisor Bev Todd said: “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.

The loofah being peeled
Kitchen garden supervisor Bev Todd peeling a loofah (National Trust/Liz Abdey/PA)

“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.”

The plants are easy to grow at home, she said.

“You need to grow them up some kind of supporting structure, but there’s nothing more complicated than that involved. You simply grow them as you would grow courgettes.”

The natural washing-up sponges last around two months, and can be put into the dishwasher or washing machine to be refreshed, the National Trust said.

The loofahs are hung up to dry
After peeling the loofahs are hung in the drying room (National Trust/Liz Abdey/PA)

To grow your own loofahs in five simple steps, the National Trust says you just need to:

– Sow seeds in April or May in a warm, sunny spot. A sunny windowsill or frost-free greenhouse is perfect.

– Transfer to a large pot under cover (in a greenhouse or similar) for growing on. Fruit won’t achieve ripeness outdoors.

– Ensure plants have a support they can scramble up.

– Once the fruit has matured and withered, squeeze to loosen the skin and then peel skin off completely to reveal the fibrous inner “skeleton”.

– Wash the peeled fruit well to remove the seeds and flesh from the “skeleton” and hang to dry.

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