National Trust staff harvest first crop of ‘grow your own’ kitchen sponges

Press release
Staff and volunteers at Knightshayes are using loofah sponges to wash their mugs and other dishes
Published : 27 Jan 2020

Staff at one of the country’s best examples of a Victorian kitchen garden are doing their bit to reduce plastic waste – by growing their own 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.

Kitchen garden supervisor 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.

Bev continues: “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.” 

The team grew 30 fruit which, once cut into segments, produced around 50 washing up sponges. Sponges not needed by the team will be sold in the onsite shop.

Bev and her team plan to grow more loofahs this year and are hoping for a sunny, warm growing season which will help produce the very fibrous sponges suitable for bathroom use. 

Bev says loofahs are easy to grow at home. “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.”

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 and 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’ and hang to dry.