Growing Gardens from Kitchen Scraps
Before you throw your produce scraps into the compost, consider using them as starts for a garden by following a few simple steps. Barb Shaw explains how.
Just think, you can take your kitchen scraps and start a garden. Instead of throwing away or composting unwanted fruits and vegetables, use them to create something you and your family can benefit from in the form of a garden. Check out how to grow the following roots, greens, herbs, and fruits based on starts or seeds.
Roots, greens and fruits
Most root veggies–parsnips, turnips, carrots, beets–will sprout greens from the upper part of a plump root. Place tops, with the flat cut side facing down, in a centimeter of water. You should notice new green tops growing in just a few days. Allow the root to continue to develop root hairs then transplant it into the ground.
Some foods will regrow from leaves. Instead of tossing or composting unwanted leaves like lettuce, bok choy, or cabbage, place them in a bowl with a little water. Provide sunlight and keep water in the bowl. In three or four days, tiny roots will appear along the wet edges, with new leaves coming soon after. Mist the leaves with water a couple of times each week. When roots are well developed, transplant your leaves into prepared and fertile soil and water regularly.
Cut off about a centimeter of the base a celery bunch (the core from which all the stalks grow). Place it in a bowl with warm water and keep the bowl in direct sunlight all day. In about a week, new leaves will sprout along the base. Then transplant your celery into soil.
It takes about two centimeters of the base of a fennel root to get it to regrow. Put it into a bowl with a cup of water. Leave it on a sunny sill until the roots grow strong and you notice new green shoots coming up from the center of the base. Plant into soil at that time.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes
My Idaho organic potato farmer pal advised me to plant a whole potato to give each vine maximum advantage as it sprouts and grows. When the green part dies, dig up six to eight new potatoes. Or cut up potatoes, each chunk with at least one “eye,” and bury them in loose mulch. A few months later you’ll have a nice crop. Sweet potatoes will also sprout new vines that produce fat tubers. Don’t forget, though, sweet potatoes need hot, humid weather.
Growing fresh organic herbs at home
Do you have trouble finding tropical lemongrass? Regrow your own. Place leftover root ends in a glass jar with enough water to cover them and leave in the sun. After about a week, new growth pops out. At that point, transplant your lemongrass into an indoor pot or your warm summer herb garden.
The spicy rhizome is easy to regrow. Just plant a small piece in damp potting soil, making sure the buds face up. Keep it warm and new shoots and roots will appear in a week or so.
Basil is simple to regrow in a warm place. Cut off a leafy stem as long as a finger. Then, keeping leaves above the water line, stand it in a glass of water. It wants bright light, but no direct sunlight. When the new roots are half the length of the stem, give it a new home in soil.
Like basil, cilantro can be grown from scrap stems. Place the bottom of the stem in a glass of water and leave it in a bright area. When roots grow out, transplant it into a pot. You’ll notice new sprigs in a few weeks.
Break up clusters of cloves and plant them, thin end up, about a hand width apart. In cold areas, plant cloves in autumn for an early crop next spring. In late spring, each clove will produce a curled-over flower bud, called a scape. Removal of the flower stalk channels more energy into fattening cloves. When stalks are dry in summer, dig up the fat new clusters of six to 10 cloves, then clean and dry them.
Making consistently fine sprouts is an art, but the basics are simple. Soak a tablespoon of the beans or seeds in a quart jar of water overnight. In the morning, cut a square or circle of thin woven cloth to use as a breathable lid. Hold it in place with a rubber band or string around the jar neck. Through the mesh, drain the water off without losing a seed. Keep the sprout jar in a bright area and do the rinse routine daily to wash away molds and bacteria. Continue until sprouts reach the size you like. This works well with most beans and whole grain seeds.
Seeds from Vegetables
Using the seeds that come with avocados, peppers, tomatoes, and pumpkins is an obvious free source of indoor or outdoor plants. Sunflowers will sprout from raw, hulled seeds. Most dry beans will grow but require hot weather to produce a crop. Whole dry peas grow and thrive in cool, cloudy climes. Grain berries such as wheat and quinoa do well in chilly climates, too. It all sounds simple but getting seeds to production stage requires a few tricks.
If you want to save seeds, select open-pollinated produce. Look for heirloom varieties at farmers markets or organic food displays. These contain seeds that will result in offspring just like the parent. Hybrids used in factory farms can’t do that. Tomatoes are the crop most affected by this rule.
Harvest and store seeds properly
Whether from grocery produce or your own land, it’s important to store seeds properly to ensure good germination. Spread seeds on newsprint or other paper and let them air dry for about a week. Label them to avoid mix-ups. Pack seeds into small paper packets or recycled mail envelopes, so they breathe and don’t get moldy, as they will in plastic bags. Tape shut and label.
Tomato and pepper seeds have the same seed-keeping requirements. Drop or squeeze seeds into a jar, add water and allow them to ferment five days to destroy microbes. Wash and drain the seeds, then dry them on paper and label as above.
Drying seeds will stick to paper towels, so just roll up the towel to store them. When it’s time to plant, tear off one seed at a time with its bit of paper and plant both in a starter pot. Tomato and pepper seeds need warm soil to sprout, so pros use a heat mat under starter pots.
Pumpkins and winter squashes produce lots of big seeds. Start by slicing open the big fruit. Scoop out seeds and fiber, then bake the meat for a couple of hours in a medium low oven.
To save the seeds, separate them from the messy fiber, which attracts mold. Air-dry them indoors for a couple of weeks and store in dated envelopes, safe from bugs or small rodents.
Longer term seed storage
Though some seeds die if frozen, most require cool, dry conditions to best promote future germination. For all seeds, heat and humidity can spell ruin. Adding a packet of silica gel, often found in bottles of vitamins etc., is good insurance against moisture. Or wrap two heaping tablespoons of powdered milk in four layers of soft tissue, then put the little packet into your sealed glass or plastic seed packet storage containers. Replace it every six months. A refrigerator is a good seed vault but keep those warm weather crop seeds away from the freezer. Most seeds last about three years, long enough to forget details, which is another reason labels are important. Ready to plant? Let closed seed containers warm to room temperature first, or moisture in the air can condense on them, causing them to stick together. Some seeds do best if started in little pots with super-rich soil, while others can go right into the earth. Check online first for best results with each species.
Seeds from fruits
Most kids learn an avocado seed will sprout a tree. Just poke three toothpicks around its waist, fill a small glass or bowl with water and set the toothpicks on the rim, the seed partly in the water. Wait a month, keeping the water level up, and a root will emerge, then a green shoot and a tiny tree is born. If you live in a frost-free climate, let it outgrow a flowerpot, then plant it in a sunny spot.
Cherries, plums, peaches, pears, apples, and other temperate climate fruits require a cold period for the embryo inside to develop. Then they will spout and give you free root stock. A wide variety of trees can be grown from seed, including hazelnuts, chestnuts, oranges, and other citrus.
Written by Barbara H. Shaw
Barbara Shaw gardens, writes, and makes junk art in Oregon. She earned degrees in zoology, physiology, and journalism, and writes about science, health, growing things, and energy management. She also delights in reading, cooking, photography, eco-travel and has visited 60 countries. Married to a sports journalist, she embraces being a grandmother.