Dirt Therapy-Don’t Ditch the Scraps
Recycle those kitchen scraps
When I started thinking about the number of eatable items that can be propagated from kitchen scraps, I was surprised to learn that there were so many.
Just thinking about the fruits and vegetables that we eat and that each of them has a seed inside and that means you could grow the plant that produced them. When you think about it almost all fruits and veggies we eat with a seed can be grown again.
I am going to split them up by different categories: propagation by scrap, propagation by seeds and propagation by plant (cuttings). Before getting started collecting your ‘scraps’ or seeds, be sure to get them from organic fruits and vegetables, because pesticide and herbicide-treated plants usually won’t grow a second generation. If you purchase genetically modified organism (GMO) for your fruit or vegetables, they were likely bred from suicide seeds that won’t produce another generation of viable seed.
The first group is propagation by scrap.
This is the part of the fruit or vegetable that you would usually discard when prepping them to eat. This is the area that the above ground part and the below ground part of the plant meet. Be careful to leave at least at least one inch on both sides of this clear divide in the plant. This will allow both the root stock and the leaf stock to regenerate. Below is a list of plants that will re-propagate well by this method and notes for success.
Set the base in a glass of shallow water and in about a week you will see new celery shoots growing out of the center of the stock. Start new celery in a kitchen window and transplant it to the garden once it starts to grow a few inches high. Just make sure you plant once you start to see the outer stalks deteriorate. Celery likes cooler weather, so if it is too hot outside, you can transplant to a pot in your kitchen or by a sunny window in your home as well. Spritz it with water weekly to keep the top of the plant moist.
Soak the roots in a container of water, leaving a short shaft of green above the water line in about an inch of clean water, and place them in the sun. As the plants grow taller, keep the water level higher. The roots will grow longer too, and in a few weeks you can transplant them to your garden to grow a whole new batch of green onions. YOu can even just snip the ends off as you need them.
Take the leftover white roots, you must leave at least 3-4″ of the white part above the stem (which in a leek is the thin brownish disk found at the bottom) and place them in a container with a small amount of water in it. You want the roots to be wet but you don’t want the entire thing submerged. Take your container and place it in a sunny window sill. Within 3-5 days you will begin to see new growth come up. In a few weeks you can transplant them to your garden. Scallion and Fennel can be propagated in the same way.
You will take the white base or heart of the plant to grow your produce. Cut the stalks or leaves with an inch left and placing them into a bowl of water with the roots facing down. You can stick toothpicks in the side to keep it just above the water so that just the roots are in the water. You want to make sure the roots are in waster but you do not want to submerge the entire plant. Make sure to place the bowl into a sunny window and spritz it with water weekly to keep the top of the plant moist. Several days later you will begin to see the roots and leaves sprouting. In seven to ten days remove the plant from the water and plant it into soil with only the leaves above the soil. You plant will continue to grow and in several weeks you will have a new head ready to be harvested. Bok Choy and Cabbage can be grown just like Romaine lettuce.
Onions are one of the easiest vegetables to propagate. Just cut off the root end of your onion (which must remain intact), leaving a ½ inch of onion on the roots. Leave it to dry, in a place that’s shady and well aired, for roughly 2 hours. Place it in a sunny position in your garden and cover the top with soil. Ensure the soil is kept moist. It won’t take long before your onion will begin to sprout. When 2 – 3 leaves have developed well on each shoot, dig up the whole thing, remove the old onion tissues, separate the new shoots with their roots (each one will become a new onion) and transplant them taking care to cut back the leave by 2/3, in this way you’ll encourage the bulb to grow. Onions prefer a warm sunny environment, so if you live in a colder climate, keep them in pots and move them indoors during frostier months.
Lemongrass is similar to all other grasses and because of that you just need to place the roots you cut off into a container with water and put in a sunny window. After about a week there should be some new growth from your lemongrass. Once you have new growth you will need to transplant the plant from the water into a pot with soil and put it back into the sunny windowsill. You want to wait till your lemongrass reaches a foot tall before you begin harvesting it. Just like before cut off what you plan to use in the kitchen and allow the roots to continue to sprout. It’s just like cutting your lawn; it will just keep coming on if you keep it healthy.
To regrow pineapples, you need to remove the green leafy piece at the top and ensure that no fruit remains attached. Either hold the crown firmly by the leaves and twist the stalk out, or you can cut the top off the pineapple and remove the remaining fruit flesh with a knife (otherwise it will rot after planting and may kill your plant). Carefully slice small, horizontal sections from the bottom of the crown until you see root buds (the small circles on the flat base of the stalk). Remove the bottom few layers of leaves leaving about an inch base at the bottom of the stalk. Plant your pineapple crown in a warm and well drained environment. Water your plant regularly at first, reducing to weekly watering once the plant is established. You will see growth in the first few months but it will take around 2-3 years before you are eating your own home-grown pineapples.
And one for the kids….. ‘Pet’ Carrot Tops!!
I call this a ‘pet’ because the plant that re-grows from planting a carrot top will NOT produce edible carrots, only a new carrot plant. The vegetable itself is a taproot which can’t re-grow once it has been removed from the plant. But it makes an attractive flowering plant for the kitchen, and they’re easy and lots of fun to grow…. for kids of all ages!
Cut the top off your carrot, leaving about an inch of vegetable at the root. Stick toothpicks into the sides of the carrot stump and balance it in a glass or jar. Fill the glass with water so that the level reaches the bottom of the cutting. Leave the glass in filtered, not direct, sunlight and ensure water is topped up to keep the bottom of your cutting wet. You’ll see roots sprout in a few days, and you can transplant your ‘pet’ carrot into soil after a week or so.
The Second group is Propagating from Seeds
These include tomatoes, Hot peppers, Bell peppers, Pumpkins, Cucumbers and Squash. We can get seed from any of these while prepping them in the kitchen. The seeds must be dried before they are stored or can germinate. Individual seeds should be separated from one another so they can dry more evenly. Larger seeds will require more time to air dry whereas smaller seeds will require less time. Do NOT try to dry the seeds too quickly or they may shrink and crack. And do NOT dry at a temperature higher than 100°F. Indoor air drying is usually the best. Generally the drier the seed, the longer the seed will remain alive in storage. After your seeds are dry, store your seeds in a standard small paper envelope, or a paper bag, or a cloth bag in a dry, cool area. After placing the seeds in a standard small paper envelope or cloth bag, you can store that envelope or bag inside a standard plastic freezer bag. Do not seal your seeds inside a vacuum plastic bag without air because seeds are living organisms and they need a minimum amount of air to continue their life cycle. The best place to store seeds is in a plastic freezer bag inside a refrigerator at a temperature between 33°F to 40°F. These steps will more than double the storage life of your seeds. You can follow general germination and planting rules at any time to having new plants that produce your favorite crop.
The third group is propagation by plant (cuttings).
In this group you will be using a part of the plant to start a new plant. We really have two types of usable parts to use, the roots of some plants and the above ground parts of other plants.
Take a chunk of Ginger from your kitchen scraps and place it into the soil. Make sure the newest buds are facing up. Unlike some other plants Ginger will enjoy filtered light rather than direct sunlight. Soon enough you will begin to see new growth sprouting up out of the soil and under the soil roots will begin to sprawl out into the soil. After the plant acclimates to its new home you will be ready to harvest the next time you need Ginger. Pull the entire plant out of the soil and cut off the pieces you need, and just replant it like you did initially.
Re-growing potatoes is a great way to avoid waste, as you can re-grow potatoes from any old potato that has ‘eyes’ growing on it. Pick a potato that has robust eyes, and cut it into pieces around 2 inches square, ensuring each piece has at least one or two eyes. Leave the cut pieces to sit at room temperature for a day or two, which allows the cut areas to dry and callous over. This prevents the potato piece from rotting after you plant it, ensuring that the new shoots get the maximum nutrition from each potato piece. Potato plants enjoy a high-nutrient environment, so it is best to turn compost through your soil before you plant them. Plant your potato pieces around 8 inches deep with the eye facing upward, and cover it with around 4 inches of soil, leaving the other 4 inches empty. As your plant begins to grow and more roots appear, add more soil. If your plant really takes off, mound more soil around the base of the plant to help support its growth.
When planted, sweet potato will produce eye-shoots much like a potato. Bury all or part of a sweet potato under a thin layer of soil in a moist sunny location. New shoots will start to appear through the soil in a week or so. Once the shoots reach around four inches in height, remove them and re-plant them, allowing about 12 inches space between each plant. It will take around 4 months for your sweet potatoes to be ready. In the meantime, keep an eye out for slugs… they love sweet potatoes. To propagate sweet potatoes, it is essential to use an organic source since most commercial growers spray their sweet potatoes to prevent them from shooting.
You can re-grow a plant from just a single clove – just plant it, root-end down, in a warm position with plenty of direct sunlight. The garlic will root itself and produce new shoots. Once established, cut back the shoots and the plant will put all its energy into producing a tasty big garlic bulb. And like ginger, you can repeat the process with your new bulb.
Mushrooms can be propagated from cuttings, but they’re one of the more difficult veggies to re-grow. They enjoy warm humidity and nutrient-rich soil. Prepare a mix of soil and compost in a pot (not in the ground) so your re-growth is portable and you can control the temperature of your mushroom. I have found most success with a warm filtered light during the day and a cool temperature at night. Just remove the head of the mushroom and plant the stalk in the soil, leaving just the top exposed. In the right conditions, the base will grow a whole new head. (In my experience, you’ll know fairly quickly if your mushroom has taken to the soil as it will either start to grow or start to rot in the first few days).
Your success in re-growing fresh veggies from scrap may depend on your climate, the season, soil quality and sunlight available in your home or garden. And some veggies just propagate easier than others. In my experience, a bit of trial and error is required, so don’t be afraid to do some experimenting. Get your hands dirty. It’s lots of fun! And there’s nothing like eating your own home-grown veggies.