“Don’t Throw It, GROW IT!” by Deborah Peterson is a great little book that has tips for growing 68 types of plants from kitchen scraps. I have been re-growing certain vegetables from scraps for years and it really does work. Some vegetables are in short supply this year. and while trying to limit visits to the supermarket, it couldn’t hurt to experiment with growing produce from kitchen scraps.
A lot of resources go into growing a single vegetable from seed and getting it to the dinner table. Growing a head of lettuce, for example, will use fuel to get the seed to the farm, for transportation on the farm, to get it to a distribution center, and then to market. Energy will be used by anyone who drives to the market to purchase the lettuce. Although a head of lettuce is not shipped by itself, shipping still contributes to the overall expenditure of energy that it takes to get it home eventually. The energy expended for purchasing one or two heads per week can have a negative impact on the environment over the long run.
Not all fruit or vegetable food scraps have the possibility of re-sprouting. There are three types of kitchen scraps that can be used to grow a clone or new plant.
Seeds are the most obvious candidate for growing a new plant, but often end up in the green bin with all the other kitchen waste. Although it might be easier to drop $4 on a seed packet, saving seeds instead of discarding them is comparable to picking up that $4. Non-organic fruits and vegetables may have seeds that have been genetically modified to be sterile, so it is best to always grow seeds from organic sources. The seeds of different plants have different shelf lives, as well. Onions have about a 10-month window of viability, while a tomato seed has been germinated after 22 years. Most tomato seeds are good for seven to 10 years. There is a comprehensive seed storage guide and viability chart at www.johnnyseeds.com to help people plant seeds that will be successful.
Many plants, including some vegetables, can be re-grown from their crowns. A plant’s crown is where the stem and the roots come together. It is also the part that is usually disposed of when preparing a vegetable for a meal. Bok choy, celery, leeks, lettuces, lemongrass, carrots, onions, garlic, chives, pineapple, beets, turnips, radishes and many other root vegetables can regrow from their severed crown. The crowns of some plants, such as lemongrass, will grow back to their original size. Others, such as celery crowns, will produce stalks about half their mature size, and still others, like beet crowns, will yield smaller vegetables but produce tender edible foliage and/or seeds for planting.
A kitchen scrap is cut either below the crown if working with a turnip, or above it as in the case of a leek. The stem sides in both cases should be placed upright in a shallow dish of moist sand or water. Do not submerge the top of the crown. Place it on a bright window sill. The water should be changed every other day. A small stem or stems and possibly some roots will begin to appear within two to three weeks. The plant can then be transplanted into a vegetable bed or container and grown until it is ready to be harvested.
Ginger, turmeric, horseradish and Jerusalem artichoke are examples of edible rhizomes that are used in many different cuisines. They need to be peeled before eating, and inevitably the small, hard-to peel-pieces get thrown out. These little portions can be planted in a small pot after the sliced side has dried out for a few days. The plants can be placed or transplanted outside in the spring. When properly cared for, they will produce a never-ending supply of these flavorful plants.
I like to place the leftover lemongrass and onion root bases into succulent pots, scatter the tips of potatoes throughout the yard, and set beet crowns in interior pots. There’s no extra work since I place them in areas that are already being watered. Before I know it, I will have some additional food to harvest and enjoy.