How to Grow Your Own Produce From Kitchen Scraps
Help your garden grow using the vegetables and other produce you already have.
Gardening has really taken off this year and during the coronavirus crisis—victory gardens are back!—and that’s meant that garden centers and seed companies are struggling to keep up with the demand for fruit and vegetable plants and seeds as people try their hand at growing their own produce. You don’t have to wait for your local plant nursery or places you buy plants online to restock to start growing, though: You may have the makings for a produce garden—and some other fun plants—sitting in your fridge or your compost bin.
To start scrap gardening, simply recycle some of your kitchen scraps into whole new vegetables and fruits—no fancy equipment required. Just choose your scrap gardening starters wisely.
“Some things are gardenable, but some are merely amusements,” says Barbara Pleasant, gardening expert and author of Homegrown Pantry.
In other words, you can’t turn a random bit of produce leftover from last night’s dinner into a full-grown squash just by planting it in the yard. Luckily, even the projects that aren’t necessarily going to bear fruit (literally) could become fun things you can do with your kids while you’re stuck at home.
While you may have tried growing an avocado from the seed by putting an old avocado pit with toothpicks in water with lackluster results, with the right kitchen scraps, you won’t have to wait a decade for your investment to pay off. (Take planting pumpkin seeds.) With just a little water and attention, you can grow your own fresh veggies in as little as a week or two.
A pro tip before you get planting: Start any plants-in-training in a dark-colored container.
“If you use a dark-colored earthenware jar, the root section of the stem is not getting light,” Pleasant says. “Having their heads in the sun and feet in the shade encourages rooting.”
Here’s how to help your favorite fruits and veggies take root—and where to plant them once they’ve grown: Grab your gardening tools and get planting.
How to grow herbs from sprigs
Herbs may be one of the easiest things to keep regrowing in your kitchen: Simply plop herbs fresh from the store into warm water in a dark-colored vase.
“They’ll last longer, and they may take root and you’ll get a whole new plant,” Pleasant says.
Easy-grow plants like mint definitely work great for this project, but even basil and rosemary may sprout with little coaxing. Once the roots form, plant the herbs in your garden or a pot on your windowsill.
How to grow celery, lettuce, and cabbages from scraps
The bottom cores of celery, bok choy, cabbage, and lettuces can be placed in shallow dishes of water in a sunny window until they take root and you start to see growth in the leaves. However, you may not get the quality you had in the original greens.
“It’ll regrow, but they’re scrawny, and may not have a good texture,” Pleasant says.
How to grow potatoes and sweet potatoes from scraps
Potatoes are particularly easy to regrow from kitchen scraps, especially in the spring.
“Any potatoes you buy this time of year have been dormant for so long, they’re ready to grow,” Pleasant says. You can cut larger potatoes into small chunks with a few eyes on them, and smaller potatoes can go into the dirt whole.
Sweet potatoes are also easy to grow from leftover vegetables—just let the vine grow out from one of the tips. While you may not be able to harvest another potato, a sweet potato vine makes a great houseplant and the leaves are edible, Pleasant says.
How to grow greens from scraps
Love the greens from your favorite root vegetables? Simply lop off the top off beets, turnips, or fennel and place it in a shallow dish in the sun until root growth develops, then plant.
How to grow leeks and green onions or scallions from scraps
As long as the roots are still on the veggies, you can regrow them. Simply place the leek or scallion roots in water in a dark container, and let the roots grow and the greens come back. You’ll be able to harvest the greens a bit at a time after that from your plant.
How to harvest seeds
You may be able to harvest seeds to start your own seedlings from certain produce, including winter squash and tomatoes. Winter squash seeds are already ready to go. For tomato seeds, you can simply dry them on a coffee filter and plant them after you take them from your tomato.
One thing to keep in mind with seeds is that you may not get the exact same type of tomato out of it.
“Supermarket tomatoes are probably hybrid tomatoes, which have unstable genetics, and are not going to grow into the same type of tomato,” Pleasant says. If it’s an open-pollinated heirloom tomato, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
Luckily, May isn’t too late to get started with seedlings. “People don’t realize how long the planting window is—there’s still lots of time to get tomatoes in,” Pleasant says.