Friday, May 1, 2015

Kitchen Scraps to Garden Treasure - Easy Plant Propagation

Starting plants from leftover scraps
Springtime and fellow gardeners are getting excited about planting seedlings. Seed starting is a key activity. This year I'm excited to be planting food scraps. Yes, there are a number of foods that you can grow from kitchen scraps. That's pretty great. The next best thing to buying local is not buying at all. Is this food recycling? It's nice to always have a home-grown supply of these items on my kitchen window sill or garden.  While it saves a little bit of money - it is also easy and fun! Kids that come over find it amazing.

To facilitate the process I use a plastic container from Costco apples. These little impressions are the perfect place to put the root end of celery, carrots, lettuce. Take a look at how this all works with examples of specific veggies. 

Here's my list herbs and veggies that I've (tried to) regrow from the scraps. Others listed at the bottom can be grown from seeds - but that's another story :)


  1. Basil: Basil is relatively easy to regrow. We propagate this at the Chicago Park District for sale in spring. Just take a stem about four inches long and remove the lower leaves. Place it in a glass of water with the leaves well above the water line or in dirty perlite mix. Leave the glass in filtered sunlight and watch roots begin in only a few days. When the roots are a few inches long the plant can be placed in soil / pot. Once it gets large and stable you can place it in your garden.  Other herbs can also be started this way including rosemary (with a little rooting hormone) 
    Rooting Mint from cutting leftovers
  2. Lemongrass: I like using lemongrass but it's not often in my grocery store or on the shopping list. It's easy to regrow from the root. Just leave a few inches from any piece and place it in water. Place this in sunlight and in a week or so there will be new growth on the top and larger root system too. It can then be planted in container or garden. 
  3. Mint: I can't say that this is a staple in my garden, however, girlfriends bring over fresh mint for drinks (not tea!) and often I root up the leftover and give it back to them in an herb container. Just follow the same guidelines as for basil above. 

Carrot tops grown from leftovers
  1. Carrot tops:   A carrot taproot leftover end can’t re-grow another tap root but it will generate fresh green tops. These are flavorful and a nice garnish. Cut the carrot leaving an inch of orange at the top end. Put this in water and leave it in filtered sunlight. Greens pop up in a week or so. If left in water too long, the old carrot becomes mushy so plant it before then.  I just use the tops and start over with the next carrots in water. 
  2. CeleryCut off the bottom or base of celery and place it in a bowl of water. Keep the bowl in direct sunlight and after a week or so leaves will sprout from the interior of the base. Also watch for small white roots to emerge on the bottom. When there are roots the celery can be placed in soil.  Celery requires a good deal of water - planting before the roots appear will rot the base before the plant grows. 
    Celery & bok choy starting in water; from leftover ends

      Celery - moved from water and potted in soil

  3. FennelGrowing fennel requires an inch of the base. Place the base in water and leave it in direct sunlight. When roots are strong and new shoots start from the center it can be plant in soil.
  4. GarlicGarlic grows from just one clove.  From store bought garlic pull one clove and plant it roots down in potting soil. Keep it in direct sunlight . I place these in the garden and generally 100+ days later there is another garlic bulb. I like the flower :)  Never buy garlic again - it overwinters and grows again in the spring. Harvested bulbs keep for a very long time. 
  5. Ginger:  They say that Ginger root is very easy to grow and once started, it provides a steady supply of fresh ginger.  I have not found this to be the case - but maybe I'm not patient enough.  It can take 8-10 months to generate a mature ginger rhizomes in a cold climate garden. Plant a spare piece of ginger root in potting soil, making sure that the buds are facing up. New shoots and new roots  will form in about a week - larger rhizomes come over time. Ginger needs lots of light and is not cold hardy. It can be over winters like other rhizome plants. For me it was always a decorative container plant - I never had much yield. I keep trying though!
  6. Green Onions: Like lemon grass, leave a few inches near the roots and place them in water. Keep in sunlight. Within days more greens will appear. They can be placed in soil - but I just keep in a glass and continually use them. After about three growth periods I toss them out and start over again - the old onion exteriors start to mush / rot. This would not be an issue if they were planted :)
    Green onions grown from leftover root ends
  7. Leeks: Similar approach to onions and lemon grass.  Roots take hold very quickly and they can be placed into containers and in the garden.  
    Leeks root end placed in soil to start

    Growth after a few weeks - Leeks, regrown

  8. Lettuce - Bok Choi:  This is another one that I have not had great success with. I started Bok Choi from just a small bit at the root end. I placed it in water and within a few days growth started from the core. The issue was that this immediately went to seed without production of the classic vegetable.  With lettuce, I placed the core in water and was able to get solid growth within the first week. However, the plant did not generate roots and did not thrive. Your mileage may vary.
Bok Choy - grown from ends;
gone to seed too soon!

  1. Onions: Onions are very easy to grow indoors or out. You just have to cut the root of the onion off and make sure that you leave about a half an inch of onion when you do. Cover lightly with potting soil and keep in a sunny area. For green onions, simply put the white base with the roots intact in a container of water and place in direct sunlight. Change the water out every few days and the green will continue to grow. Just snip what you need and allow it to grow as long as you like.
  2. Potatoes:  This isn't a high value crop to grow your own - but it's easy. When store bought potatoes start to grow, I know what to do!  I cut two inch pieces, ensuring that there are at least two or three eyes on each piece.  I let the pieces callus overnight and then plant about four inches deep, eyes up, in the garden or lasagna/layered garden. 
  3. Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes can be grown like avocados from seed.  Cut the sweet potato in half and suspend it using toothpicks in water. Roots will appear in days and sprouts shortly thereafter. When the sprouts are four inches long, twist them off and place them in their own container of water. When these shoots have solid roots they can be placed in the garden.
I recently placed a wireless speaker into the kitchen so that I could listen to tunes while cooking and working with plants. If the plants could choose a play list I wonder what that would be? Maybe "Let it Grow" from Dr. Suess the Lorax?

Have fun!

Teresa Marie

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