This is one of those articles that you kind of think you might do some time, but never have just the right reason to do it. With everyone hiding at home, and with many trying to keep kids busy, now seems a perfect occasion for an article on recycling vegetables!
Many folks have probably tried to sprout an avocado from a seed in a glass jar. It’s an easy process, done merely by putting toothpicks into the seed about half-way down, putting the pointed end of the seed in the water, and waiting for things to happen. And many oldsters probably remember putting a sweet potato in jar in much the same way – only the sprouting is much faster, and the vine that takes off makes a lovely display. Walking into kitchens of my childhood meant that I would see these vines trailing all over.
Did you know that you can get a lettuce leaf to sprout roots? Use a shallow saucer with a small amount of water, and place a lettuce leaf with the bottom edge into the water. It’s much easier if your leaf comes from the bottom of the head of lettuce. It will sprout roots soon enough.
Celery stalk bottoms are an easy project; I’ve been growing them in my garden all winter, after cutting all the stems off, leaving the bottom 2 or 3 inches. That bottom will root in water and you can plant it and get lots of new growth. Celery grown in the garden has a much stronger flavor, although you may not get thick ribs. Other vegetables that you can re-start from the bottom ends include onions, ginger, garlic, and fennel.
Pineapple, turnips, and beets can be grown from the tops of the vegetable from your larder, rather than the bottom. Let them air dry a couple of days after cutting, and then pot them. They should root rather well. Of course, it takes well over a year to get a pineapple, but the plant itself is lovely.
Most people know that to get new potatoes, you can quarter a potato and plant the quarters, as long as they have at least one “eye.” However, you don’t necessarily have to use a whole potato. It’s possible to use the peelings with the eyes on them to get a plant started. They go in the ground just like a potato seedling would.
Here’s a rather unusual one: if you use the caps off mushrooms for a recipe, you can use the stem to grow another cap! Mushrooms are a bit tricky, needing certain levels of humidity and light and soil, but it can be done. A quick check on a website can give you tips if you want to try this challenge.
Basil and cilantro usually get placed in a glass of water to keep them a little longer before using them. If you don’t use them soon, you know that roots will show up, making this an easy project to enchant young children.
Then you have the pits and seeds group. This would include peach and plum pits, apple, citrus, pumpkin, pepper and tomato seeds. Now we get into more traditional growing, although with some of the hybrids around in the vegetable bins, things may not breed true to the plant you got it out of. But in this project, that isn’t really the point; it’s the idea that you can create a new plant from virtual garbage items (although frankly, I’d hope you’re tossing unwanted leftovers in the compost bin). The stone fruit pits can go in a pot immediately, while your seeds should be washed and dried before planting.
For very young impatient children, it’s worth it to purchase a packet of radish seeds, and to let them plant them in paper cups to set on the windowsill. Those babies sprout in days, and can be harvested within a month. Children get a real lesson in gardening, botany, and almost instant gratification!
I hope this detour from the usual garden projects has piqued your interest. I’ve tried nearly all of these myself at one time or another, and it’s an amusing way to look at how we get our food and what we can do with the waste. When you are actually able to harvest something like celery that you got “for free” it brings great satisfaction. Bon appetite!
A. Lynette Parsons is a master gardener and Chambers County resident.