How To Re-Grow Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps?
GROWING VEGETABLES FROM KITCHEN SCRAPS
Several years ago, I spent a few weeks in September away from home. It was the peak of harvest season and I missed my garden, so when I trimmed off the tops of the beets I had bought at the farmers market, I placed them in a sauce of water to see if they would grow. I didn't know it then, but I had joined the ranks of those who sprout their kitchen scraps.
The current pandemic has combined with interest in food sustainability and zero waste issues and, as a result, kitchen scrap gardening is booming in popularity. It’s easy, can be done on a sunny windowsill, and requires no specialized equipment—not even potting soil. It also provides both the delight of getting something from nothing, and a fascinating lesson in plant growth suitable for children and adults alike (kitchen scrap sprouting might just have replaced the Chia Pet project of the 1980s). Once you play around with sprouting your food scraps, you might get hooked.
To get started all you need is a shallow bowl, saucer, or jar, and some vegetable scraps that might otherwise be headed to the compost or garbage. Pour about half an inch of water in the saucer or bowl and place it in a sunny spot, away from direct heat (a heater vent or radiator might cause the vegetables to wilt or cook) and watch the shoots grow.
Below are some of the most common and easiest items to sprout. In some cases, it is possible to transfer your sprouting scraps to the garden, or to a window box, but here we’re focusing on indoor, soil-free sprouting. Give it a try, it’s easier than you think.
Root vegetables are one of the simplest items to re-sprout. When you are trimming your roots, leave a thick slice of the vegetable (about one inch) attached to the sprout site and place the bottom in water. Don’t submerge the entire vegetable in water, about half an inch at the bottom is fine. Check the water level daily and add more as needed. While this will not regrow the root portion of the vegetable, the tender greens that sprout can be added to soups and salads.
The best root vegetables for re-sprouting are beets, radishes, turnips, and carrots (the greens are edible and taste like carrot roots). Harvest lightly from around the outside of the shoots with a scissors and they will continue to produce for several weeks. If the water gets cloudy or unappealing, remove the sprouts (place them on a damp towel), wash out your receptacle, and refill with fresh water before replacing your sprouting veggies.
The base of many leafy greens are also excellent re-sprouters. Cut off the bottom two inches of your lettuce head and place it in water and the heart of the lettuce will re-sprout. This works with any heading lettuce, with romaine being the solid favorite (greens like spinach, that do not form heads, will not regrow). Asian greens such as bok choy and hakusai (Chinese cabbage) are prime contenders, as well as European-style cabbages and celery. Fennel will re-sprout as well, but just the greens. Check the water level daily and add more as needed.
ONIONS AND GARLIC
Perhaps the easiest of all vegetables to re-sprout are onions and garlic, which usually come with their roots still attached. You may have found that onions and garlic occasionally re-sprout on their own, while sitting in the kitchen waiting to be used! A little water and direct light with hasten that process.
Green onions and leeks are the easiest: just leave an inch of white base next to the roots and stick them in a small jar with water and they will re-sprout in a week or two (you can also do this in a window box or in potting soil). A head of garlic can be placed in a bit of water on the root base, which is a good solution for older heads that might be on the verge of sprouting anyway. The tender green shoots can be harvested and are a lovely treat mixed in with rice dishes, as topping for soup, or in scrambled eggs (the flavor is garlic-like but milder and fresh).
For full sized onions, cut across the midsection about 1/3 up from the root base and place in water. Again, the onion itself will not regrow, but the green shoots that sprout can be used in the place of onions in soups, salads, and stir-fries.
A kitchen scrap garden is not going to provide a large portion of your diet, but the pleasure of watching food grow, of repurposing what would otherwise go to waste, and of supplementing and perking up your meals is a delight. It’s a great project to do with kids—for homeschooling or simply a diversion—but it’s a rewarding effort for grownups as well. You may find you get hooked on the fun of watching vegetables sprout and want to take it further, to outdoor, soil-based gardening. Either way, it’s an easy way to lively up your windowsill and your meals, and an excellent pandemic diversion or winter pastime for gardeners stuck inside, waiting for the soil to thaw.