First there was banana bread, then there was sourdough, and now everyone seems to be … regrowing kitchen scraps? It’s true! Now that trips to the grocery store are less frequent, it’s never seemed more appealing to grow your own food. Even if you didn’t already plant your early spring vegetables in your garden, it’s not too late to try growing some of your own right now. If you’re eating foods like potatoes, peppers, and squash, then you might already have everything you need to start growing your own vegetable garden.
What You Need to Know Before You Re-grow Kitchen Scraps
Before you throw part of your pepper in the ground and hope for the best, you need to know a few things. Jason De Pecol, the Agricultural Director at Harlem Grown, a non-profit organization devoted to educating Harlem residents and youth on urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition, says that while you could potentially grow a plant from the food you have on hand, it’s not necessarily going to look or taste the same (and if it’s non-organic, it likely won’t produce any fruit at all).
When it comes to growing food from the seeds you find in scraps, “it’s got to be organic and ideally should be heirloom,” says De Pecol. Heirloom refers to a type of seed that is close in genetics to its parent seed. “Those types of fruits and vegetables are hard to find. Even if you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you’re getting a F1 variety, which is essentially a cross between two parent varieties.”
He says it’s much like if a pure-bred Golden Retriever and pure-bred German Shepherd had a puppy, that puppy would be a mix of the two, right? And if that mix had a puppy…it would be… even further removed from the original pure-bred genes. It’s the same with plants.
But while the re-grown scraps might not look (or taste) exactly like the original, it’s not bad for you in any way, and it’s worth the effort. “There is value in… growing it for the experience of growing a plant,” adds De Pecol.
He also says that your location will determine what you can grow. Indoor locations (even with grow lights) might be better suited for growing herbs, while some people can grow a few foods outdoors on small balconies and patios, and some have plenty of gardening space which means even more options.
There are two important things to consider here — and the first is access to light. “Even in the sunniest of apartments, you don’t get that much direct sunlight. These plants really need anywhere from 12 to 16 hours of sunlight a day—especially with a flowering plant, like a tomato plant.”
The second thing to really consider is pollination. Outdoor growing is easier for pollination, which needs to take place in order for a plant to produce fruit. In order to grow something like a tomato plant indoors, for example, you’d need to know enough about the specifics of the plant in order to attempt pollination. So if you’re stuck with inside growing, you might have better luck with plants that are edible without producing fruit.
Assuming all of these conditions are in place, here are 14 foods you can grow from kitchen scraps.
Take at least a quarter of a potato, and make sure it has two “eyes,”— where the sprouts come out — then plant that piece in the ground. If you prefer “New Potatoes,” then you’ll harvest 2 -3 weeks after the plant has stopped flowering, and for more mature potatoes, wait until 2 -3 weeks after the foliage has died away.
Mint, Basil, and Cilantro
Mint is a great example of a plant you could grow indoors from a “scrap” (or cutting) of another mint plant. De Pecol suggests taking a glass full of water, covering it with plastic wrap, and punching a hole into it. Then, take a trimming off a stem from a mint plant and stick it in the hole. It should grow roots in a few days and then you can transplant it into soil.
You can use the same process for basil and cilantro, although it might take a little bit longer for the roots to form (2-4 weeks). Be sure to change the water every few days.
Have you ever heard that if you spit too many watermelon seeds you’ll grow a watermelon farm? Well, that saying is almost true.
“A watermelon seed will grow a watermelon, as long as you treat it like you’re supposed to, but it won’t necessarily be or even look like the watermelon that you ate,” says Kenneth Hardee, a truck patch farmer in Jackson, Tennessee.
Also, it turns out that “treating it like you’re supposed to” means growing the seed in a greenhouse for a few weeks before transplanting it into the ground in May. Then, they usually grow for around 80 days.
If you have an organic heirloom tomato, you can plant the seeds of it to grow a tomato plant outdoors.“My grandmother used to always save the heirloom seeds,” says Hardee. He also recommends starting these in a greenhouse and then transplanting them.
“You can absolutely grow a plant from a tomato seed,” says De Pecol. He says to go from seed to fruit for a tomato plant takes about 90 days and will produce about 3 to 5 lbs of fruit.
Unless you have extensive knowledge of the kind of tomato plant you have and know how to pollinate it yourself, you’ll likely be relying on the bees outside to do their work. “If the tomato plant produces flowers, but these flowers don’t get pollinated, it won’t produce fruit,” says De Pecol.
I saw a beautiful video of someone cutting a bell pepper in half, shaking the seeds up and then just placing it in soil and watching it grow into a plant — another almost truth.
When I asked De Pecol about this, he said that could kind of happen if it was planted in healthy soil-like compost. But the thing the video wasn’t taking into account is that peppers need lots of room to grow, so if there are 50 seeds in the pepper and 40 germinate, you really just need to take one germinated seed to pot and give it the space it needs to fully develop into a plant. If all 40 started to grow in the same space, they would just become overcrowded. Keep that in mind when planting, and stick to outdoor growing if you want a chance at producing any peppers.
An easier option to try is scallions. You know the bottom root end of scallions (or green onions) that you cut off before slicing them? Place that bulb with the roots attached in a cup of water in a sunny indoor spot. After a few days, it will start producing green shoots. When the shoots have reached 4 or 5 inches long, you can plant in soil for best growth. Again, this is assuming your original scallion is organic and heirloom, but either way, this is a simple one to try indoors.
Leeks are another great option for growing indoors. Just like with scallions, you place the white root end of your leek in a jar of water and position in a sunny windowsill, and the leafy green part will continue to regrow after you cut it back. Change the water often to keep this vegetable growing.
Once you’ve washed and dried the avocado pit, place it in a jar of water using toothpicks to suspend it as explained here. If placed in a sunny location and conditions are right, it could bear fruit in a few years. But again, most likely you’ll just get to enjoy a cool plant.
Regrowing celery is a great option to try indoors, or if you have limited space outdoors, like a fire escape or small balcony.
Chop the base off a celery bundle and set it in a small saucer of water (base part down in the water, stalk rosette facing up), and it should sprout roots in about a week. It will start growing small yellow leaves inside, and then it’s time to plant it into soil. It might be a very leafy celery at first, but after a few weeks, the stalk portion should be edible enough to pair with your favorite hummus.
Again, just because something sprouts roots doesn’t mean the taste will be exactly the same, but in the same vein as an avocado plant, a celery plant has a certain adorable factor that even if you don’t eat it — it’s a nice plant to have.
The same process for celery applies to bok choy! Cut off the base, set in water until it sprouts roots, and then transfer to soil.
Squash (Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash)
Squashes (like zucchini or yellow summer squash) are some of my personal favorites to plant, because they don’t require a whole lot of fussing. Again, this is assuming you already have some organic, heirloom-seed grown squash in your pantry —or even if you don’t, take a chance! What are you going to do with those seeds anyway?
Take about three seeds and make a little “hill” of dirt around them. Alternatively, you can plant them about 1 inch down in the soil. These don’t need transplanting — they actually do best when grown from the seeds themselves (which, conveniently, are located in the squash you are already eating).
Whatever You Do, You Can’t Mess Up (Even If You Fail)
Does all this knowing-what-kind-of-vegetable-you’re-eating-and-the-seeds-it-contains-talk feel a little overwhelming, but you still want to grow something? De Pecol suggests purchasing seeds from trusted local businesses, so you know exactly what kind of plant you’ll be growing, and you’ll be supporting local agriculture. But in the meantime, why not experiment with some of the scraps you already have? You might get a #pinterestfail, but you might also be pleasantly surprised.