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How to grow vegies from kitchen scraps
Don't let your vegie scraps go to waste. Here's how to turn offcuts into edibles.
Cultivating vegies using what you have at hand is a centuries-old tradition and today you only have to look as far as the kitchen bin for some tasty options.
Many house-bound people have turned to gardening and while many nurseries have been all but stripped bare of seedlings, a cost-effective alternative is to use vegie scraps to grow edible plants or collect seeds for the next season. (More: How to start your own vegie patch.)
Using these scraps, it’s possible to turn a single garlic clove into a fat bulb bursting with cloves or use potato peelings to grow spuds for dinner.
If your parsley’s going to seed, let it. It will re-seed in the same spot and sprout again, and if you’ve bought chillies for a curry, you can scrape out the seeds and use them to grow new plants.
The possibilities are many, says Marcelle Swanson, edibles category manager at the Diggers Club, which uses age-old horticultural practices such as seed harvesting, and sells heirloom seeds passed down through generations.
How to grow vegies from scraps
Scraps that can regrow entire new plants fairly quickly include spring onions, celery and sweet potatoes, she says. The tops of pineapples and avocado pips also grow into new plants, although they will take years to mature.
If you want to flavour the Christmas roast, now is the time to take a single organic garlic clove and plant it in the ground. “Put the flat bottom down and pointy bit facing up; it’s that easy and, if you plant a clove now, you’ll have a whole garlic bulb by Christmas,” Marcelle says.
She points out that it’s important to use heirloom or organic garlic and other produce when growing from scraps to ensure they haven’t been genetically modified to stop them regrowing.
One of the most popular backyard gardening hacks is using a potato’s ‘eyes’ – the spots that form roots – to grow a crop, but Marcelle warns you risk infecting a garden plot with potato disease. She recommends using only ‘certified seed potatoes’, which are free from diseases such as brown rot.
How to grow vegies from seed
Seed preservation is also simple, Marcelle says. For store-bought produce, simply scrape seeds out of vegetables such as capsicum or chilli and dry them on a paper towel. Store them and plant in the spring – the same method is used for most seeds, she says.
If you have a spindly tomato plant left in the garden, that’s the foundation for next year’s crop, she says. Simply leave the plant to self-seed or scrape out the seeds from the tomatoes and dry on paper towelling, ready for replanting next spring.
Beans and peas inside pods are seeds that can be dried and planted for next season’s crop, she says. And pumpkin is easily grown from the seeds taken straight from the guts of this kitchen staple.
Five things you can grow from scraps
Probably the easiest to grow, the white butt of a spring onion and its roots, which you’d normally throw away, can become the source of new green shoots. Drop the roots into a glass of water and simply wait a week or so for the new shoots to appear. Keep the roots submerged and change the water weekly. When the plant is about 10 centimetres long you can transfer it to a pot or your garden. Spring onions grow all year round and prefer full sun. They will grow well in a pot if kept moist and weed free by mulching.
Potato peelings that have ‘eyes’ or sprouting roots can be dug straight into the soil to grow a potato plant. But experts warn that store-bought potatoes may carry vegetable diseases and recommend using only ‘certified seed potatoes’. Plant in a sunny position from May to February deep in soil enriched with organic matter, and ensure the potatoes are protected from sunlight by covering with straw and manure as they grow. New potatoes can be harvested 12 to 16 weeks after planting, or leave in the ground for an extra two to three weeks for mature potatoes.
Experts recommend using organic garlic and then taking a single clove and digging it into the soil with the pointy side up. Plant in autumn in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil and harvest six to eight months later.
Buy organic lettuce with roots still in place and plant the root base in the garden or pots. Plant year round in a sunny position. Plants will take eight to 10 weeks to mature. You can cut the whole plant or pick the outer leaves as required.
Place the tip of a tuber suspended by toothpicks from the top of a jar into water and watch it shoot a vine. Cuttings can be taken from the vine and planted in soil. Best planted in spring, four weeks after the last frost (in frost-prone areas), sweet potatoes thrive in loose crumbly soil in a sunny position. They will take four to six months to mature, depending on climate.