How to grow food from kitchen scraps – Part 1

If you are like me and love reading how to reuse stuff around the house, then you have probably seen this or a similar headline many times before. When researching for this blog I think I read about 25 articles and I have to say some of the ideas were quick and easy but others I really feel were a bit of a stretch. Take an article on feeding your family from kitchen scraps that included growing your own avocados from your left over seed. Now technically you could grow an avocado from a seed but this is a major long term plan. Most avocado tress do not produce edible fruit until about 10 – 15 years from planting the seed, so your family might be waiting a while to get fed!

Some are the plants are finicky and often impossible to grow, so I have just omitted these altogether. Anyway, what I decided to do with the rest was put everything I thought was interesting and viable all together. However, that being said, it was so lengthy, I broke the article up into 3 parts: short, medium and long term time investments, so you can choose how committed you are to growing your own food from kitchen scraps.

Here is part one, I thought I would start with the short term so you can get some things growing quickly, enjoy!

Lettuce

There seems to be 2 options with lettuce:

The First Option
Take the outer leaves that you usually throw away and place them in a bowl or jar with a little water, make sure you place the jar in a spot that is warm and gets good sunlight, like your kitchen window sill.  It’s good to mist the leaves with a spray bottle a couple of times a week.  After a week or two you will see the leaves have roots growing out of them, once this happens you can them plant them in the veggie patch or in a pot.

The Second Option
lettuce root in a bowl about to be filled with waterIf you have bought a Romain lettuce or one of the hydroponic type with roots at the bottom, take the base of the plant after you have cut all the leaves off and place it in a bowl with a little bit of water. Place the bowl in a warm, sunny spot. Make sure you replace the water every one or two days and within a week you will have some leaves sprouting up. Now just let the lettuce grow, trimming off any brown leaves that might wither on the outside, and when you have enough green leaves growing, eat away. You can do this with most other red and green lettuces as well.

Celery, Cabbage and Bok Choi

Celery on a chopping blockThis method works for celery, cabbage and bok choi and is the group of foods I think is the easiest to grow from leftover scraps. Simply cut off the bottom or base of your celery, cabbage or bok choi, about an inch or two is all you need.  Lay it in a bowl with just a bit of warm water in the bottom (don’t submerge the whole plant just the base). Again, make sure it’s in a warm sunny spot, several days later you will begin to see the roots and leaves sprouting. After about 7 to 10 days, remove the plant from the water and plant it into soil with only the leaves above the soil. Your plant will continue to grow, and in several weeks your new celery will be ready to eat.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass will grow just like regular grass and is one of the easiest ones to regrow from scraps. You just place the root that is leftover in a glass bowl or jar with enough water to cover the root end and leave it in a warm sunny spot. After about a week, you will notice new growth, and when this happens you can plant your lemongrass in a pot or in your herb garden. Once the stalks reach around a foot tall – just cut off what you need and leave the plant to keep growing. . It’s just like cutting your lawn, it will just keep coming on if you keep it healthy.

Fennel

Like celery, growing fennel requires you keep the roots intact. Again you need about an inch of the base of the fennel to get it to regrow. You can place it in a cup with the water, covering about half the cup and place it on the windowsill. When the roots grow strong and you notice new green shoots coming up from the centre of the base, you have a few different options on what to do next depending on what you are looking for from your fennel.

Firstly, you can transplant it into soil and wait about 8 weeks for a beautiful bulb to form and then harvest and use the bulb. Of course you would cut an inch off the bottom with the roots and start the above process again.

fennelSecondly, you can again transplant to soil but this time wait to collect seeds. This means waiting another 4-5 weeks to allow the plant to mature and produce their tall central flower stalk. A few weeks after flowering you will notice the flower heads become heavy with developing seeds, place a paper bag over the flower head and then cut it off. Place the paper bag in a warm spot for a day or two and you will then have all the seeds in the bottom of the bag. The fennel seeds can be used in cooking and if kept in an air tight container in your pantry they will last at least 6 months.  You can also use the seeds to grow more fennel.

The third option is to just leave it in the windowsill and harvest the tender green growth as needed for over a year, just remember to change your water at least once a week.

Special note: If you are also growing dill in your garden, you must keep it as far from your fennel as possible if you plan on harvesting the fennel seeds. Fennel and dill will cross-pollinate and you will end up with very bland and odd-tasting seeds. Same applies for any coriander plants.

Green Onions, Leeks, Spring Onions, Scallions

roots of a green onionSince these are all generally the same plant I thought I would cover them all at once. Just like fennel, the same water growing method is used for these 4. Place the white root end in a glass with some water. You want the roots to be wet, but you don’t want the entire thing submerged. You should start seeing them sprout within a few days and within a week or so you’ll be able to trim off parts to use in recipes and it will continue to grow back.

You can then keep in the water in your kitchen or you can plant it in the garden. If you decide to keep in the kitchen, make sure you change the water about once a week to keep your plant fresh and healthy.

Ginger

gingerIf you’re looking for an easy plant to grow indoors, ginger is the one for you! You just need to plant a spare piece of your ginger root in a pot with good quality potting soil, making sure that the buds are facing up. Unlike the other plants we’ve talked about so far, ginger will enjoy filtered light rather than direct sunlight.

You should notice new shoots and new roots in about a week or so, and once this happens you can pull it up and use it again. Remember to save a piece of the rhizome (the thick knobbly bit you cook with) so that you can replant it and keep repeating this process to ensure a plentiful ginger supply.

Ginger also makes a very attractive house-plant, so if you don’t use a lot of ginger in your cooking you can still enjoy the lovely plant between harvests.

Capsicum & Chillies

orange, green, red and green capsicum

You can grow all types of capsicums and chillies from the seeds which you usually remove when you use them in your recipes at home.  Simply collect the seeds from your capsicum or chilli and plant them in a pot with good quality, organic potting mix. Keep in direct sunlight inside or place them in a warm sunny spot outside. Plants will grow in 4 – 6 weeks and you should be able to harvest fruit in 12 weeks.

Capsicum and chillies are perennial plants (go dormant in winter and regrow the following season) so they are generally less productive as years go by. So for best results, replace each season with fresh seedlings. Just make sure you keep some seeds when you harvest your fruit to replant and keep the cycle going.

Did you know?  Green, yellow, orange and red capsicums are exactly the same fruit of the capsicum plant, only the green is picked earlier and when the green matures it goes yellow, then orange and finally red! As with any mature fruit the longer it is on the plant the sweeter it will get. Red capsicum also contain far more nutrients than green. Try harvesting your capsicums at different stages of ripening to see which you prefer.

NUTRIENT COMPARISON BETWEEN GREEN, RED AND YELLOW BELL PEPPERS

Nutrient Green Red Yellow
Vitamin A 12% DV 105% DV 3.6% DV
Vitamin C 137% DV 292% DV 282% DV
Beta Carotene 340 mcg 841 mcg 110 mcg

 

* Most other vitamins and minerals are comparable for the two varieties. All quantities and % daily values (DV) are based on one cup (92g) of raw capsicum. No daily values for beta-carotene are currently available.