Growing from scraps: Debunking the myths and real-life options

Growing from scraps: Debunking the myths and real-life options

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So what can you grow from food scraps?

You may have caught wind of the hype around the idea of Growing From Scraps. Taking the odds and ends left behind in your kitchen and growing fully-fledged plants from what would otherwise have been discarded. There are spectacular time-lapsing videos circulating the internet where a carrot top becomes a whole new carrot and instagram feeds preaching a whole new way to avoid waste and produce something from nothing.

Well, it may not be entirely true.

But there are some things that you can grow from the contents of your compost bin, easily turn into plants and have a bit of fun on the way. Some of it might even be edible as well as attractive. This is a great project for kids to get them engaged with the growing process - or just “plant-ophiles” eager to experiment.

Turning veg into houseplants

You may have tried growing an avocado plant in the past, but did you know you can grow a sweet potato into a houseplant? All you need to do is spike it with three toothpicks and suspend it over a jam jar of water with the pointy end in the water, up to about 2cm. Leave it on a warm windowsill for a couple of weeks and it will start to grow roots. When they touch the bottom of the jar you need to put it into a flowerpot filled with compost from the garden centre. Stand it on a saucer and keep it watered. It should grow some lovely leaves. 

Sweet potato root growth

Sweet potato root growth after 3 months in tap water

If you are still set on growing an avocado tree you may have better luck if you wrap the stone in damp kitchen paper first, then put it in a plastic bag in a dark place for a few weeks. A crack will open in the stone and a sprout will emerge. You can then suspend it over water with toothpicks, just like the sweet potato. You are very unlikely to get any avocado fruit unless you live in central London with a very warm, sheltered courtyard, but you’ll get a lovely plant.

Avocado plant

Avocado plant after 6 months growth

Sprouting tops

There may not be too many sweet potatoes lurking in your bin, but you can fish out the carrot or beetroot tops (or even the top of a ripe pineapple) and grow those. You’ll need at least 2cm from the top of the veg. Put it on a saucer with a little water (around 0.5cm) and place on a windowsill. It will soon start to grow. It won’t turn into another carrot or beetroot, but the new leaves will be very tasty in a salad or a stir fry.

If you do have a ripe pineapple twist off the top, strip away the first two layers of leaves and wait a couple of days for the stalk to dry out. Then place it over a jar of water with the stalk in the water and wait for it to begin to grow roots. Once the roots are around 6cm long you can plant it in compost and should have an interesting house plant before too long.

Herb Cuttings

For those without their own herb garden who buy packets of basil, mint, thyme and tarragon for cooking, you might be able to propagate your own plant from the cuttings. You’ll need a good length of stem and full leaves. Trim the end and submerge in water until roots appear. They can then be transplanted and in the case of perennial herbs, such as mint, rosemary and sage, will continue to produce delicious foliage for a long time.

Don’t chuck that apple core

If you are very patient you could have a go at growing an apple tree from the pips of your favourite fruit. However, don’t expect the tree to produce the same fruit as you were eating. Apple trees are grafted on to rootstock and that is the only way to reproduce your Cox’s Pippin or Discovery. You may have to wait quite a few years and what the apples taste like may be a bit of a lottery but it’s definitely worth a try. You can do the same with lemon pips and see what happens. Even if you don’t get any lemons you may produce a lovely house plant.

And save the old potatoes too

You know how potatoes begin to sprout if you leave them long enough at the back of the cupboard? Well you could plant them and see what happens. They probably won’t be as tasty or plentiful as the crop from seed potatoes you buy at the garden centre, so don’t plant too many, but if you have the space and some old potatoes don’t just throw them out. Make sure they are organic though, or they could introduce unpleasant chemicals to your garden. For more tips on growing your own potatoes, click here.

And finally, scavenge for seeds

There are some fruit and veg which produce lots of seeds which you can save and sow. Tomatoes, squash, runner beans, chillis and peppers all have seeds which are easy to save. You need to keep them dry and cool if you are saving them over winter for planting next spring. Some veg are F1 varieties, which mean they have been specially bred from more than one variety for great taste. Sadly, if you save seed from an F1 tomato, squash or anything else the new plant will probably not be the same as its parent and won’t taste as good. Still, you should definitely have a go. 

And if you get into sowing seeds you should check your spice rack and larder for seeds which may grow: mustard seeds, sunflower seeds, lentils, chickpeas will all sprout in just a few days and taste delicious in a salad. Just don’t try sowing your white rice – it’s been processed and won’t grow!


Text by Ruth Darrah of Norfolk School of Gardening
Images and Video by Georgie Matthews
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