Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast
Don’t Pitch It Out! Plant It!
How to Grow Vegetables From Scraps
There was a time when I went to the supermarket three to four times per week. Now I go maybe twice a month. It is astounding how much I used to spend on groceries compared to what I spend now. So how exactly did I drastically reduce my supermarket trips and how do I now save so much money.
My success is a matter of growing a lot of things at home, having access to organic game meat, and being very careful not to waste anything at all. You may think this success is because we live on a homestead. But, many of the things we do can be accomplished no matter where you live. There are numerous ways to be creative including growing vegetables from scraps that you commonly throw out.
So join me for E161 Don’t Pitch It Out! Plant It!
Welcome back everyone to the Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast. This is your host Patrick and this is E162 which is called Don’t Pitch It Out! Plant It! How to Grow Vegetables From Scraps
But before we get started, let’s first talk about the good news story of the week.
How many of you have ever been stopped by the police for a potential traffic violation? If you have, then you are familiar with that feeling of anxiety when you see those flashing lights in your rear view mirror. Even if you feel you have not done anything, this experience can sometimes be intimidating.
Well, one police agency in Somerville, South Carolina, in the United States, actually turned that into a positive experience. The Summerville Police Department has an annual community outreach event that spreads some good will and gives people a Thanksgiving surprise.
Every Thanksgiving Day for the past 5 years the police when the police department has stopped people for traffic violations, instead of handing out tickets or fines, they hand out turkeys instead. This is their way of spreading some seasonal good cheer and they even have videos of people bursting into laughter and relief when handed a turkey instead of a ticket.
This week long event, called “Turkey, no Ticket” is a way the department takes the opportunity to turn a bad time into a teaching experience. This small act of kindness makes everyone smile and it fosters goodwill between the police and the community.
And I think this is fantastic especially in a time when most police departments are not very popular. So this weeks applause goes to the the police department of Summerville, SC in the United States for spreading some good will.
So let us move on to this weeks episode about growing vegetables from scraps. Now I truly believe that part of being sustainable is providing as much for yourself as you can. And sometimes that is just simple things. But as I have said so many times before it is the simple things that we do that make a difference.
Now I must admit that it took us some time at the homestead to build things up to the point that we do in fact provide a lot of things for ourselves. But that also means an on-going effort and being consistent in the things we do. But as you begin to take small steps toward a more sustainable existence and as you try more and more things sooner or later you will come to a very important realization. Creativity and ingenuity become your best friends and necessity is the mother of invention.
Now once again I never expect anyone to want to live the life that we do. That being said, there are a tremendous number of things that we do that everyone can do no matter where you live. Even if you live in a high-rise apartment or flat you can still do numerous things to provide for yourself. And one of those things is to grow vegetables from scraps. Believe it or not there are many kitchen scraps that we commonly throw out that can be used to grow some of your own food. This is so incredibly simple and is actually very important for four reasons.
Reason number one is that you can reduce the amount of organic material that goes to the landfill. Nearly 30% of material going to our landfills is organic material. Organic material in the landfill breaks down in a manner that creates methane gas which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Another good reason for composting and never placing organic material in your garbage.
Reason number two is that you can further reduce your food waste. And if you do not think that is important listen to this. Now I am going to give some statistics only for the United States simply because that is where I live. You must understand that food waste is truly a global problem. But I use the US as a prime example.
We waste nearly 40% of all food produced in the US. Food goes to waste at every stage of production and distribution. From farmers to packers to shippers to manufacturers to retailers and our homes. Food waste in our homes makes up nearly 39% of all food wasted.
To give you an idea of what that actually looks like consider these numbers. Each person in the US throws away 325 pounds of food per year. This costs our economy about 120 billion dollars. The amount of food we throw away is equal to about 149 billion meals. Based on our world population at the time of this production that is enough food to give every person in the world three meals a day for 6 1/2 days. And this is only in the United States.
On a global level, one third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted. This amounts to 1.3 billion tons of food per year with an estimate value of US $1 trillion. That is enough food to feed two billion people and more than twice as much food needed to feed every undernourished person on the planet. So as you can see reducing your food waste is very important.
Reason number three for using your kitchen scraps for growing some of your own vegetables is that you can provide a certain amount of food for yourself and do it in a sustainable manner. And best of all this is easy, simple, it costs next to nothing and you can do this from vegetable scraps that you would normally throw away.
Kitchen scraps no longer have to go to waste. Even if you are not a gardener it is truly easy to regrow several vegetables, fruits, and herbs. All you need is a few scraps that would normally end up on the compost pile, some jars and unused pots and you are in business.
Reason number four is that you are going to save some money and reduce your grocery bill. Food is becoming increasingly expensive and growing some of your own is a fun, easy way to reduce your grocery bill and enjoy doing it.
Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs that Can be Regrown
Now let’s move on to the various types of vegetables and fruits that can be regrown. But let me say that if you are going to do this it is far better to start with purchasing organic produce. The reason for this is that many grocery store fruits and vegetables are treated to prevent them from sprouting and fruiting while on the supermarket shelf. This treatment may either prevent you from regrowing them or limit your success. This is particularly true for potatoes. You will have increased success by purchasing fruits and vegetables from the farmers market or a natural foods market.
Four Rules for Success
And speaking of success, if you want to do this there are only three simple rules to follow if you want to maximize your results.
-Once your vegetable scraps are placed in water they need fresh water everyday. If you neglect to change it you will end up with something that is slimy and stinky.
-The vegetable scrap starters need lots of sun. This can mostly be indirect sun such as sitting on a window sill.
-Once the starters develop roots plant them in a good potting mix and water them regularly. Potting mix is a loose soil which makes it easier for the roots to grow.
-If you are going to plant them outside make sure they are suitable for your particular growing zone. Each plant has a particular climate where it grows best. Growing zones for your area and for each type of vegetable can easily be found online. If the ones you want to regrow are not well suited for your climate no worries. Most of these will do well indoors if placed in a suitable pot.
Vegetables to Regrow
So now that you know the basic rules let’s talk for a bit about some of the more common things you can regrow. Now there is quite a long list so I am only going to talk about a few. But I will also have links to various resources in the transcript for this episode so you will have the chance to maximize your success.
So let’s start with potatoes.
First of all, buy organic and untreated potatoes otherwise they may not sprout. To start them, place several potatoes in a brown paper bag and place it in a cool, dark location. Check them every several days. When each potato has several sprouts remove them from the bag.
Cut each potato in two pieces making sure that each pieces has a sprout. Set the potato pieces out a room temperature for several days until the cut edges are dry to the touch. This will help prevent them from rotting once they are placed in soil. Once they are ready you can plant them in your garden or keep them inside in large pots. Place them in about 7 to 8 inches of soil. As the greens start to grow, keep covering them with more soil. This promotes sprouting new roots which will turn into potatoes.
As an alternative to planting them outdoors, you can keep them indoors in grow bags.
Sweet potatoes can be grown in a manner similar to regular potatoes. Just like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are not grown from seeds. They are grown from other potatoes. And of course start with a fresh organic potato. There are two methods to growing your own sweet potatoes.
Place them in water:
Cut a sweet potato in half. Place three toothpicks in and around the middle. This keeps them from falling into your sprouting containers. Place the potato in a jar or other glass container cut side facing down. Fill the container with enough water to cover the bottom half of the potato. Place in a warm sunny windowsill and water as needed to keep the bottom half of the potato submerged. Sweet potato sprouts, called slips, will form in about a month. Once the slips are several inches longs, break them off and plant them.
Take a whole sweet potato and place it horizontally in 2 to 3 inches of potting mix that contains sand. This can be done in your garden or in a container large enough to hold the potato. Cover the potato with a small amount of soil, just enough to cover it up. Keep the soil moist and warm. In several weeks the slips will start to develop. Once they are 3 to 4 inches long break them off and plant them in your garden or in a large container. As with regular potatoes, as the slips start to grow place a little more soil to cover it up. This promotes branching roots that will form into more potatoes.
Potatoes prefer sandy loose soil and a warm climate. They take 90 to 120 days to mature. You will know when they are mature and ready for harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow. If you live in a colder climate potatoes do well in raised beds or indoors in a large barrel, burlap sack or a potato growing bag. They need about 6 hours of sun light per day. If grown indoors, use grow lights.
Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to regrow especially the Romaine variety. Take a whole head of lettuce and cut the root base off leaving an inch to inch and a half. Place the root side down in a shallow container with about 1/2 inch of water. Place this on a sunny window seal. But sure to change the water daily to keep it fresh and prevent it from forming into a slimy mess. It will take several weeks to regrow. Once it starts to form roots you can plant it in soil. You many not get a full new head of lettuce but you will get many leafy sprouts to enjoy.
Green onions are another vegetable that are easy to regrow. Once again, be sure to buy organic. To regrow greens simply cut off the tops of the onions and leave the bulb portion with the roots. You can either sprout these in water or plant them directly in soil. Within a couple of weeks you will have fresh new greens.
I have also had some success with cutting off the roots from the bottom of the bulb, leaving maybe a 1/4 inch of the bulb and planting this directly in the soil. It takes much longer of course to grow the greens. But doing it this way, I have only had about a 50% success rate. But anything is worth a try instead of simply throwing it away.
This process is essential they same for regular onions. If the onion bulb is already starting to sprout you can simply place it in a shallow container of water and wait for it to root.
Leaks are another one that is easy to regrow. Once again, you will have more success with buying organic. It is also far easier, and faster, if you buy plants with the roots still on them.
If you buy plants with no roots, cut about 2 to 3 inches off of the bottom of the plant. This can be sprouted in water but will take several weeks to form roots. Once the roots have formed plant this in a good potting mix. If you purchase plants that still have the roots, you can plant these directly in soil. Once the plant is mature, you can but off the top and keep growing.
There are several root vegetables that are easy to regrow. For example, carrots, radishes, beets, and turnips. If you just want to regrow greens then place the cut top in a shallow bowl of water. Change the water daily and in a couple of weeks they will start to sprout greens. The greens can be harvested again and again and allowed to regrow.
But you can allow them to sprout greens and let them sit until they grow roots. Once this happens plant them in soil to grow a new edible bulb. The new roots may not be as robust as the original but they will be a tasty treat. These can be planted outside of course in your garden. They will also do well in a container kept indoors. The best part is that they take up very little room.
Another great choice is garlic. When garlic bulbs sit around long enough to start sprouting most people throw them out and unusable scraps. The best part is that these sprouting bulbs can be planted and grown for greens or new bulbs.
To plant them, place them in soil, pointy side up, about 2 inches or 1 cm deep, and 4 to 6 inches or 10 to 15 cm apart. You can harvest the greens over and over again for a tasty mild garlic flavor. Or you can grow new bulbs. Or if you really want to grow garlic then purchase organic garlic bulbs specifically for planting. The best part is that there is an amazing variety or garlic depending on your purpose.
If you are going to do this then you need to know the basics of garlic. Hard neck garlic is for colder climates. It is typically planted in the Fall and harvested in the Summer. This type of garlic needs 4 to 6 weeks of temperatures below 40 deg F or about 4.5 deg Celsius in order to develop properly. It is planted several inches deep and protected with a thick layer of mulch.
Soft neck garlic is better for warmer climates. To get the best yields it is also planted in the Fall and needs a couple of months of dormancy in the soil in order to develop properly.
Garlic is an easy plant to grow but you have to be patient. It takes 8 to 9 months to mature. Alternatively you can harvest only the greens as they grow and re-sprout. If you do this you will not get mature bulbs.
You can also regrow bulk vegetables such as celery, cabbage and Bok Choy. All you have to do is cut the base off of the vegetable and leave about 1 cm or about 2 inches. Place the root end in a bowl of shallow water, with the cut surface facing up. After a few days you will start to see new leaves starting to grow. Once roots form you can plant them outside or plant them indoors for a container garden.
Herbs are yet another plant that is super simple to regrow. Simply cut off the piece of the plant about one inch or half a cm blow the junction of a leaf. Include the stem. Place the shoot in a small container of water and put it on the windowsill. When roots start to grow then plant it in soil either outside or keep it in a pot indoors. This works great for a number of herbs including Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Sage, Lavender and other.
Ginger is something that most people likely never thought they could grow because it is a tropical plant. As with other vegetables, purchase something that is organic. In most cases these are not treated with any chemical to prevent sprouting. Select a large root that is well formed with numerous branches. If you want you can soak the root in warm water over night to remove any chemicals.
Cut the root, which is called a rhizome, into 1 to 2 inch pieces or about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cm. Set the pieces on the counter for several days to dry. Place the ginger pieces in a pot and cover with only 2 to 3 inches of soil, or about 1 to 1 1/2 cm. Place the pot in a sunny area, keep the soil moist but not soaked. As it grows it will produce more root sprouts or rhizomes, which is the part that is harvested.
Ginger plants will grow up to three feet tall. A 16 inch pot will hold about 3 rhizomes. For the best results and best flavor, harvest the entire plant at 8 to 10 months old. At harvest time you can select the best rhizomes for replanting.
Next on the list is Turmeric. Similar to ginger, Turmeric is a rhizome and a tropical plant. This plant prefers temperatures in the 70s and 80s. So if you live in a cooler climate it will thrive best in the warmest part of your home. You may need to place it on a heating pad and under a grow light. It takes several months to mature and is harvested once the leaves start to dry.
Now you must know that there is a long list of other vegetables that you can regrow. What I have provided here is just a few examples. I will also provide numerous links in the transcript of this episode so that you will have access to a lot of additional information.
The best part of doing something like this is that it does not require a lot of space. It is practical to do even if you live in an apartment or flat. We set up a shelf in our sunroom that is dedicated to growing vegetables and herbs. The shelf is 18 inches wide by 44 inches long and about 6 feet high. Presently we have 30 plants on the shelving unit and it is only half full.
If you want to up your game a bit, add in some grow lights. You will quickly find that there is an enormous range in price and quality of grow lights. That said, I purchased a 4 pack of full spectrum LED grow lights for about $14 USD. They have the same appearance as a standard light bulb. I had to purchase a small aluminum light fixture to put them in. Those were about $14 USD each. Point being, I was able to come up with 4 grow lights for about $16 each.
If you want to go a step up from that, I found that some of the larger hardware outlets such as Home Depot or Lowes has grow lights for less money than what I could find online.
Additionally, when it comes to planting some of your vegetables in soil, you can get food grade buckets for free from your local bakery. I go to the bakery department of our local supermarket and just ask if they have any buckets they want to get rid of. They are more than happy to give them away. Usually you have to give them a good washing but that is a small price to pay. Most of them are the perfect size to use for a container garden.
Just remember that by doing this one simple thing you can reduce the amount of organic waste that goes to the landfill, you can reduce your food waste even further, you can produce a certain amount of food for yourself and thus be a bit more independent, and you will save yourself some money.
Also, for best results remember to keep the four basic rules in mind.
-Once your vegetable scraps are placed in water they need fresh water everyday.
-Vegetable scrap starters need lots of sun. This can mostly be indirect sun such as sitting on a window sill.
-Once the starters develop roots plant them in a good potting mix and water them regularly.
-If you are going to plant them outside make sure they are suitable for your particular growing zone. If the ones you want to regrow are not well suited for your climate no worries. Most of these will do well indoors if placed in a suitable pot.
I said at the beginning of this episode just how infrequently we actually go to the supermarket. We manage that my doing numerous things. One of those things is regrowing vegetables. This is truly a very simple thing to do. You don’t have to be a master gardener either. Just try a few experiments and learn as you go. Be creative. Besides, it is one more thing you can do to make your lifestyle a bit more sustainable.
Well folks I think that is about it for this episode. I hope you have found this information helpful. Be sure to join me again next week when I am going to talk about the best vegetables to grow in containers.
Until next week, always remember to live sustainably because this is how we build a better future.
20 of the Best Foods You Can Grow From Scraps
Vegetables You Can Regrow, Farmer’s Almanac
Garlic Growing Guide
Growing Garlic in the Home Garden
How to Grow Garlic in Pots
How to Grow Potatoes Indoors
How to Grow Ginger Indoors