In 2010, more than 34 million tons of food waste were generated, and only three percent of that waste was diverted from landfills for composting, according to the EPA. The fact that some of that food waste becomes useful compost is a positive thing, but what if we told you there are ways you can save food scraps from landfills without composting them, and you could save money on your grocery bill at the same time?
If you take a minute and look at which food scraps you’re throwing away, this is possible. It turns out some fruits and vegetables can be regrown from scraps, which means you can grow your own food without starting it from seeds. You won’t need to buy as much produce either, and in the meantime you may have some interesting houseplants.
General Things to Keep In Mind
There are three main ways you can grow plants from scraps, according to the book “Don’t Throw it, Grow It!” by Deborah Peterson, which explains how to grow dozens of windowsill plants from your leftovers. Depending on the plant, you can start growing it in water, pebbles or soil, and most plants will eventually need to be transferred to soil. The climate you live in will likely dictate whether you can grow your plants indoors or outdoors.
The Green Thumb Gardener, a website that offers garden guides and tips, also suggests you use high quality organic produce, which may be more likely to grow into new plants.
Starting food scraps out in water is often a helpful way to jumpstart a plant. The plant will typically begin to form roots in the water, and then when it has begun to establish itself you may be able to transfer it to soil.
Keep reading to learn about 10 foods you can grow from your food scraps.
1. Green Onions
If you’re looking for a plant that is easy to grow from scraps, look no further than green onions. Once you’ve chopped up a green onion for cooking, all you need to do is submerge the white end with the roots in a container of water (leaving the top of the plant above the water’s surface) and place it in front of a window, according to The Black Thumb Gardener.
The onions will begin to grow roots and the green part of the onion will grow back. When you need onions for cooking, you can harvest the green tops and the base of the plant will continue to grow. Remember to change the water periodically to keep the plant healthy.
Like growing green onions, growing celery from leftovers is also fairly straightforward. When you chop up the celery, leave the base of the plant in tact. Sit the celery base in water (like you did with your green onions) and leave it in the water for about a week. Mary and Tim of the blog 17 Apart tried growing celery this way and recommend changing the water every couple days.
After a week or so, you will notice small, yellow leaves growing from the middle of the plant and the outer stalks will start to deteriorate. At this point, you can plant your celery in soil, either in a pot or in your garden (since celery is a cool weather crop, you’ll need the temperature to be warm enough for growing but not too hot).
3. Romaine Lettuce
Growing romaine lettuce is similar to growing green onions and celery. Cut off the lettuce you plan to use and leave a couple inches at the base of the plant. The romaine heart can then be set in water. New leaves will start to grow from the center and the outer leaves will die (and should be removed), reports Lifehacker, a website that publishes tips for making your life easier.
If you’d like, you can eventually plant your romaine hearts in soil and start growing lettuce in your garden.
4. Carrot Tops
Okay, so you can’t actually grow another carrot from scraps, but you can grow carrot tops, which believe it or not can be eaten. If you’re not a fan of bitter greens, carrot tops will at the very least make a good houseplant, and growing them makes a good project for kids.
To grow carrot tops, the University of Illinois Extension explains that you’ll need to buy carrots with the leafy tops still attached and then cut them so there is about 2 inches of orange carrot still attached to each top. Then fill a pie pan with pebbles and water and place the carrot tops in the pan, cut side down. Put the pan in the sun and be sure to keep the water level at the top of the pebbles. The carrot tops will begin to grow into a fern-like plant. You can also try growing beets and turnips this way, according to the Extension.
Many fruit and vegetable scraps can be planted directly into the soil. You can try this indoors in pots or outside in your garden if your climate permits.
If you buy too much fresh ginger root and fear you won’t use the rest of it before it goes bad, try planting it so you’ll have even more ginger when you need it in the future.
All you have to do is plant the leftover ginger with the newest buds facing up in moist potting soil. Ginger is a tropical plant, so it prefers humid conditions, but it should be fairly happy inside your house. Green shoots will come up out of the soil and the roots will spread out.
After about four months, you should be able begin harvesting pieces of the root when you need it, according to Tropical Permaculture, a website offering advice for growing tropical plants. Just be sure to cover the root back up once you’ve taken what you need.
If you have a little more patience, you can tackle a project like regrowing a pineapple from its top. The Purdue University Extension explains that you should cut off the fruit’s top with a quarter of an inch of the fruit still attached and then scoop out the fruit and let the top dry for a few days. Then press the top into a pot of moist soil media and water regularly. You can also try planting the pineapple top directly into potting soil.
Keep in mind that pineapples like warm, humid climates, so set your plant in the sun and keep it away from anything that might dry it out like a stove. You could even consider placing it near a humidifier. Pineapple plants typically take around two years to begin producing fruit, but in the meantime, you’ll have a tropical house plant.
When potatoes start to grow eyes, many people might throw them in the trash. These eyes, while not ideal for eating, are actually the beginnings of a new plant, so rather than tossing old potatoes, grow them.
To grow baking potatoes, chop them up into a few pieces with a couple of eyes on each piece, explains Melinda Myers, a horticulturalist, on her website. Then plant the pieces in moist potting soil and soon they’ll begin to sprout. To grow sweet potatoes, plant the entire potato in moist potting soil.
Once the potatoes sprout, you can actually take cuttings and plant those separately to produce more plants.
Like potatoes, sometimes garlic cloves start sprouting before you get around to using all of them. Instead of tossing sprouted garlic, plant it. It’s easy to take care of and can be grown again and again. Simply plant a clove in soil (sprouted end up, with the papery layer still on) and place the pot in a warm, sunny location in your home. Once the shoots begin to grow tall, you can cut them back to cause the plant to put its energy into making a bigger bulb of garlic, explains the Black Thumb Gardener.
When your garlic bulb is ready to be harvested, you can plant one (or many) of the cloves so you can keep the growing cycle going.
Onions are another vegetable that can be easily grown from scraps. Simply cut off the root end of the onion leaving only a small amount of the onion flesh attached. Plant this just beneath the surface of the soil in a sunny location, and in a few months you should have a new onion, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. You’ll know the onion is ready when its stalk starts to turn yellow.
After eating your onion, plant its roots in the ground again and you’ll be able to check one more item off your future grocery list.
Although they can be difficult to grow, it is possible to grow mushrooms from scraps. It’s probably easier to grow them indoors because outdoors they will compete against other fungi, according to the Black Thumb Gardener.
To grow a mushroom, remove the head and plant the stalk in soil with the top of the stalk exposed to the air. A new mushroom head should begin to grow if conditions are appropriate. Generally, mushrooms prefer cool, moist growing environments without too much light, according to Better Homes & Gardens.
Interested in growing more foods at home? Read: Tips for Growing Food in a Small Space
Feature image: Flickr/Hazel Owen