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5 easy ways to grow plants from food scraps (including the kind you can eat)

Kara Jillian Brown

Kara Jillian BrownApril 13, 2020

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Photo: Stocksy / Melanie Kintz

Everyone on Twitter has started regrowing scallions scraps. It’s relatively easy, and gives you the satisfaction of growing your own food. Though you can’t grow your entire produce supply on your window sill, scallions aren’t the only produce you can use to grow plants from food scraps. There are some vegetable cuttings that you can grow into food, and others that grow into pretty houseplants.

“Growing plants from food scraps is certainly possible, but in most cases it should be treated more as a fun science project rather than a viable way to produce an abundance of food,” says Josh Kirschenbaum, sales manager for HandPicked Vegetables Collection.

To be most successful at growing vegetables and herbs, Kirschenbaum says you’re better off using fresh seeds or plants. But, if you want to have fun with some food scraps, he says there are a few you can grow into viable plants.

First things first, be sure to use clean tools and equipment, including knives, and cutting boards. “Dirty equipment can lead to the introduction of unwanted fungi and bacteria that can cause plants to die and potentially be harmful if eaten,” he says. Wash your hands, save those leftover cuttings, and get to planting.

How to grow plants from food scraps that you can eat

1. Romaine lettuce

While cutting off leaves for your salad, Kirschenbaum says to leave about 1 inch of leaf material above the base or stump. Place the stump in a shallow dish or bowl filled with about 1/2 inch of water and place it in a brightly lit area of your house. After a few days, roots will form on the bottom of the stump. Shortly after, new leaves will form at the top of the stump which can be cut and eaten.

“It is important to change out the water every couple of days,” says Kirschenbaum. “Also note that because there are no nutrients in the water to feed the plant, you will not have a very long period of time that you can harvest leaves.”

2. Basil

Kirschenbaum says you can propagate, or create new plants, from fresh basil cuttings. Take a stem that is at least 4 inches long and remove the lower sets of leaves, making sure that there are at least one or  two sets of leaves left at the top of the stem. Place the stems in a jar of water, making sure that the remaining leaves on the stem are not touching the water. Refill the jar of water as necessary. Within a couple of weeks, Kirschenbaum says roots will start to form along the stem. After the roots are established, he says you can plant the basil in a container or in the ground and grow in a sunny spot.

3. Scallions

“Have you ever noticed the white little spikes that come out of the bottom of a scallion? Those are actually the roots of the plant that have been trimmed off before they are sold,” says Kirschenbaum.

Use the top portion of the scallion to cook, and stick the remaining bottom portion in a glass of water, making sure that the roots are facing down and the top of the scallion is above the water. Switch out water every couple of days. After a while, he says the roots will grow larger and new green growth will appear from the top of the plant. After the roots are a few inches long, he says you can take the scallions and place them in a container with potting soil, or in the ground.

How to grow houseplants from food scraps

1. Avocado

“The likelihood of actually getting avocados from a plant that you grow is extremely rare and if it did occur, it would take several years, but they still make a cool house plant,” says Kirschenbaum.

Take the pit of the avocado (which is actually a seed) and wash it with water. Using three toothpicks, suspend the pit, broad-end down, in a glass of water so that about 1 inch of the pit is covered in water. Refill the water as necessary and within three to four weeks, he says a seedling should emerge. Once the seedling emerges and the roots are thick, transplant into a container with potting soil, making sure that the pit is still halfway above the soil. Place in a brightly lit area and water regularly. “If the plant gets tall and leggy, it can be cut back to promote a bushier habit,” he says.

2. Pineapple

Kirschenbaum says pineapples are also great for growing a nice houseplant, or patio plant in warmer months. Start by grabbing the leafy crown and twisting so that it separates from the fruit. Kirschenbaum says you can also do this by cutting about 1/2 inch below the leafy crown and then removing any fruit remnants from the crown. Remove several bottom leaves and let them dry in a warm, sunny spot for two days. Place the crown in a container with potting soil, water it well, and place it in bright indirect sunlight. It will take over a month for the roots to get established, says Kirschenbaum. Water as needed, allowing the soil to slightly dry out in between waterings.

If you’re looking for more creative ways to use food scraps, here’s what you can do with old coffee grounds and egg shells.

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