How to grow vegetables from kitchen scraps including which vegetables grow best from food scraps, what really works and how to do it.
If the current iso climate has left you wanting to grow your own food but you can’t get hold of seeds or seedlings, there are other ways. You can turn some of your otherwise discarded kitchen scraps into new edibles. What you need is good soil and a little know how.
You may have seen articles and videos about how to grow vegetables “magically” from kitchen scraps. Can you really stick an aloe vera cutting in a banana and it will grow? And more importantly, would you want to? In this article, I’ll be showing you what you can and can’t grow using leftover vegetables and herbs that would otherwise go to the bin.
Firstly, I’d like to make a point that kitchen scraps are what you would normally discard from a vegetable, herb or other edible. It’s not a perfectly good garlic clove which you can eat (and plant). On the other hand, a pineapple top is usually discarded (unless you use the fronds to garnish Tiki cocktails) but generally, you don’t eat it.
Benefits of Growing Food from Kitchen Scraps
There are many benefits of growing food from kitchen scraps. First, it’s free, you’ve already paid for it when you purchased your vegetables and herbs. Second, if composting isn’t an option as is the case for me, you’re one step closer to reducing food waste, landfill, carbon footprint and one step closer to sustainability. So the next time you’re about to throw out the end of a vegetable, you may want to reconsider if you can grow something out of it.
How to Grow Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps
The technique I use to grow veggies from scraps is very simple and can be followed for most vegetables. Cut off the ends leaving a good 2 cm of the stem, make a hole in the potting soil and plant them in so that they’re almost flush with the soil. Some prefer to root them in water first but I find it too messy in my kitchen and I much prefer to plant them straight in soil.
If you’re considering growing the scraps in water without transferring them to soil, they will run out of nutrients and that’s another point to keep in mind.
Below are examples with photos are of vegetables that I have grown from food scraps.
Bok Choy is a cooler weather crop and one of the easiest to grow from scraps. In fact, I’ve had near 100% success regrowing it from ends. Chop off the end leaving about 2 cm of the white stalks attached. The bottom of the vegetable must be intact for it to work. Make a hole large enough in the soil and put it in so that the top of is is level with the soil. You don’t have to root it in water. As the plant grows leaves, simply snip what you need from the outer leaves and the plant will continue to produce. Once it has reached the end of its life, it will bolt and flower. Let it run its course and collect seed to plant the following season.
Similar to bok choy, choy sum can be regrown the same way by putting the end in soil without rooting in water. It can also be used as a “cut and come again” vegetable – another win in the kitchen garden.
Spring Onions / Shallots / Green Onions
Spring onions, bunching onions and what we call shallots in Australia can be regrown from scraps. Most of the spring onions you buy already have roots. Cut off the ends leaving about 1.5 cm of the white part and plant it in soil ensuring the roots are completely covered. In a few days, they will start developing shoots. Harvest by snipping what you need with scissors. The plant will continue to grow until it bolts and flowers.
Last year, I had a beautiful onion bloom which lasted for weeks then turned to seed which I made sure to harvest. They’re currently growing in my garden during this winter season.
Growing onion bulbs from the root of the onion is a myth. If you cut the root of the onion, leaving about 1-2 cm of onion and planting it in soil, you will not regrow an onion. All you get is green onion shoots, if you’re lucky. I tried it a few times, nothing happened and after a while, it completely disintegrated in the soil. You’re better off re-growing shallots or spring onions for their greens.
Celery is a little tricky and I’ve had mixed results growing celery from ends. Some simply withered and died, others grew some leaves in the centre then rotted away. The plant in the above photo did well for a while. Regrowing celery from ends works but you need to be patient. Celery grows very slowly – I am currently growing celery from seed and it’s a very slow growth cycle – so don’t give up too soon.
If you’re growing celery ends in water, cut off off the bottom of the celery, put it in a shallow container with a little water in the bottom and place it in a sunny spot.
Leek was another hit and miss for me but I think my previous failures were due to heavy rain at the time. I’m currently regrowing leek after soaking the end with roots attached in warm water overnight. Leek is another vegetable that takes a long time to grow so try and be patient with it. If you choose to regrow leek, choose ones with healthy roots. Soak the ends in a little shallow water overnight and plant in soil the next day. After about two weeks, the leaves will start to grow
Lettuce / Cos Lettuce / Living Lettuce
Lettuce can be regrown from scraps but I found the success is dependent on the type of lettuce. If you plant what is called “living lettuce”, ie hydroponic lettuce with root ball attached such as butter lettuce, the results are more successful. Cos lettuce or romaine lettuce can also be regrown though I have had mixed results. To do it, completely cover the end with soil. After two weeks, it will start to grow new leaves.
The butter lettuce in the above photo had a root ball attached and it is now almost the size of what you buy in stores. Scroll up to the leek photo, and you’ll see the progress of the cos lettuce behind it.
Can you grow tomatoes from a slice of tomato? I put it to the test and you can read all about it. The short answer is, yes you can. Here’s how to grow tomatoes from a slice of tomato.
If you want to grow garlic shoots, put a peeled garlic clove flat end down and pointy end up in a shallow dish of water. Change the water daily and it will grow roots then shoots. Plant the entire clove with the skin on in autumn/fall, and you can grow a garlic plant. I’ll be covering that process in a separate article on how to grow garlic.
Lemongrass is another easy crop to grow. Simply put the ends in water by the windowsill, change the water daily and roots will grow which you can then plant in the garden. Be warned that lemongrass is invasive like bamboo and is better restricted to a pot. I had a lemongrass bush growing for several years and it grew as tall as I am. When I finally removed it and took cuttings, the roots were like a worn out carpet, a tangled mess that took a lot of hacking to remove.
You can grow potatoes from potaotes by placing chitted potatoes (or chitted potato pieces) with the eyes pointing up in soil. Some people have had success in growing potatoes from potato skin with but I haven’t tried this method. I have grown potatoes successfully by planting whole chitted potatoes in soil and will share the instructions in an article soon.
Put a fennel end in water or soil and it will regrow fennel fronds not a fennel bulb. In my experience, fennel has been very slow to grow and I have given up on some instances as space is premium in my garden.
Putting carrot tops in water or soil stem side up will not make you grow new carrots. After one week, it will start to grow leaves. After one month, it will grow much larger and you can harvest the carrot tops to use such as in salads or make carrot top pesto.
For best results, use carrot tops that still have their leaves attached. Put the carrot tops in a shallow pool of water for one week then transfer to soil.
Beetroot, Radish, Turnip, Parsnip & Other Root Vegetables
These fall in the same category as carrots and will not regrow root vegetables. You can use them to regrow leafy tops which are edible.
You can grow pineapple using pineapple top. I have two plants at various ages on the go. Refer to the article on How to Grow a Pineapple from a Pineapple Top.
Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme, Sage & Other Hard Stemmed Herbs
You can regrow rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage and other hard stemmed herbs by using left over stems. Here’s how to propagate rosemary from cuttings. the same method applies to other hard stemmed herbs.
Basil, Coriander, Mint & Other Soft Stemmed Herbs
You can also regrow soft stemmed herbs by placing a stem of around 10cm long into a glass of water, making sure that the leaves are well above the water level. Roots will soon begin to grow and as soon as the roots are growing well, they can be transplanted into containers, or directly into your garden.
Tip: If you’re having problems getting your herbs to root in water, it could be due to the chlorine levels in tap water. Try using purified water or filtered water instead to help it develop roots.
Now that you know how to grow vegetables from kitchen scraps, there’s no better time than now to get started!