Although we grow most of what we eat, there are times I need to buy produce from other vendors at our farmers market or the supermarket. When this happens, I like to get the most bang for my buck by using the produce in my kitchen and in my garden.
A tremendous amount of grocery-store produce can be replanted in the garden. There are two tips, however, that you should observe in order to grow productive plants this way. First, hybrid produce will grow but it will not grow true, meaning any produce grown will not be the same as the parent plant. Second, some produce, like potatoes, sold in grocery stores has been sprayed with anti-sprouting chemicals. You can easily avoid both of these issues by purchasing your veggies at your farmers market. Otherwise, you may need to do some investigative work at the grocery store.
You can try planting any type of fresh produce, as well as dried beans and peas. Some will work better than others, and some fun produce takes a long time to produce fruit, but it is fun and worthwhile to learn what will grow in your neck of the woods. Not only is this good for your garden, it is a really fun way to teach kids about plants.
I’ve had success with several types of produce: garlic, ginger, chayote, spring onions, onions, pole beans, tomatillos, horseradish, avocados, and pineapple. I hope, after reading this article, you have success with them as well.
GARLIC – A head of garlic is made up of cloves. Each clove of garlic can be planted to grow another head of garlic. Plant cloves in the fall once the temperature of your soil is approximately 60 degrees. Plant the cloves, root end down, 6-8” apart and cover with 2” of soil. If you live in an area that experiences hard freezes, cover with 4-6” of leaf or straw mulch. The following summer, when the garlic has flowered, you are ready to harvest. You can also harvest and dry the garlic flowers, add them to kosher salt and use it as a garlic seasoning salt.
GINGER – Ginger is very easy to grow from a store-bought rhizome. It is delicious in the kitchen and handy to have in the medicine chest. When you buy ginger, look for a rhizome that is smooth and plump. A shriveled piece of ginger is dehydrated and will be tough to bring back to life. Look for those that have multiple protruding nodes. Once you use the amount of ginger you need, leave the rhizome on the counter or on a sunny windowsill until the nodes begin to swell. Cut the rhizome in pieces. Each piece of ginger needs to have at least one node. Let the cut end heal a few hours before planting.
Because ginger is a rhizome (not a root), it needs to be planted close to the surface. The sides of the ginger should be covered, but do not cover the entire rhizome with soil. Water ginger consistently and keep in a humid environment. If you garden in zones 1-7, make a plastic tent to cover ginger until the plant is well established. Fertilize with compost tea once a month. You can harvest ginger at any time but the longer you let it grow, the more ginger you will have. Dig up the rhizomes each fall and repeat.
CHAYOTE – Any type of squash can be successfully grown from the seeds of the store bought fruit, but chayote is a particularly interesting and prolific squash. If you are not familiar with chayote, it is a pale green to white, pear-shaped squash with a slightly nutty flavor. The young shoots, fruit and mature tubers are edible. One plant is all you need for a family of four, and chayote is a perennial so once you grow this squash, you are set!
Chayote needs very warm to hot temperatures to thrive and it needs 120-150 frost-free days to reach harvest. The vines can reach up to 30 feet and should be supported with a trellis. Plant the whole fruit 4” deep, fat end down and at an angle so the stem end is level with the surface of the soil. If you are planting more than one plant, space them 10 feet apart. Give plants regular water and do not let them dry out between waterings. You can side dress the plants with compost tea every six weeks during the growing season. Harvest when the fruit is 4-6” in diameter, before the flesh becomes hard. Cut the plant back after harvest and protect with a layer of thick mulch before the first freeze.
SPRING ONIONS – Spring onions are so easy and so fast to root, making it a perfect project to share with a young child. Simply cut off and eat the tops of your spring onions and save the bottoms for planting. You can either set the bottoms in a shallow bowl of water for a day or two, or plant directly in your garden. Within a few days you should see new green growth.
ONIONS – Spring onions are not the only onions you can regrow. Red, white and yellow onions do great as well. Cut the onion lengthwise to expose the center “thumb.” Remove and eat the outer layers of the onion until just the center remains. Place the center in a shallow bowl of water for a few days before transplanting in the garden. Keep plants moist, but not soggy, until established. Onions are ready to harvest when the bulb pushes up through the surface of the soil and the foliage has yellowed.
BEANS – You can put dried beans directly in the ground, but I have had more success by germinating them first. Place dried seeds on a wet paper towel and cover with another damp towel. They should sprout in 3-5 days and are ready to transplant any time after that. Don’t forget to let one bean plant serves as your seed stock for the following year.
TOMATILLOS – While tomatoes require you to scoop out the seeds and ferment them in order to regrow them, tomatillos are a no-fuss alternative. Tomatillos are the small, hard fruit that is covered in a paper-like husk. They are used in salsas and are delicious grilled. Tomatillos will sit on your cabinet an entire season until it is time to plant. Four weeks after your last frost date slice the tomatillos open and squeeze the tiny seeds into pots of potting soil. Lightly cover and keep well watered until you have established seedlings. Transplant the seedlings in your garden. One tomatillo produced 56 tomatillo plants for my garden this year!
HORSERADISH – Horseradish is another prolific plant that is so easy to grow that some people call it invasive! It is a perennial plant so make sure you plant it exactly where you want it. If you have only tasted horseradish in a jar, you will be pleasantly surprised at the crisp, zinging taste of fresh horseradish.
Cut off half of the horseradish root and use in the kitchen. Save the bottom part of the plant. Loosen the soil in the horseradish patch to 12” deep and add a generous scoop of compost. Plant the root at a 45-degree angle, with the top of the cutting 2” below the soil surface. One plant is plenty for a family of four, but if you want to plant more than that, space plants 30” apart. You will be ready to harvest a year after planting. Because horseradish can be invasive, remove the entire root and branches when you harvest. Plant only the number of roots you want. Do not till up the ground or put roots in your compost pile, unless you want to start a horseradish farm.
AVOCADO – Avocados are fun to grow, produce a beautiful plant and, if properly cared for, will produce fruit in about five years. Instead of suspending the avocado pit on toothpicks in water, fill an ice tray with water and set your avocado pits in the tray. Make sure the water stays filled and that the tray is in a sunny window. It looks like nothing is happening but if you pick the pit up, you will soon see roots growing. Once the roots begin growing, the top of the pit will split and the plant is soon to follow. Allow the plant to get it’s first true leaves before transplanting into a medium-sized pot filled with potting soil. Your avocado tree will stay in this pot through two prunings. When it reaches 6”, prune it back to 3”. Prune it back to 6” once it has reached a foot. After the second pruning, you can transplant it to a wind-sheltered location in well-drained soil that receives full sun. Protect against freezes.
PINEAPPLE – Pineapples are another fun plant to grow, but they also take quite some time to produce fruit. They make a beautiful plant so waiting for the fruit is easy. When you bring a pineapple home from the store, cut the leafy top off 1/2” below the leaves. Pick off some of the lowest leaves by hand. Trim the outer portion of the crown with a sharp knife until you see small, brownish bumps around the stem. These are the root buds. Allow the cut to dry out and heal on your counter two days before planting.
Place the pineapple top in soil up to the base of the leaves. Water thoroughly and place in bright, indirect light. Be diligent about keeping the soil moist until roots develop. This usually takes 6-8 weeks. Once established, your pineapple plant can tolerate more light and you can let the soil dry out some between waterings.
The next time you are in a grocery store, keep an eye out for produce that not only has a place on your dinner table but a place in your garden as well. It is a fun and frugal way to enlarge your garden!