How to regrow your vegetables from the parts you might have thrown out
You've seen the pics online, but here's how to actually pull this off
It would be safe to say that prior to COVID-19 pandemic, many of us would toss the tops and stems of vegetables into the compost without a second thought. But your social media feeds may be telling you a new story, about people breathing new life into those scraps. While novel in the world of memes, saving valuable veggie bits to regrow into more food is something that gardeners, homesteaders, and the budget savvy have been doing for a long time.
"It's kind of a fun thing to do, especially if you have kids home right now and you want to engage them with a little DIY," says SaavyGardening.com writer and Veggie Garden Remix author Niki Jabbour — who warns that we should not expect our cuttings to necessarily regrow to their former size though. While people perhaps cannot rely on regrowing vegetables as a main source of food, it's easy to see the appeal of the practice, from helping to stretch groceries and cutting down on food waste, to the simple pleasure of becoming more self-reliant.
The method of regrowing is generally the same for most vegetables: place the leftover top or stem in a dish or container, covering partly with water, and placing it near a sunny window, and simply changing the water every couple of days. If you're ready to get your indoor green thumb going, here are some tips on how to be more successful at regrowing some common vegetables.
Cut off the bottom one to two inches of a celery stump and place it cut-side-up in a dish, covering it halfway with water. Within a few days, new leaves should sprout from the middle of the plant. Once you see roots growing, you can then pot it into soil. "It's probably going to give you three or four smaller stalks. It's enough for flavouring something and will take a couple of weeks," says Jabbour.
While you can't regrow a whole carrot, you can use the leafy carrot tops in pasta, soup and to make a pesto. You could plant them in soil once the roots have grown one or two inches long, and harvest them young as a microgreen or when they are more mature. "The greens will sprout up again and get lush and quite tall eventually, probably nine or 10 inches tall," says Jabbour.
Similar to carrot greens, you can regrow greens from beets (and from turnips, too!) using the same hydroponicto-soil transplant process. And, these root veggies don't need to have pre-existing greens to regrow — simply put the cutting in water and wait for the leaves to appear.
Organic gardener Misilla dela Llana, also known as @learntogrow on Instagram, says to cover the base of the bok choy cutting about a quarter-inch to half-inch of water. "You can expect to see roots and new leaves within two weeks," says dela Llana. You can also choose not to harvest the bok choy, and it will eventually set flower and produce seeds. "I've got lots of free seeds from regrowing veggie scraps," says dela Llana.
Regrow herbs like basil and mint by cutting the bottom of the stem at an angle and removing most of the leaves except the top four or five, before placing in water. "Make sure they don't have any flowers," says dela Llana, who recommends cutting any flowers off so that the plant's energy is focused on growing the roots instead of on reproducing. Once the roots grow to about two inches, which can take two to six weeks, the cutting can be planted into soil.
If you've got some leftover garlic that's losing its freshness, place the cloves in water, covering halfway, or plant them in a pot of soil on the windowsill, and they will eventually sprout. "These lovely little green shoots come up, and you can clip them to use in your scrambled eggs, your quiche, stir-fry and get a nice taste of garlic," says Jabbour.
Cut about two inches from the base of a head of lettuce and place it cut-side-up in water — you may need to use a few toothpicks to prop it up in your container to prevent it from toppling over. Once roots appear, pot into soil and you should be able to harvest in a few weeks. This method works for any type of lettuce and you can plant multiple heads in the same pot for a more robust harvest.
"Most types of cabbage, if you do cut off the bottoms to regrow again, will sprout out some fresh leaves," says Jabbour. Similar to lettuce, you can plant the cabbage once roots appear. Click through these photos by @rawrootsbackyardproject to see the stages of regrowing a cabbage — leaving the cutting in water for 11 to 14 days in indirect sunlight before transitioning to a pot of soil outside.
Scallions are one of the most resilient plants and they can regrow to full size. Trim off the bottom inch and a half or two inches to use for regrowth. As the roots start to develop in the water, fresh shoots will appear and elongate, which you could then plant into soil.
If you have whole onions too soft for consumption, you can use them whole for regrowing. Roots should appear within three to five days. "They'll start producing the greens, which you can harvest like you would with scallions," says dela Llana. Allow the bottom cutting of your onion to dry for a day before starting the hydroponic process. Depending on your container, you may need to use toothpicks to help submerge only the bottom quarter-inch of the onion in water. Dela Llana recommends changing their water daily to prevent bacteria growth. It's also possible to regrow scraps into a full bulb onions after planting, leaving the greens intact. When flowers appear after a few months, the new bulbs would be ready for harvest.
Janet Ho is a writer who spends her time enjoying big-city living and small-town life. Follow her at @janetthewriterhere.