From the Kitchen to the Garden - Transforming Produce into Productive Plants

If you love to garden, winter can be tough. Once you harvest seeds from your annuals, put your perennials to bed for the season and prune your shrubs, there can be significant down time until things warm up again outdoors. Sure, the holidays are a distraction from your favorite pastime, and all those seed and plant catalogs hitting your mailbox in January are distracting, but nothing beats having a few winter projects going, just to keep a hand in.

You've probably seen articles about regrowing leftover produce like avocado pits. This isn't hype. You can save money on holiday produce and create some nice plants for the garden with very little effort. Here are examples of garden bound projects I cultivated indoors over the holidays. It isn't too late for you to start a few of them today:

A new celery plant growing from a heel

The Celery Trick - The heel from a bunch of celery can regrow, even if it's been in your refrigerator for a while. Whack off the stalks about three inches up from the bottom and retain them for culinary use. (You can place them in a glass of water to keep them fresher longer. Wrapping them in aluminum foil works, too.)

Take the heel and place it in a dish (a cereal bowl works well) half filled with pebbles, sand or marbles.

Insert the celery, heel down, and add water to about two inches above the base (the solid end).

Create a little well in the pebbles first, so the area directly underneath the heel is somewhat open. This gap will aid in root development.

Place the dish in a sunny location, and change the water every couple of days.

You should see roots forming after about a week and a half.

The plant will regrow from the center, and the stubs of the outer stalks will deteriorate and may be removed gently.

The pictures show a specimen after about three weeks. It can be planted out in the garden in spring.

Note: Some tutorials suggest planting the heel directly into the soil. I've had spotty success with that method, where water propagation works for me every time.
A healthy root system

Celery is biennial (has a two year lifecycle), so once it roots and the temperature heats up, it will want to set seed quickly instead of devoting energy to producing new ribs. Pinch back flowers to increase your harvest and use the outside ribs or harvest the whole plant before midsummer or thereabouts. Remember, you can always start a new plant the next time you buy celery. That's the beauty of produce propagation.

 Carrot Greens - That stub of carrot leftover from preparing your holiday crudité platter has some life left in it. I like buying carrots with the tops intact, but you can regrow carrots with only the stubby end to work with, too.

You need an inch of root (at least) if the top has been removed. That's where all the nutrition is.
Carrot Tops

Some tutorials suggest placing the carrot in a glass just touching a bit of water -- usually suspended from the rim of the glass with toothpicks. If you've used this method to sprout an avocado pit, you know the drill.
I've had better luck just placing a few carrot stubs (top up) in a plastic sandwich bag resting in some fine sand or vermiculite.

Place them in indirect light and leave them alone until they root.

This method works to root African violet leaves, too.

If the carrot top is still intact, rinse the stub (about an inch)  and trim back the tops to five or six inches.

Plant four inches apart in a quality potting soil, and place the pot in a window that receives good morning light (eastern exposure). Keep the pot uniformly moist. If you're successful, you'll notice some growth within a couple of weeks.

The bad part about this project is that cut carrots will not produce another root crop, but the green tops will continue to grow lush and appealing. You can always employ them as decorative elements in the garden, but they have another, better use. Carrot tops are slightly bitter, but still very tasty. They make an excellent bitter green ingredient in summer salads.

They have more than their fair share of antioxidants and minerals, too. Instead of shelling out a fortune for arugula or other designer greens you don't grow yourself, use carrot tops. Remember, this is from a bit of vegetable you'd otherwise toss in the garbage or onto the compost heap. I've kept carrots as houseplants for a few months waiting for the weather to warm up, and guests mistake them for ferns. They're that pretty.

Two Month Old Green Onion (from Thanksgiving)

A Green Onion Bonanza - Over the holidays, I use lots of green onions (also called bunching onions and scallions). If I don't need all of the white end (the root end), I regrow the green top in a glass of water. This also works when I have one or two leftover whole onions from a bundled bunch:

Place the onion or onions in a glass of water and onto a sunny windowsill (white side down, green side up).

Change the water every other day or so.
Onion Roots

The green tops will keep growing, and you can harvest a third to a half as needed and still have a perky happy plant.

Use this method to harvest green onions indefinitely.

Transplant into your garden in spring.

Is That a Pineapple? - Pineapple tops look a bit like succulents and make great houseplants. They're easy to regrow, too. If you live in a warm, humid climate, you can also cultivate pineapple outdoors until it flowers and fruits. This could take a few years, though (maybe 4 or so). Here's how to regrow pineapple:

Three Month Old Pineapple Plant (from a top)
Cut off the top about two inches below the base of the leaves.

Trim away as much fruit (yellow part) as possible without injuring the solid part underneath.

Remove any brown leaves.

Upend the top or set it on a paper towel in a shady indoor spot for five days to a week to harden off. This will help dry any remaining fruit.

Place the top in a glass with a small enough opening to hold the leaves suspended.

Fill the glass with water to just below the base of the leaves.

Pineapple (top view)
Place the glass in a sunny spot.

Change the water every other day. It won't take long for roots to form.

After a couple of weeks (you should have a healthy root network), transplant the pineapple to a six-inch pot filled with quality potting soil.

Bury the plant to the base of the leaves.

Keep the plant relatively moist, and provide extra humidity by spritzing it daily or placing the pot in a dish of pebbles to which you've added a little water (to just below the base of the pot). Keep the temperature somewhat warm (say, in the high 60s or 70s).

Gimme Garlic - You know that long skinny garlic clove in the center of the bulb? It doesn't usually yield much meat, so why not use it to grow a new plant. If you love garlic, it's an easy way to keep a ready supply. Garlic is a biennial crop, so it will take a couple of years to get your first homegrown bulbs, but if you make a habit of adding new plants regularly, you'll never run out once you start harvesting. This one's super simple:

Place the center clove in about a half inch of water (in a plastic baggie or a small glass of water). Retain the pad on the bottom. It' will help keep the garlic from falling over.

Change the water daily until you see shoots and roots form.

Transplant into the garden after all threat of frost as passed for the season.

Oh, if an entire garlic bulb has started to sprout in your cupboard, (this is when it will start to taste bitter), use this method to cultivate the whole thing instead of tossing it.


  1. Great blog! Thanks for your ideas. As my old mum used to say "Waste not want not."
    This is another way to enable us to 'walk more lightly' upon our beautiful planet...

  2. Thanks I will get started on these plants on Monday.


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