GROW IN ABUNDANCE: Don’t Toss It, Plant It!

By Sommer Cartier.

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Unlike most vegetables, sweet potatoes aren't started from seed, they start from slips.

If you consider carrot tops or onion bottoms as waste to be discarded, you may be surprised to learn there are many common vegetables that can be regrown from scraps. In fact, growing food from scraps can help reduce kitchen waste and save you money both on produce and on plant material for your new or existing vegetable garden. These foods can regrow from the parts we usually throw out, and some even grow in water alone, making them fun and easy for beginners, children and seasoned gardeners alike.


Below are two vegetables you can regrow if you have a little sunlight and a glass of water.


Sweet Potatoes


Unlike most vegetables, sweet potatoes aren't started from seed, they start from slips. Slips are shoots that are grown from a mature sweet potato, such as those purchased at the grocery store or taken directly from the garden. To start the sprouts, wash the potatoes then cut them in half. For larger potatoes, cut them into 3 or 4 large pieces. Using toothpicks for support, place each piece in a shallow container of water, making sure the lower half is submerged.


After a few days, roots should begin to form at the bottom of the potato, then followed by green sprouts on the top. Once the sprouts reach roughly 4 inches in length, carefully pinch them off and place the bottom half of the stems in water. Roots should begin to emerge at the base of each stem within a few short days. While roots are developing, it is important to keep the water fresh and discard any slips that begin to wilt. When roots are roughly an inch long, the slips are ready for planting.


Using a small hand trowel, dig a hole about 4 to 5 inches deep and 3 inches wide. Place one slip, roots down, in each hole. Cover the bottom half with soil while leaving the top half (with the leaves) above ground. Be careful not to bruise the delicate plants while placing them in the ground. When covering with soil, only gently press the plant and surrounding dirt to support it.


Once you’ve planted your slips, be sure to give them a thorough watering. Sweet potato slips should be watered every day for the first week and every other day the second week. Each week you will reduce your watering until you're watering roughly once a week, depending on the climate and conditions.


Green Onions


Green onions are the easiest food scrap to regrow. So long as a portion of the roots and bulbs are intact, they will regrow rather quickly. To regrow onions, simply reserve the whites of the onions after using/discarding the green portions. Place the bulbs in a translucent container and add just enough water to submerge the roots and a portion of the bulb. Place the onions on a sunny windowsill and be sure to change the water every few days.


At around 10 days, you’ll have a brand new set of green onions mature enough to harvest. You can easily get in a few rounds when using this method to grow onions. Eventually, you will want to replace the onions or transplant them in soil. When the shoots are four to five inches long, you can plant them in the ground or in a container filled with nutrient rich potting soil. This will help prolong the life of the onions. Similar to the sweet potato slips, dig a hole and place one onion, roots down, in each hole. Cover the bottom half with soil while leaving the top half exposed. Press the soil gently around the onions then water thoroughly. As with onions grown in water, you'll have new growth that's large enough to harvest within 10 to 15 days.


While these are just two common vegetables that can be regrown from food scraps, there are plenty more to choose from. A few to consider are celery, carrots and lettuce. Taking advantage of these plants’ ability to establish new roots and regenerate is a great way to reduce your grocery budget while cutting back on the amount of waste you create in your home.

Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with a Master of Arts in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.