Thinking twice about which food scraps get thrown away can help reduce your grocery bills and give you the pleasure of growing your own produce at home. There are more than a handful of vegetables and herbs that I rarely re-buy or start from seed because I grow them from leftover bits of my original veggies or herbs.
Starting with organic produce is going to be the underlying theme here, because many conventional growers and food distributors will use a sprout inhibitor to control cell division for longer shelf life — not necessarily good for the resourceful gardener out there trying to break away from food-system dependency. Now before we get too far into the true physiology of adventitious roots and talk more in-depth about how important it is for plant survival to be able to adapt, thrive, and stabilize shifting environments, I want this snippet to be focused on simple vegetables you can revive in your kitchen.
Even after cutting away the “usable” parts of vegetables, most of the remaining plant material will have enough stored energy to continue processing light and nutrients, thus encouraging auxins (natural plant hormones) to develop new cells for essential plant development. These auxins and other chemicals are triggered immediately after cutting the plant, pulling all of its resources to fight off infection, close the wound, and initiate new roots.
The first to act is jasmonic acid, peaking in levels only 30 minutes after the cut, pushing back pathogens that could be malicious. Shortly after, through a process called indirect organogensis, a callus begins to develop on or around the cut plant surface so that new plant organs can start being put to work. Clonex makes a great rooting gel using Indole-3-butyric acid (naturally found in willow bark and roots) that will significantly speed up this process by supplementing a surge of hormones for faster rooting. Dip your cutting in the gel (or spread the rooting gel on the cut surface) before planting, to give your nascent veggies the best chance to produce new, healthy root systems.
Button mushrooms are my favorite re-grown item in the kitchen. I remove the caps from the mushrooms for cooking, and place 3-4 stalks in a small 1-gallon container with fresh Happy Frog potting soil, topping the container off with sterile vermiculite that I moistened with warm water. Place in a warm, dark environment with a Mondi plastic dome to maintain a high-humidity environment, and eventually these stalks will soon colonize the substrate using mycelium as the driving force for vegetative growth.
A few easier projects are putting fresh cut basil or cilantro stems with a few leaves attached, in a narrow glass of tap water. The chlorine will help keep the cut clean from airborne spores and also keep excess air from traveling up the stems. These prove easiest to root when they have green stems as opposed to older woody stems. In a few days the cutting will have depleted its remaining sugars, and crave a new source of food. In order to acquire new food, the plant will develop a brand new root system, making itself an official clone.
The cut bottoms of lettuce heads and celery stalks also have a place in my home, slightly suspended with toothpicks in a small shallow cup filled with filtered water. They now regrow much quicker since I installed a Sun Blaster T5 florescent fixture underneath my cabinets to give them plenty of light. For other items like ginger rhizome, potato eyes, parsnip tops, and beet tops, I just use nutrient-rich soil to propagate new plants. Adding a small dose of hydrogen peroxide to my water during planting helps suppress bad bacteria from developing before the plant does.
Using my soft-sided fabric containers from Smart Pot makes gardening indoors easy by allowing the plant to continue to grow roots all winter long indoors, as opposed to plastic containers that restrict root growth. Regrowing sweet potatoes in these have been my favorite so far. In order to keep my garden growing and expanding all winter long, I’m eyeing a Solexx Greenhouse for extra season extension. For free-standing greenhouses and cold frames, they are high quality (both the panels and frames) and they are reasonably priced for what you get. With the holiday season coming up, one of these babies is high on my list.
You should really try growing veggies from cuttings. It’s rewarding, a fun, pretty easy project, and can save you money at the grocery store. Happy gardening, no matter what season we’re in!