The Seedless Garden: Vegetables From Scraps

Spring is always an exciting time for the gardener, when you prepare your plot or container to produce an abundant harvest. Every garden has to start somewhere. It usually begins with a tiny seed, but this isn’t always the case. Let’s look at how to grow vegetables without seeds.

There are actually many vegetables that can be grown without seeds. Many vegetables will grow from cuttings, and you can often get a whole new harvest from a scrap. Most of these scraps can be cultivated in soil or in water.

When growing from kitchen scraps, you must always have realistic expectations of what you are going to get. Planting a carrot top will not give you another carrot, and the root base of a cabbage will not produce a ginormous head. Lets look at how to cultivate vegetables without seeds, and what you can realistically expect from your scraps.

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How To Grow Vegetables Without Seeds

There are a surprising amount of vegetable plants you can grow without seeds. How can you do this? By using scraps from your kitchen. When a seed is sown, a plant will grow and mature through all its life cycles, the end of which is when it produces seeds and then dies. When we harvest a plant to eat, we are in essence interrupting its life cycle in the prime of its life because this is when it has the most nutritional value. In many cases, if you take part of the plant that you harvested and re-plant it, the plant will continue to grow, completing its life cycle from the point where it was so rudely interrupted.

One of my favorite parts of winter is receiving a seed catalog in the mail, and thumbing through it with a cup of tea while planning which seeds to buy for next year’s garden. However, there are a lot of advantages of growing at least some of your vegetables from kitchen scraps.

  1. Waste not, want not. While most of our kitchen waste ends up in the compost (on an animal’s plate), these vegetables can be even more productive by growing a few more meals before being tossed in the compost bin.
  2. Growing kitchen scraps is a really easy way to have fresh produce in the middle of winter. Our winters are very cold, and we have no hope of growing anything outside over winter. On top of that, our old farmhouse can get quite chilly when the winter winds are howling, and any seeds that we might want to germinate would need a lot of artificial heating and lighting. Kitchen scraps are already past the sensitive seedling stage and are very easy to cultivate even in the cold dark days of winter.
  3. Some garden seeds can be very expensive, but kitchen scraps are free. Even if you only end up with a few leaves of lettuce for a small side salad, that is one more meal that was grown in your own home. Maybe (probably) you won’t be able to feed yourself from kitchen scraps alone, but that is one meal closer to being self-sufficient.
  4. It is a very interesting experiment to do especially with children. It really shows how miraculous and resilient the natural world is.

For most scraps, there are two ways you can grow them: in soil or in water.

Carrot tops Image by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

In Soil

In most cases, you can put your kitchen scrap into some soil, keep it watered and it will quickly begin to grow. You can plant the scrap right into your garden, but they also grow very well in pots. The new root system that grows will often be quite small, so you can usually use a fairly small pots size. However, some plants can grow to be quite large and produce for a long time, so it is best to provide adequate space and provide sufficient nutrients for the growing plant.

Potting soil works very well to grow kitchen scraps, but you can also use soil from your garden. Be cautious about using pure topsoil, as this has the tendency to compact inside pots and won’t provide a very good growing environment. It is also very beneficial to add compost to your pots to feed your scrap as it is growing. You can either put the compost on the bottom with soil on top, or you can mix the compost and soil together for an even distribution throughout the pot.

Make sure you water your new plant regularly to keep the soil from drying out. If you are growing in a pot inside your house, make sure you place a drip tray under the pot so the water doesn’t run out the bottom and make a mess.

In Water

Many vegetable scraps can be grown, or at least started, in water. It is as simple as placing the scrap in a bowl filling it with water. Make sure not to completely submerge the vegetable cutting under the water or it might rot, but put in just enough water so it is partly under the water.

You can also suspend the vegetable scrap over the water. To do this, stick 3 or 4 toothpicks into the side of the vegetable so they stick out like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Then hang the scrap over a glass by resting the toothpicks on the rim with the scrap hanging down into the glass. Fill the glass with water until it just touches the bottom of the cutting.

In many cases, you can start the plant in water and then transplant it into the soil once roots have formed. Some plants, however, will grow just fine leaving them in the water. Onions are a perfect example of how to grow vegetables in water.

Image by Carmen Edenhofer

What To Expect

Growing vegetables from kitchen scraps is becoming very popular, and the internet abounds with lists of vegetables you can regrow. However, there is a lot of misinformation about what you can actually grow from a kitchen scrap. A vegetable scrap will not regrow into a plant as large or as impressive as the original plant.

A vegetable scrap will not regrow into a plant as large or as impressive as the original plant.

A perfect example of this is the carrot. If you plant a carrot top, it will not grow into a new carrot. You have already eaten the carrot root, and it will not grow another taproot. When you plant a carrot top, it will continue growing from the point where it stopped: that is, it will send up carrot greens and try and produce seeds.

When you plant a parsnip top, you will get similar results as a carrot. Unlike a carrot, however, parsnip tops are not edible. So why would you plant a parsnip top? For the seeds! If you can produce your own seeds for next year, this is a great achievement in self-sufficient living.

If you plant the root base of lettuce or cabbage, it will not grow a whole new head of lettuce or cabbage. Instead, the root base will send out new roots, and tender leaves will grow. These leaves are edible and you can often get several meals worth of fresh greens, but you must be realistic about what to expect.

There are, of course, a few exceptions to this. A few vegetables scraps that will grow into a whole new, heavy producing plant are the potato, sweet potato, ginger, and turmeric. The part that you eat is also the part that you can turn into a whole new plant.

Growing food from kitchen scraps is a worthwhile endeavour. It is also surprising how many different vegetables you can grow from “garbage” and the valuable food that we discard every day. Here are some ideas to get you started.