The Garden of Rebirth

You can regrow store-bought produce and vegetable waste to create recurring harvests, spurring your garden on with plentiful bounties.

Sprouting dried beans.

Photo by William Rubel

Regrowing vegetables from kitchen scraps can sound like a gimmick. But I’ve found that the more I look to my kitchen as a seed and plant catalogue, the more varied my vegetable garden becomes. In many cases, harvesting cycles for many of the plants in my garden are now much longer than they were when I was stocking my vegetable garden the usual way — with seedling six-packs and seeds from packets. I think of it as a “garden of rebirth” — a garden based on creating something out of almost nothing. The seeds you scoop out of cantaloupe are viable, as are the seeds in red bell peppers, tomatoes, and dried chili peppers. Basil, rosemary, sage, and other herbs will easily root in water to create young herb plants for transplanting into containers or gardens. Planting sprouted potatoes, rather than throwing them away, will yield you anywhere from 6 to 12 garden-fresh potatoes in a few months. Divert a handful of beans from that bean soup you’re making, and they’ll grow you a row of beans. Celery bottoms regrow celery, and radicchio bottoms regrow radicchio. One of the most significant boosts to my everyday cooking from my garden of rebirth is the fact that scallions, which I love, regrow from their bases throughout the growing season, so I no longer have to buy a bunch of scallions for the 2 tablespoons I like to add to my scrambled eggs.

Getting Scrappy

The nub of this garden of rebirth idea is to use the parts of vegetables we usually throw away as the starts for new plants. If you find a good deal on root vegetables, such as beets, and you enjoy the greens, then buy extra to plant. Or, plant a pinch of dill seeds from the herb shelf, which are so cheap they’re tantamount to free. A garden that’s, at least in part, driven by the inspiration you can find in the grocery store, farmers market, and your kitchen, will soon align with your actual culinary interests in ways that a more traditionally planned vegetable garden may not.

If you use scallions and have some in your refrigerator, then start by cutting off the roots and planting them in soil. Otherwise, buy a bunch and plant them. Look through your cupboard and plant out any stressed potatoes and garlic that are destined for the bin. If you have dry beans in your cupboard, take out a handful and plant them. You have nothing to lose. The next time you buy celery, cut off the stalks an inch or two above the base, and plant the base in your garden. Something magical is going to happen. If you like beet greens, and you have a beet in your kitchen right now, get the beet, trim its leaves, and then go plant it in your garden. The leaves will grow back quickly, and they can be harvested as baby greens for a salad.

I do still buy some starts and vegetable seeds. But a substantial portion of the vegetables I harvest comes from produce I’d first purchased to eat. This includes scallions, basil, tomatoes, squashes, melons, beans, peas, peppers, chiles, herbs, popcorn, garlic, ginger, beet greens, celery, celeriac, leeks, a couple kinds of chicory, dill, savory, and more. Start small, and see where it goes.

Roots and Rhizomes

Ginger (Zingiber officinale). These rhizomes can be planted and harvested indoors as houseplants. Use ginger that’s sprouted or has clear, plump growth nodes. Ginger that’s completely dried out is no longer viable. Plant shallow-rooted ginger just under the soil in a windowsill pot, in a greenhouse, or outdoors if appropriate. Ginger likes warmth, light, and moisture. It’s fast growing, and small amounts of the rhizome will be harvestable within a few months. Once it’s established, you’ll be self-sufficient.


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