These days, it seems like everyone is jumping into the victory garden trend, enjoying the benefits of a soothing activity in the fresh air while reaping fresh and tasty produce to eat. But even those who don’t have a yard, or just don’t want to get dirt under their nails, can still enjoy the miracle of growing something that’s destined for the dinner table—without even ordering vegetable seeds.
That’s because you can start an indoor garden from your kitchen leftovers. No soil required!
We talked to master gardener Linda Tyson, owner of garden design and maintenance company South Suburban Garden Girl, and Kevin Espiritu, author and the founder of Epic Gardening, to get their tips on growing vegetables without getting down and dirty.
“Green onions are probably the best all-around pick as they give you what you want, as in the tops of the onions,” says Espiritu.
To grow green onions from scraps, make sure you have the root end with a half-inch of the bulb intact. Then, place it in a glass with enough water to cover it.
Tyson suggests raiding your barware for the perfect scallion-growing container.
“Two or three scallions in a shot glass works well to make sure they will stay upright,” she says.
You will need to change the water once every couple of days, and in a week or so, you’ll have enough growth to harvest. Use scissors to snip off the amount from the top needed for your recipe, and allow the rest to continue to grow.
“Carrot tops are common [to grow in water], but you won’t get what you think—only more tops, not a root,” warns Espiritu.
What’s the point in growing carrot tops? Well, they taste similar to parsley.
“These nutritious leaves can be cut and enjoyed in salads, stir-fries, or sautés, or used as garnishes,” Tyson says.
To grow in water, cut off the top half-inch or so of a carrot (the root part). Place the cut end into a shallow bowl and fill with water so that it reaches about halfway up the carrot stump. Place the bowl in a sunny location. It will start to sprout in a few days. Harvest the greens as needed.
Asian greens and lettuce
Espiritu says Asian greens like bok choy are easy to regrow from scraps as well, as long as the base including the “inner growing tips” is intact. This method will also work for head lettuces like romaine.
Cut off the base of a plant, and place it in a bowl bottom-down. Cover the base with water, but no more than a quarter-inch above the base. Replace the water every few days. You should start to see growth in about one week. You can harvest the new growth.
“These fresh greens can be cut and regrown repeatedly before they exhaust themselves,” says Tyson. “Change the water daily, and you may have two or three weeks of harvesting fresh greens from your kitchen windowsill.”
Having access to fresh herbs in your kitchen can take your cooking to the next level. The key to success is the stem: “The softer the stem, the easier it will be,” says Espiritu.
Select several 4-inch stems from a bunch of herbs. Look for stems that are green and pliable. Strip all leaves from about 75% of each stem with a sharp knife. Put the stems in a jar of water and place it in a sunny location. Change the water every other day. You’ll soon notice new roots form along the stems and some new growth on top. Harvest what you need for your recipe.
How long does it take for you to use up one bunch of celery? Often when a recipe calls for celery, you use only a stalk or two. Regrowing celery may be worthwhile for light users.
Rinse off the base of a bunch of celery and place it in a small bowl or wide-mouthed jar, with the cut stalks facing upright. Fill the container with water. Place the container in a sunny area and leave it for about a week, changing the water every other day. The yellow leaves around the center of the base will grow thicker and turn dark green.
“In a few days you can start cutting the sprouts for use in salads, sandwiches, and other dishes,” says Tyson.
Take it to the next level
If growing vegetables in water gives you a boost of garden confidence, Tyson says it’s time to take it to the next level.
“You can also grow these same throw-away portions of vegetables in potting soil in small pots on a sunny windowsill, patio, balcony, or in the ground in a sunny vegetable or flower bed,” she says. “Planting these vegetables in the soil will provide even more nutritious greens and a more bountiful, longer-lasting harvest than growing them in water.”
Debbie Wolfe is a writer who specializes in home, garden, DIY, and lifestyle topics. She has written for media outlets and online retailers such as HGTV, The Home Depot, Walmart, Family Handyman, and Bob Vila.