Live consciously and re-grow your own vegetables with this fun and easy guide.
Food is expensive and is a sentiment that has been felt more so during this pandemic when food prices skyrocketed. One way to save money is to re-grow foods from your kitchen scraps. Doing this is also a form of “edible recycling.” It’s about living consciously and curbing food wastage. According to 1Life, 10 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in South Africa.
You’ll be amazed at how many vegetables can be regrown from your kitchen – from celery stalks to potatoes. No fancy equipment is necessary! All you need is some understanding of what you’re working with, a lot of care and plenty of patience in some instances. Books like No-Waste Kitchen Gardening by Katie-Elzer-Peters offer detailed insights, but this guide can get you started.
Leafy vegetables: lettuce, pak choi, cabbage
Leafy vegetables are relatively easy to regrow from scraps. The stems are usually the parts we throw away. Chop off the stem from where the leaves start to grow and put it in a container, filling it with water so that just over half of the cutting is submerged.
“A tip for growing the roots is sticking toothpicks or skewers in the cutting and balancing these on the rim of the jar or container with water so that only the bottom of the cutting is in the water. The moment you put the whole plant in the water, it starts to ferment,” says food activist, gardener and author, Mokgadi Itsweng.
Place the container where it can get good sunlight. Replace the water every two days, especially when it starts to get cloudy. After three or four days, roots and leaves will start to appear. “I’d suggest keeping the plant in water for another week so that when you transfer it into the soil the roots are solid,” Mokgadi advises.
You can transfer to soil, either in a pot or a garden bed with good drainage. Water generously after transplanting and water regularly thereafter.
The process for re-growing celery is similar to growing leafy vegetables. What you need to do is cut off the base of the celery and put it in a bowl with plenty of warm water in the bottom. Keep this in direct sunlight and after about seven days, leaves will start to grow and thicken along the base. When this starts to happen you can move your plant into the soil so it can grow full-length.
Bulb vegetables: garlic, onions, leeks
Re-growing onions can be as easy as cutting the root end of the onion and suspending it in a jar of water, with the roots down and immersed in water. Some people prefer to remove the outer peel of the cutting and place it on a dry surface to dry out for a day or two. “This helps the roots keep their form,” explains Mokgadi. You may use toothpicks here to help balance the cutting on the rim of the jar. When green sprouts start growing from the top, you can transfer your plant to a garden bed or a well-draining pot and place it in a spot with sufficient sunlight.
With spring onions, simply cut a few centimeters off the end and put it in water with about a centimeters of the cutting free to breathe. Put this where there’s plenty of sunlight and water regularly. You’ll notice regrowth in a few days. You can keep re-growing your spring onions in water or transplant them to your garden. However, Mokgadi advises moving it to the soil for more nourishment.
Garlic comes with several cloves. Just pull one off and peel the skin off. You might notice that some garlic might even start to sprout on its own from the clove and this is great for re-growing. Place the clove with the root end at the bottom in a little jar of water. Change the water every day and place the garlic where it can get good sunlight. In a few days, you will notice some green sprouting. “Keep the clove in water for two to three weeks allowing the roots to propagate. When the roots have grown into curly looking strings, then the plant is ready to be transferred to your garden,” says Mokgadi.
Root vegetables to regrow for leafy tops: carrot or beetroot
You will not get a carrot from a carrot. What you will get are its leafy vegetable tops that are very nutritious and versatile. You can make pesto with them, sauté or include them in soups or salads. What you’ll need is a shallow bowl with very little water. Cut about a centimeter or two of the carrot from the top where the leaves grow. Put the cut side of the carrot in water so the leafy part is at the top.
“As soon as the shoots start to come out, you can put in a little more water. Watch and water regularly with the plant getting plenty of sunlight. In about a week or two, transfer to your garden,” says Mokgadi. Beetroot works in a similar way. And she says it’s best to work with veggies that still have their green leaves attached.
We love potatoes for their versatility and their all-year availability. The fun in re-growing your own is having your ongoing harvest at home. Look for potatoes that are already starting to sprout eyes. Cut the potato in half and make sure that each side has at least two eyes. “A good tip is to set the potato to dry out overnight. When the potato is soft and moist, it rots,” Mokgadi explains. Plant the cut side into the soil with the eyes pointing up.
With many making concoctions to strengthen immune systems, ginger has been in higher demand with a high price tag since the Covid-19 pandemic, where people have been using it for its cooking and medicinal uses. Re-grow your own so you don’t experience the disappointment of not finding it at the shops. What you need to look for in the ginger are the little buds that are starting to grow. Cooking teacher, Mary Shrader of Mary’s Nest recommends soaking the ginger in water overnight as ginger can sometimes be sprayed with growth retardants. Plant the ginger with the bud nodes facing up in potting soil which can later be transferred to the garden. Not much sunlight is needed for ginger, it thrives in indirect sunlight.