By Linda Stein, Master Gardener
Vegetable gardening is a wonderful way to demonstrate to your children how their foods developed before they made it to the grocery store. During the winter months a fun project to try is a “Kitchen Garden”. Your kitchen garden can include scraps from vegetables or fruit that you have in your kitchen. It can also include plants grown from purchased or harvested seeds.
A kitchen scrap garden uses items that you typically would throw away. Some of the scraps can be used to grow vegetables or fruits that you can consume. Others will not reproduce vegetables or fruits but can grow a plant that you and your children can enjoy.
For those items that are being planted to produce something edible, only plant parts from vegetables that you know have not been chemically treated. So, for example, use organic fruits and vegetables.
Many of the vegetables that you have in your kitchen can be used. I have identified some that you might consider. However, as a science project It may be fun to try different foods to see which ones will actually grow into plants.
Planting Root Vegetables
Root vegetables, like carrots, can be planted. You will not get additional carrots. However, you can get a plant whose leaves can be eaten. Cut off the head of the carrot so there is about a half inch of the orange part and place in a shallow dish of water.
Potatoes are a wonderful option to try growing in your home. If you’re like me, I often find that the potatoes that I’ve stored for future use, have developed sprouts. These can be planted. You can also plant seed potatoes or organic potatoes that haven’t sprouted. Select a small potato with at least two eyes or cut a larger potato into pieces with at least two eyes on each piece. If you cut the potato, let it set for a day or two before planting. You can plant the potato directly in soil or you can allow the potato to root in water. To plant in water, stick three to four toothpicks into the sides of the potato so the toothpicks will reach the sides of the glass container. Fill the glass with water so that just the bottom portion of the potato is submerged. Place the jar by a sunny window and add water as needed. Once the roots have developed, you can plant in soil.
When planting directly in soil, potatoes need to be planted in a deep pot. Place the potato near the bottom of the pot with the eye or the sprout facing up. Cover with about four inches of soil and place by a sunny window. Then watch the plants grow. When the plants are about five inches tall, cover the stem up to the leaves with additional soil. Keep doing this as the plants grow.
Celery is a vegetable that allows your child to watch the development of the plant in a relatively short time. To begin, cut the celery stalk about 1-2 inches from the base. Place the cut and cleaned stalk in warm water with the cut side facing up. Place in a sunny spot. Check regularly to make sure the base of the celery is submerged. As the plant grows, the outside of the celery stalk base will turn brown as it creates nutrients for the new stalk. After 5 to 7 days, your celery stalk base should have begun to grow new shoots. Once these shoots are an inch or two tall you can transfer the stalk into a pot with soil.
Planting Leeks, Scallions or Green Onions
Leeks, scallions and green onions that still have roots can be planted in water or directly in soil. You will be able to harvest the greens as they regrow.
Planting Seeds from Vegetables and Fruits
Fruit with large seeds, such as avocados, can be planted directly in soil with the tip of the pit exposed.
You can also allow the roots to grow in a glass container. This provides an opportunity for your child to see the roots develop. Just as described under potatoes, stick three to four toothpicks into the sides of the seed so the toothpicks will reach the sides of the glass container and fill the glass with water so that just the bottom portion is submerged in water. It can take a month or more for roots and a sprout to appear.
You can plant the seeds from oranges, lemons or limes. These are going to take two to four weeks to sprout. And, of course they will take years to grow into trees that have the potential to produce fruit.
A wonderful option for your kitchen garden is to incorporate various herbs. Many herbs will grow well indoors beside a sunny window. Since they sprout relatively quickly, they are a great choice for younger children. Some herbs that grow well indoors include basil, chervil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
For more information on scrap gardens check out the following books. The first is written for children. The second is written for adults.
Dig In!: 12 Easy Gardening Projects Using Kitchen Scraps by Kari Cornell
No-Waste Kitchen Gardening by Katie Elzer-Peters.
Or you can also go to the following websites:
- Kitchen Scrap Garden at https://cf.forestry.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/KitchenScrapGarden_ENGLISH.pdf
- Kitchen Scrap Gardening at https://kidsgardening.org/garden-activities-kitchen-scrap-gardening/