Aug 282020
Re-Growing Vegetables from Food Waste

One glance at Instagram or Pinterest, and you can see that gardening has become incredibly popular this year, partly due to COVID. Another trend is low waste living, and more specifically, reducing food waste. Hence, you have likely come across “hacks” and tips for re-growing vegetables from food waste. One popular example is growing your spring onions in water. I put these hacks to the test and tried to grow a variety of produce from scraps and seeds, all of which were purchased as part of our weekly food shop. If you’ve ever wondered, “are these seeds viable?” or, “can I re-grow that carrot?” then this post is for you!

For each of the vegetables I attempted to re-grow, I mention below whether or not re-growth was successful, the difficulty level, the harvest quality, and some tips on re-growing.

For more info on my vegetable garden see: A Tour of My Vegetable Garden

Raised Bed in April
Raised Bed in April with tiny cabbage, lettuce, leeks, and the now-dead celery
Spring Onions

Green onions, scallions, whatever you call these mild alliums, they are the number one choice for re-growing.

  • Can you re-grow spring onions? Yes
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? No, within a week you should have a new shoot to snip.
  • Harvest quality: I found that they are more delicate than the onions purchased from the supermarket, but the flavour is the same.
  • Tips: I tried both re-growing in water and soil. Re-growing in water on your windowsill is possible, but they tend to go slimy. I had better luck popping them in the garden once the roots had formed, and then cut as needed.
Carrots

I would hope that it is obvious that you can’t regrow a root vegetable in water, but carrots are also widely featured in the veggie hacks on social media.

  • Can you re-grow carrots? The root, no. The tops, yes.
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? I would say yes. After a few days the carrot tops start to re-grow, but it isn’t worth the effort IMO.
  • Harvest quality: Not great.
  • Tips: I’d stick with non-root vegetables if you are re-growing food waste.
Cabbage

In the spring, we buy spring greens a lot because they are so cheap, and healthy. See for example, Eating Seasonally and Locally in the UK while living Zero Waste. I technically didn’t intend to re-grow a cabbage. In lockdown, I re-planted the end of spring greens in my raised bed, and a monster cabbage was the result.

  • Can you re-grow cabbages? Not sure, but you can re-grow spring greens which are young cabbages!
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? No, but I wouldn’t recommend putting it in a small raised bed because it takes up a lot of space and you can’t harvest until the end of summer.
  • Harvest quality: Pretty good!
  • Tips: I ended up pruning back the large bottom leaves to give my other veggies a chance for some sunlight!
Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
Raised bed in July with monster cabbage
Romaine Lettuce
  • Can you re-grow lettuce? Yes, as long as the stalk/heart is still good.
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? No, but it takes a while. I started to re-grow the romaine heart in water. As soon as the root system developed, I planted it in the raised bed.
  • Harvest quality: Decent, but it bolted in the May heat.
  • Tips: Use the cut and come again method to extend your harvest.
Romaine Lettuce
Bolting Romaine Lettuce with Leeks and Spring Onions
Celery
  • Can you re-grow celery? Supposedly, but mine rotted.
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? I found that starting to re-grow the celery in water was easy, and some new leaves quickly grew from the heart. However, when it was transferred to soil, it rotted.
  • Harvest quality: Nothing
  • Tips: Celery is a bit of a fickle crop anyways, so I wouldn’t bother trying to re-grow.
Leeks
  • Can you re-grow leeks? Yes, I think so…
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? No, I started them in water and planted them in the raised bed as soon as roots developed.
  • Harvest quality: My leeks are growing okay, but they aren’t ready for harvesting, so TBD.
  • Tips: Plant in soil.
Red Bell Peppers
  • Can you re-grow peppers? Yes! I collected the seeds from a red bell pepper.
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? No, I dried out the seeds and then planted them indoors in March in seed trays. They took a while to grow, and were a bit fiddly to transplant, but are well worth it.
  • Harvest quality: I have several small peppers developing, but it is too soon to tell whether they will taste good, or turn red.
  • Tips: Don’t plant as many as I did! I will use scrap pepper seeds again, but I will either compost the weak seedlings or not plant as many in the first place.

Bell Pepper

Vine-Ripened Tomatoes
  • Can you re-grow tomatoes? Yes! I collected the seeds from a vine-ripened tomato.
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? Like the peppers, I planted too many and they were just a bit labour intensive because I had to keep potting on all the tiny seedlings. Then, I had issues with wind damage. Tomatoes in general require considerable maintenance if you pinch out the suckers.
  • Harvest quality: They are just starting to ripen now, and I’d say I have a fairly good harvest, considering they are free plants. The wind storms, heat waves, and downpours didn’t help with consistent growing conditions though. [Had one for lunch, they taste amazing!]
  • Tips: Again, don’t plant as many as I did! I’ve had good luck using a seaweed-based liquid fertilizer for fruit development.

Tomatoes

Pumpkin
  • Can you re-grow pumpkins? Yes! Technically I am growing Queen Squash? It was a pumpkin-looking vegetable that we bought in the middle of lockdown from Waitrose, and I saved a few seeds.
  • Are they difficult to re-grow? Not at all! It’s growing really well in an old recycling box with drainage. I ended up moving it into a shadier part of the garden during the heat wave (see cover photo).
  • Harvest quality: No pumpkins yet, but lots flowers!
  • Tips: Prune back dead leaves, and add an old milk container with drainage as a submerged watering reservoir.

Pumpkin Seedlings - re-growing vegetables from food waste

Basil

Not food waste per se, but when you buy a pot of basil at the supermarket, it is a collection of juvenile plants. Split your plants into separate containers with rich compost and some manure and you’ll get a much bigger harvest. Basil likes warm weather, but will bolt if it gets too hot. Bring inside in autumn!

Basil Plants
Basil just after it was split into several pots
Pulses

I mentioned in my A Tour of My Vegetable Garden that I had grown lentils and chickpeas from our dried food cupboard staples. While these certainly worked, you really don’t get a high yield (1-2 seeds per pod) and they are super labour-intensive to shell. If you’re looking for a solution to survive a pandemic apocalypse by growing your own food, I can tell you with certainty that I would be long dead from starvation if I had to rely on my chickpeas and lentils!

BONUS

This isn’t technically re-growing vegetables from food waste, but if you use the cut and come again method, you will get re-growth on plants like lettuce, spinach, pea shoots, and micro greens!

Have you tried re-growing vegetables from food waste? How did it go? Let me know if there are any vegetables I should try next year!

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