Using Supermarket Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs to Grow Your Own
Around the world, food prices are skyrocketing. You may not know it, but you've got a way to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs sitting right in your refrigerator.
You can grow new plants from the vegetables, fruits, and herbs you brought home from the supermarket. Besides saving you money, growing your own food is a joyful experience, and it is something you can involve your children in. It will teach them valuable lessons about sustainability and nature.
You don't need a garden patch or a large backyard to grow your own food if you grow in containers. All you need is a:
- Window box
- Back deck or
- Sunny window sill
You will also need to use organic produce, as some non-organic produce has been modified (hybridized) to produce only sterile seeds.
Another popular option is vertical farming, which allows plants to grow with much less water, in some cases up to 95% less. This is because less water is lost to evaporation, and a portion of the water can be recycled and reused.
Creating a container garden
Here's what you'll need to create a container garden:
- Several terra cotta or plastic pots, 18 to 24 inches (46 - 61cm) in diameter with drainage are best
- A watering can, pitcher, or hose
- Potting soil
- A large spoon or trowel
- Used plastic water or soda bottles
- A plastic spray bottle
- Drinking glasses or glass jars
- Optional: Slow-release vegetable garden fertilizer
- Optional: tomato cages or stakes
Your plants will do best if you:
- Fill your containers with potting soil then add vegetable plant food according to the directions on the package.
- Add water and mix the soil until it feels damp.
- Use a trowel or spoon to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the plant, place the plant in the hole, and fill with soil around the edges, pressing gently.
- Plant large plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, beans, squash, and peppers, first, then add smaller plants, such as, onions, carrots, lettuces, or herbs, around the sides to fill the container.
- Water immediately after planting.
- Make sure your plants get at least six hours of sunshine per day, however, lettuces and herbs can get by with only three to four hours of sun a day.
- Check the soil daily for moistness by putting your finger two to three inches down into the soil and, if it is dry, water until water runs out the bottom of the pot.
- Fertilize your plants following the directions on the vegetable fertilizer package.
- Check your plants occasionally for insect or worm damage, and if needed, treat them with an organic insecticide.
- Provide tomato cages or stakes for plants that grow tall, such as tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers; tomatoes can grow six to eight feet tall and two feet across.
- Make sure there are enough drain holes in the bottom of your plastic pots, if your pots don't have drain holes, use a drill, scissors, screwdriver, or a box cutter to make holes.
- If you use trays under your pots, make sure to empty them out frequently, especially after a rain, as trays holding trapped water can drown a plant's roots.
- If you are using wood containers, be sure they're made of rot-resistant cedar or redwood, or non-preservative treated wood because chemicals in the wood can leach into the soil and then into your plants.
- Use only large, light-colored containers for tomatoes because they are especially sensitive to heat; tomatoes will only set fruits when temperatures are between 55 and 85 degrees F.
- Add about 25 percent compost to the potting soil while your plants are growing, compost helps keep plants cool and moist during the summertime.
- Place mulch on top of the soil to help keep moisture in the pot.
What you can grow
Below, we describe how you can grow the following using only produce you've bought at the supermarket:
- Sweet potatoes
- Onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots
- Bulb fennel
- Carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets
- Lettuce, bok choy, and other leafy greens
- Basil, mint, cilantro, and other herbs
If not eaten quickly, store-bought potatoes naturally grow lots of "eyes." Cut a potato having eyes into chunks, making sure each chunk has an eye. Then plant the chunks eye side up, making sure the potato itself is completely covered by soil.
After 80 to 100 days, you'll have more potatoes than you know what to do with, but you'll have to dig around in your pots to find them.
Cut a sweet potato in half the long way. Suspend the pointy ends in a glass or jar of water using toothpicks to hold the potato pieces above the bottom of the glass or jar.
After several days, roots will form at the bottom and sprouts will appear at the top of the potato. When the sprouts grow to four inches (10 cm) in height, cut them off and place them with their bases in a filled water bottle. As soon as roots form, you can plant them in soil.
Use a spoon to scrape out the cucumber seeds which will be surrounded by pulp. Place the pulp and seeds in a glass of water and stir vigorously. The pulp will rise to the top of the glass and the seeds will settle onto the bottom. Plant the seeds six inches apart and one inch deep in soil.
Scoop out the seeds - some pulp will come with them. Place the seeds and pulp in a strainer or a glass of water to separate the seeds from the pulp.
You can start the seeds in small pots, eggshells, or carboard egg trays filled with a seed-starting mix. Place a few seeds in each container, and cover gently with 1/4 inch of soil. Moisten the soil with a spray bottle. Cover the planters with a plastic bag or film, and set them on top of the refrigerator; the ideal temperature for germination is 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the seeds have sprouted, you can plant them in larger pots or outside by simply cutting apart each section of the egg tray and planting the whole thing in moist soil.
You will need to use cherries from either a tree growing nearby or purchased from a farmer's market. Cherries bought from the grocery store have usually been stored refrigerated, which affects their ability to germinate.
Eat the cherries and save the pits. Place them in a bowl of warm water and lightly scrub them so they are free of any clinging fruit. Spread the clean pits on a paper towel in a warm area and let them dry for three to five days. Then transfer them to a sealed container and place them in the refrigerator for ten weeks. Cherries need to go through a cold period before they can germinate and refrigerating the pits mimics this process.
After ten weeks, allow the pits to come to room temperature. Put two to three pits into a small container, such as a carboard egg tray, filled with planting medium and keep the soil moist.
After leaves appear, you can plant the sections of the egg tray directly into the soil.
A carrot planted in the ground will not produce another carrot but can be used to grow a carrot plant, from which you can harvest the seeds. These seeds can then be used to grow new carrots. To plant a whole carrot in the ground, simply place the carrot in the soil, about 1/2 inch below the surface. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
Allow the plant to grow and fully mature. It will eventually flower and produce seeds. Cut the flower stalks off after the flowers have faded and put them into a paper bag. Store the bag in a dry location for several weeks and then shake it to loosen the seeds from their stalks. Store the seeds in a glass jar until you are ready to plant them. They can then be planted in soil and started in the same way as other seeds.
You can also grow carrot greens from carrot tops. Again, these won't give you carrots, but they will give you tasty greens.
Cut the top from a carrot. Stick a toothpick into either side of the carrot stump and balance it on top of a small glass. Fill the glass with water so that it is just touching the bottom edge of the stump. Set the glass near a sunny window, but not in direct sunlight. Add water as needed so that it is just touching the stump. You should soon see the roots sprout.
Once they have sprouted, you can plant the tops in soil. The new plants will grow quickly and produce greens.
Cut off the top inch and a half of a fresh beet and put the cutting cut side down into a container filled with potting soil. Once it begins to form roots of its own, you can move the cutting, cut side facing down, into the ground or a larger pot and it will produce more beets.
Alternatively, you can also place the cutting, cut side facing down, into a glass or bowl of water. The cutting will begin to grow harvestable beet greens that you can snip off and toss into your salads and wraps for an easy-to-grow nutrient-rich microgreen.
Lettuce and bok choy
Cut at least one inch from the stem end of lettuce or bok choy. Place it in a glass or jar of water, stem side down, and use toothpicks to keep it off the bottom. Place the glass or jar in a sunny spot, and within a week, new roots should begin to grow. The plant can then be moved to soil.
Lettuce and cabbage will even grow from just their leaves. Place lettuce or cabbage leaves in a jar or glass of water. Place the glass in a sunny spot, and once roots appear, you can then plant them in soil. Place lettuce and cabbage plants at least six inches (15cm) apart.
Cut about half an inch off the bottom of a leek and place it root down in a glass or jar filled with water. Use toothpicks to keep the roots off the bottom.
Place the glass or jar in a sunny spot and change the water frequently. Within a week, you'll see the leek root begin to grow, and you can then plant it in the soil at least two inches (5cm) apart.
Cut around an inch from the bottom of a bunch of celery and suspend it in a glass or jar filled with water using toothpicks. Place the glass in a sunny location and after a week, leaves will begin to grow. You can then plant the celery stem side down in potting soil.
Just like celery, cut off around an inch from the fennel base and place it in a jar or glass filled with water. Use toothpicks to keep the base from touching the bottom.
As soon as green shoots emerge, you can replant the fennel in soil
Lemongrass is becoming increasingly popular, but it can be difficult to find at the supermarket. To grow your own, simply place the lemongrass root side down in a glass or jar of water, and place it in direct sunlight.
After around a week, new growth will appear, and you can then plant it in soil.
Buy a good-sized piece of ginger at the supermarket. Try to choose a healthy, plump-looking ginger root that is about four to five inches (10 to 13 cm) long with at least a few “fingers.” If possible, find a ginger root where the tips of the fingers are greenish.
Break it apart, exposing the inside, and let the pieces dry out overnight. Plant it fresh-cut side down in potting soil, no deeper than 1 inch (2.5 cm), and water it frequently.
After about one month, shoots will develop. Ginger plants make attractive houseplants, and they can live indoors for years.
Like their cousin the leek, green onions, along with scallions and shallots, are members of the allium family, and they can all can be regrown from their bulbs or stems.
Cut about an inch including the white bulb and roots from your store-bought green onions. Place them in a glass or jar filled with enough water to cover the roots and a small part of the bulb. New shoots will appear almost immediately.
While you can grow your green onions in the water alone, you'll get better results if you plant them roots down in soil, making sure the roots are completely covered by the soil. Keep the soil moist and within 10 to 15 days, you'll have new green onions to harvest.
From a large head of garlic, break off several cloves. Use a pencil or dowel to create holes six inches deep in your soil and plant the clove flat end down and pointy end up. Plant the cloves at least six inches (15cm) apart.
It will take eight to nine months, but you'll get big, beautiful heads of garlic.
The process for growing herbs, such as basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme, is identical. You will start them all in a used water or soda bottle filled with water. However, if the water at your house is heavily chlorinated, use bottled water instead.
From a basil stem, remove all the lower leaves then place the stem in bottle filled with water. Within two weeks, the basil cutting will develop long roots. Place the cutting root side down in a pot containing soil.
The same process used for basil is used for mint. However, when transferring the mint to a planting container, make sure the mint is confined to its own pot. If not, the mint will take over whatever area it is potted in and kill any neighboring plants.
From a rosemary stem, remove all of the lower leaves and place the stems into a bottle of water. Place the bottle somewhere where it will receive lots of sunlight.
As soon as the stems develop roots, plant them in soil. Both rosemary and sage are drought-tolerant herbs.
The process is the same for oregano, the only difference being that oregano takes longer to develop roots than other herbs.
After removing the lower leaves from oregano stems, cut them at a 45 degree angle before placing them in water. It takes oregano about four weeks to develop roots, and once it does, you can plant it in soil.
Like oregano, after removing the lower leaves from stems of sage, cut the stems at a 45 degree angle before placing them in water. It takes about four weeks for sage to develop roots, after which you can plant it.
When looking for stems of thyme, be sure they are not brown. After stripping the lower leaves, cut the stems at a 45 degree angle before placing them in water. As soon as roots appear, plant the thyme stems.
Like the other herbs, strip off the lower leaves from a stem of cilantro. Place it in a bottle of water, and once roots have grown, you can plant it in soil.
For fruits, you'll want to use potting mix rather than potting soil. Potting mix is lighter than soil, and it contains peat moss, compost, vermiculite, perlite, and sand. It holds moisture but won't get soggy.
Tomatoes are actually a fruit and not a vegetable, and being a fruit, they can be grown from seeds. Simply cut open a store-bought tomato, and extract the seeds and pulp. Place the seeds and pulp into a glass of water and stir vigorously. The seeds will fall to the bottom and the pulp will rise to the top.
Remove the seeds from the glass and soak them overnight in tepid water. Dry them thoroughly on a paper towel and you can now plant the seeds in soil.
Place the seeds about 1/4 inch deep, water thoroughly, then place plastic wrap over the pot to keep in the moisture. Place the pot in a warm spot but out of direct sunlight, and in about a week, germination will begin.
As soon as sprouts appear, carefully remove the plastic wrap and using your spray bottle, spray the sprouts with water. Place the pots on a window sill and expose them to about three hours of sunlight at first. Add more exposure to the sun each day until the plants are exposed to six hours of sunlight daily.
Make sure the soil around the tomato plants stays damp, and that the pots are draining. Once the plant is about three inches tall, you can transfer it to a larger pot. Because tomato plants grow so tall, they'll need either a tomato cage or stakes and string to support it. To keep pests away from your tomato plants, plant basil nearby.
Green, yellow, and red peppers
Cut your pepper vertically and using your fingers, remove the stem section which contains the seeds. Separate the seeds from the pulp, then place three or four seeds not very deeply in each pot. Cover the seeds with dirt.
Within two weeks, sprouts should appear, and if needed, you can transplant the pepper plants to a larger pot.
Leave a store-bought cob of sweet corn in a shady, dry spot for a couple of weeks. Strip the kernels off and plant them in soil. Cover the kernels with soil and within a few weeks, your corn plants sill start to grow.
Remove watermelon seeds and place them on a paper towel. Place another paper towel on top and mist the towels with water for four days. After that, you can plant the seeds in soil. Due to the size that watermelons grow, they might do better in a garden plot than in a container.
Use a toothpick to remove the seeds from a kiwi fruit. Place them between two paper towels and mist regularly. In 12 to 14 days, transfer the seeds to soil.
Slice off the outer part of a strawberry, that's where the seeds are located. Plant the pieces flesh side down in soil, and place the pot in a sunny area. Water regularly.
Although it’s possible to sprout a pineapple in water, most people have better luck rooting them in soil. Cut off the top leafy part of a pineapple about half an inch below the leaves. Allow the pineapple top to dry for several days, to prevents rot. Then simply plant in a light soil mixed with perlite and sand.
Place the pineapple top in the soil up to the base of its leaves. Water thoroughly and place it in bright, indirect light. It will take about two months for the roots to establish.
Cut a lemon in half and remove seeds. Wash the seeds to remove any clinging flesh and sugars — these can cause fungal disease that will kill the germinating seeds. Fill an egg shell or egg tray with soil and place several of the lemon seeds in the soil.
Using your spray bottle, keep the soil moist, and in two weeks you can transfer the eggshell directly into soil. Continue to mist the plant with water.
Compost is a great way to add organic material to your garden and making your own compost helps reduce your kitchen waste. To make your own compost, use a mixture of "green" (wet, high-nitrogen) materials and "brown" (dry, high carbon) materials.
Green items include:
- Coffee grounds
- Chopped leaves or grass clippings
- Eggs or eggshells
- Fruit wastes
- Vegetable scraps
Brown items include:
- Corncobs and cornstalks
- Pine needles
Do not compost:
- Meat scraps and trash containing a lot of fat
- Colored paper
- Diseased plants
- Pet droppings
- Plants sprayed with synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides.
A young engineer called Robert Sansone won the first prize, and winnings of $75,000, at this year's Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world's largest international high school STEM competition.