One of the biggest expenses in the garden are the plants themselves. So anytime you can get the plants for free, you’re coming out ahead. An obvious but overlooked source of plants is the grocery store. Often, food waste are the seeds or tops of plants that can be re-planted and grown into new food. I’ve done this with garlic, potatoes, sunflowers, and green onions. This year, I have dried some bell pepper seeds to see if I can get a plant from them (I hear this is hard to do) and I plan to try out some other experiments too.
However, there are some problems with growing food from the grocery store waste:
1. Sometimes the plants are sprayed with hormones to keep them from rooting. This is especially common among potatoes. The key is to wait and see if they start sprouting on their own, or buy organic.
2. Sometimes the plant will sprout but it won’t produce food. That’s usually because the plant doesn’t grow in your zone. For example, you could probably get an avocado seed to grow a plant, but it will only produce fruit unless you live in certain areas, are willing to let the plant get huge, and have two of them so that they can cross-pollinate.
3. Planting random seeds can become invasive species or carry diseases. Look up a plant before you put it in your garden.
That said, as the winter months wind down, this is a good time to start some experiments of your own using grocery-store waste. You have nothing to lose. GardenWeb has two great threads here and here with people sharing their own experiments. I decided to pull out some of the instructions from the thread. Here are some plants that have worked for others:
Potatoes: “I planted a 1 lb bag of fingerling potatoes from our fancy grocery store because I couldn’t find them anywhere else for that price. It was about $4 for the bag from the grocery and at least double that everywhere else I thought to check. They all came up great,”
(I did the same thing and the plants came up great. I let the potatoes sprout first before planting.)
Jerusalem Artichokes. “They are far less expensive in the produce department than in the seed catalogs. My mom and I split a pack we bought last year in the produce department and now we have more than we need,” says hannamyluv.
Yams: “If you’re going to try yams, look for the white and yellow yams that are starting to sprout at the top. They are usually the “older” specimens that no one else wants to buy, as the primary purpose of buying them in the first place is for consumption (same reason why no one buys potatoes that are beginning to sprout). Simply slice off the top with the sprouts, taking care not to damage the sprout itself, and plant about an inch deep in good organic soil. The plant should root almost immediately and can grow quite fast. The mature vine has attractive heart shaped leaves. If you can find the rarer purple yams, so much the better,” says maspirasjr.
Sweet Potatoes: “Sweet potato will not sprout if it is cool must be warm for them to sprout any temps of much under 5oF will hurt them or shut them down. to plant grow vines from a tuber then remove them and either put them in water or dirt to root. strip a bit of stalk to help rooting. plant out in partial shade to full shade and they will do fine a good candidate for shade location food plant,” says markapp.
Celery Root. “You can find it in most produce sections. It likes moist soil. You just stick the root section in the ground and it grows into a massive perennial. Don’t cut it just let it grow,” says filterplug.
Garlic: “For all that have mentioned the garlic, I too have done garlic growth from the supermarket. I cook with garlic all the time, and have prior to my gardening this winter (for the first time as an adult), tossed sprouted garlic away. Instead now, I buy garlic ‘fresh’ from the supermarket, use it to make what I want (usually salsa or omlettes), and soak the other cloves (10-15) in water over night. Then I plant. I now have 50-60 plants in the garden growing, which represents about a 90-95% success rate of cloves planted to plants growing,” says Pudgy.
Rosemary: “I bought a bunch of rosemary from the farmer’s market, to use with some lamb. but I don’t cook with rosemary that often, and there was so much of it and it looked so fresh, I stuck a couple of branches in the ground. I’m not sure when I did it (sometime last year), but the timing must have been right – they all rooted – instant bushes/edging/rosemary plants – getting big, looking wonderful and smelling great – all for about $2.00,” says nosyrosie.
Lemon Grass: “Choose stalks with a plump base and if they have root nodulues starting (they look like little bumps under the sheath of leaves at the base) then that’s even better. Plant it about 1″ into the soil and support it with stones and keep it well watered. It only takes about a month to get good rooting for transplant,” says oldherb.
Basil: “After stripping the leaves for your dishes, just plant the stems in moist soil. They will take roots in no time,” says pitimpinai.
Vietnamese Cilantro: “[It] is only 50cents for a big bunch at the Vietnamese market as opposed to $2.50 for a plant from my garden center. Quite a bargain plus I get to eat some of it, too,” says Stevia.
Ginger: “When I plant ginger here is what I do. When you buy ginger from the store you will have to keep it in a dark place but with some heat and it will take about 2 weeks to see a bud come out. After the ginger has sprouted a little bud I planted the ginger in a 2 or 3 gallon pot with a mixture of a good potting soil, some compost, and some sand to hold some water.There needs to be at least 1 or 2 inches of ginger below the bud.I planted my ginger about 4 or 5 inches below the soil.The ginger plant don’t need to be watered very much at all.It will take awile for the plant to come up.It will take 5 to 6 mouths till it puts out another piece of ginger.The ginger plant needs some light put don’t offer do it.The plant will grow to about 5 feet tall.I hop you will have better luck then I had because mine lived about 4 mouths,” says citrus_master.
Melons: “I don’t know if it’d necessarily be worthwhile to save cantaloupe seeds; if it’s an unlabeled hybrid, you’re taking a chance that the successive generation will be worthless. That said, during the time of year you can get what they call “variety” melons, i.e. Casabas, Canary melons, Sharlyn muskmelons (look like a cantaloupe but w/ green flesh), Santa Claus melons, and so on, you can save the seeds and grow them out – you’ll be likely to get something edible the next year,” says snidelywhiplash.
Pineapple: “On starting the pineapples, twist off the top and cut off all the fruit end so that it is clean. Carefully pull off a bunch (5-8)of the leaves towards the stump end you just cut off and you will see that there are roots already formed on the stem. Put it in a glass of water so that those small roots are submerged. Put the glass in a sunny window and your pineapple will grow like crazy. I have several I started like that in the edge of my fish pond all summer and they are growing like crazy, not potted, just placed where the roots are in the water,” says sandy0225.
(I’ve also heard you can cut the top off the pineapple, half-bury it in a pot of dirt, keep it in a sunny window, and make sure it is moist. It will eventually root.)
Pumpkins: “Mine must be the ultimate frugal pumpkins.Last fall my grocery store had a free sign on a bunch of pumpkins(after Halloween).I took what would fit in my trunk for my compost pile.Well,some of the seeds ended up in a lasagna bed on front lawn,now I have glads, daylilies, cosmos,1 volunteer tomato,2 large pumpkin plants(I pulled up the rest for compost)!” says hollywoody.
Spaghetti Squash. “Easy to grown, but give it room!” says DawnStorm.
Beet Greens: “I bought a nice looking beet in the “reduced produce” aisle. After a few weeks without cooking it, it looked kinda sad and wrinkled, but for some weird reason, I planted it in with two geraniums I have that are kinda lost in the pot. Lo and behold, beautiful cranberry and chartreuse leaves, which I am told are edible as “chard”. Such pretty colors on these beet leaves. This year I may just plant some beets around my flower gardens as a pretty, perky “border”,” says Debra_Boston.
Peanuts: “Raw peanuts are fun for kids to grow,” says kids2spoyl.
Sunflowers: “My sunflowers in my yard come from a few sunflowers in the cockatiel food. There are a few different varieties usually included,” says Green_Acres.
If you have had luck growing food from the grocery store, I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment.