I'm often asked if the fruits and vegetables purchased from a grocery store can be planted to produce more food. The answer is, yes! And not only can you plant fruits and vegetables, but nuts and spices, too. As with traditional gardening, the key to successful "grocery store gardening" is to keep an open mind and possess a willingness to experiment. And above all, have fun!
Certain chemical residues on commercially produced fruits and vegetables can interfere with their ability to grow roots or sprout seeds. Potatoes, for example, are sometimes purposely treated after harvest to keep them from sprouting and to extend their shelf life. The same can be said for foods that have been irradiated. Avoid them. Start with organically grown produce. It does not guarantee that your food is 100% free of chemical residues, but at least it has been exposed to as few chemicals as possible.
No matter what type of produce you're trying to grow, unless it's labeled "heirloom" (sometimes found at farmer's markets), you have no way of knowing whether or not it has been cross pollinated. This means you may not get the results you expect, but try growing it anyway. You may be pleasantly surprised and you could wind up with something even better than you expected.
Here are simplified directions for growing various kinds of grocery store produce. In general, fruits and vegetables grow best in full sun. Use a soil-less mix or a high-quality potting soil mixed with vermiculite as your growing medium. Temperatures in the range of 70-80º F are usually ideal for germination. Try to keep soils evenly moist, without over-watering. Plants native to the tropics will appreciate an occasional misting. If you live in a cooler zone, move plants outdoors in the summer, but make sure to expose them to stronger light conditions gradually before leaving them out all day. Plants that remain in pots should be given a half-strength liquid fertilizer every few weeks once they reach a height of 8-12 inches tall.
Apple seeds need to be cold treated before they will sprout. Remove the seeds from the apple and allow them to cure for a few days. Place them in a plastic bag with damp sand or sphagnum moss and store them in the refrigerator for 3 months. After 3 months, plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep in a pot of moist, well-drained soil. Keep the pot in a sunny location. Seeds should sprout within 2-3 weeks. Apple trees cannot be grown indoors, so move seedlings outdoors in the early fall, giving them enough time to establish roots before winter.
Carefully remove the flesh from the pit and clean it off. Push three or four toothpicks into the pit to suspend it (wide side down) over a glass filled with water. The pit should be submerged 1/2 inch into the water. Place the glass in a sunny window sill and roots should appear in a few weeks. Pits can also be started by planting them, wide side down, in a pot of moistened, well-drained potting soil. Once seedlings reach 6-8 inches tall, transplant them into a larger pot and pinch back the top one inch of the stem to encourage bushier growth. In the case of sweet potatoes, plant or suspend the pointed (narrow) end down.
Use dried beans (like for soups) and raw, non-roasted peanuts. Pod beans and peas purchased in the produce department contain immature seeds that will not grow. Soak in water overnight. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep in pots or sow directly outdoors after danger of the last frost has passed. Because legumes seldom produce when grown indoors, transplant container plants outdoors as soon as possible in early May or June.
These root crops are biennials, which means they produce roots the first season and seeds the second season. If you want to harvest seeds from them, select healthy, fleshy root stock for planting and carry them over for a second season until they re-sprout. For most gardeners, it's far more economical just to purchase seeds for these crops. But if you have the desire (and the patience), it's possible to grow them for their seeds.
This group produces plants that have a wonderful fragrance when kept indoors. Plant fresh seeds 1/2 inch deep in a pot of moist, well-drained potting soil. Place the pot in a sunny location and cover it with plastic to keep the soil moist. Seeds should sprout within 4 to 6 weeks. Once plants are a few inches high, remove the plastic. Let the soil dry slightly between each watering (keep kumquat soil evenly moist). Repot plants annually until they are growing in 8 to 10 inch pots.
Select fleshy roots that are smooth and firm, not shriveled. Roots should have plenty of nodules on them. Cut the roots so that each slice contains a nodule. Lay it flat in a container and cover it with 1-2 inches of moist potting soil. Keep the pots moist and warm and watch for sprouts in a few weeks. Harvest rhizomes by digging them up when they reach the desired size.
Clean fruit from seeds. Plant seeds in a pot, laying them down flat in 1 inch of moist potting soil. Cover the pot with plastic and place it in a warm, sunny location. Remove the plastic when seedlings reach 2 inches tall.
Clean coating off of seeds and plant 1/2 inch deep in a pot of moist potting soil. Cover the pot with plastic and place it in a warm, sunny location until the seeds sprout. Remove plastic when seedlings reach a few inches in height and continue to grow in a bright location.
Let seeds cure for a few days before planting them 1/2 inch deep in moist potting soil. Cover the pot with plastic and place the pot in a sunny window. Seeds will sprout in approximately 2 months. Keep the soil moist, but do not mist the plant.
Coffee beans (non-roasted), tomatoes, wheat, rye, oats, lemon grass, taro, potatoes, green onions, garlic, pineapple, sunflowers, water chestnuts, popcorn, and raw spices (fennel, anise, sesame seed, celery seeds, etc.). In the case of peppers, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and eggplants, the seeds need to mature along with the fruit, so look for ripe or even overripe produce to use as seed stock.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.
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Many things, especially fruits, are irradiated so they will NOT grow. You just have to try it. I do know that garlic cloves grow just fine, as I have done it. Buy a fresh garlic bulb at the store. Break apart the garlic into cloves, and plant each clove about 6-8 inches apart, about 6 inches deep, just like a tulip. Leave them in the ground, even during the winter. It will take 2-3 years for the new cloves to grow into larger pieces. But each year the stalks will sprout, grow, and eventually flower. Let the stalks die back, and pull up one when needed. Hang unusued cloves by their dried leaves in a cool dry place. Or put them in the bottom drawer of your fridge, uncovered. Moisture will cause them to rot.
To pull up a garlic clove, try to do it when the stalk is still green. Otherwise, the time of year doesn't matter, you just need something to locate the clove. Take a spade and push down so you will be under the clove, then tilt the handle back, pushing up the clove. Sift through the dirt to find the clove, or pull on the green leaves to pull it out of the loosened dirt. If you don't loosen the dirt, the leaves will break before you pull up the cloves.
I have done this in Michigan and our winters did not hurt the garlic at all. They all came back each year.
Here in Florida (USDA Zone 9b), I grow bunch onions. I buy those small bunches of onions from the local supermarket and my wife uses them in salads.
I make sure she leaves about 2" or so of green leaves, and then I plant them in good, rich soil. They grow to maturity in about a year, during which I cut some of the leaves, which grow to 3' high, and we use them for cooking, salads, etc.
At the end of the year, I dig up the onions - this has to be done before they begin to flower, as the bulb texture and flavor goes "off" when flowering begins. I usually have onions right around softball size, or sometimes larger.
One trick about growing onions: if you want them sweet, water them well. If you want them to be hot, restrict watering a bit.
About growing garlic - When I lived in an apartment in California I grew garlic in a terra cotta pot, in my kitchen. The spot where it grew got a lot of sunshine through a window. Now there's the thing, I did not grow it for the cloves, I grew it for the green leaves, aka garlic chives that are very tasty in salads.
Thanks for a great article, Ellen. I grow large, healthy, red, yellow orange and green bell peppers. I save the seed from peppers bought at the grocery store.
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