Sustainability in regrowing supermarket plants

Earth Day is on April 22 – the perfect time to save money and help the environment

Vegtables (photo credit: screenshot)
(photo credit: screenshot)
You feel guilty throwing away vegetable peels and scraps: “I live in an apartment and composting is just not going to happen.” And anyway, you reason, what difference can one person’s efforts make to the ecology? You’d be surprised. Consider this: According to Leket, Israel’s food bank, Israelis throw out 2.45 million tons of food every year, most of it still edible. The bigger picture revealed here is that 35% of Israel’s overall domestically grown food goes not into our stomachs but into landfills.
How often does it happen in your kitchen that a big bunch of greens goes rotten in the refrigerator, or that you dig a sprouty potato out of the bin? It used to happen to me often, when I didn’t cook the whole big bunch that looked so tempting in the shuk. The vegetables would sit, sad and unused and taking up room in the fridge, until I threw the surplus out.
When you grow your own, there’s never a surplus.
You’re free to snip off only the few stalks of coriander, basil, and scallions that you need right then. Following simple instructions, you can grow your own tomatoes and chillies on your porch or apartment balcony.
You save money and, yes, you help save the planet.
It’s a cool project to share with the kids, too. While they’re setting plants in the dirt, they’re also learning about sustainability, even if the word is too long for them to say yet.
No need to visit a plant nursery for seedlings. All you need is containers, dirt and vegetable scraps. Start now, but plan where to put the containers when Sukkot comes around and you’ll be needing the space for the sukka. You’ll have harvested most of your crops by that time anyway, but it’s best to plan.
How to regrow celery: Slice the base off a head of supermarket celery, leaving about 5 cm. of stalk attached. Stand it in a shallow bowl or even a plastic cup; pour enough fresh water in to cover the base but not enough to soak the remaining stalk – about 1.3 cm. of water. Replace the water when it starts looking murky.
Place the jar in a sunny window. If there’s no window with a good ledge in the house, you can still root vegetables if they get some sunlight. I root my plants on a high kitchen shelf facing a window.
New, small leaves will emerge from the middle of the plant in about five days. Keep your eye on it; if it sits too long in water after beginning to sprout, it will rot.
Now plant it in a soil container or in the ground.
Cover the base entirely, leaving only the new growth free. Water it regularly. Your new celery will be ready to harvest in about five months. You can plant several in one large planter; just leave about four fingers of soil space between them.
You may want to harvest leaves and tender new stalks before a full head develops.
The right amount of watering will depend on the weather. If there’s a heat wave, water early every morning or in the evening. Celery likes sunshine; you can place the container where the sun is on it most of the day.
Judge when to water by sticking a finger into the container. If it’s dry, water it gently. Keep the soil damp, not saturated. You’ll be able to tell how much to water, and how often, with a little experience.
It’s too late in the year to grow romaine lettuce on a porch, because it prefers cool weather or a greenhouse.
That’s common wisdom, but if you feel like trying for baby romaine lettuce, keep your plant indoors where it gets light but not direct sun. You’ll get at least one harvest of baby leaves, if you regrow several lettuces.
Regrowing scallions and leeks: The procedure is the same as described above. Slice the base off healthy-looking supermarket plants, leaving any nascent roots and 5 cm. of stalk. Root in water and transfer to soil after five to seven days. Scallions are especially eager producers; they start regrowing even while they’re still in the water. Feel free to snip off as much as you need, because scallions regrow pretty much forever.
How to regrow basil, mint and coriander: Choose healthy-looking stalks, even if they don’t show any roots, and place each kind in a separate jar. I use tall plastic containers meant for storing leftovers.
Some say to first remove all the leaves but the topmost, but I only remove dry or spoiled leaves. Leave the herbs in water until they develop stringy white roots, then transfer to soil. Make sure the soil is deep enough to accept all those roots.
Put the container in a shady spot – against the balcony wall, preferably under the upstairs neighbor’s balcony or some other way of keeping direct sunlight off it, until it toughens up and can take more sunshine – about a week. If you dream of making pesto from your own herbs, plant plenty of them in a wide container.
You can harvest whole sprigs off the basil. It will regrow, but it does take a little time. Leave at least a third of the leaves for photosynthesis, or the plant will die.
Coriander leaves should be cut off from the sides.
Don’t harvest the center stalk, because it will kill the plant. Coriander and basil grown at home are much more fragrant than commercial herbs.
Grow tomatoes from seed: This is easy. Let a nice, healthy tomato rot. Seriously. Put it someplace where you won’t mind a squishy mess and let it rot. When you cut it open, the seeds inside will already be sprouting.
Remove them gently, with a spoon, and separate them with tweezers. Plant them right into rich soil, in a sunny spot. Late last spring, I placed a long, deep planter with my tomato seeds under an opened laundry rack. It made a fine trellis for the tomato vines to climb. A wind threatened to blow the blossoms off the plant, so I secured a length of plastic over the exposed side, and removed it when the weather turned kinder.
I harvested more yellow cherry tomatoes than my family could eat.
Grow chilies: Scrape the seeds out of your favorite chili or bell pepper and let them dry overnight on a paper towel or piece of toilet paper. Plant them with the paper if they stick to it. Keep the planter in the sun and water regularly. Bell peppers need support as they grow.
If you love one particular herb or vegetable and space is limited, regrow only that one, but lots of it.
The Internet is full of information on regrowing herbs and vegetables, and that’s where I learned to do it. I’ve even grown potatoes on my small balcony, in a laundry basket, following a You- Tube video. It costs almost nothing to regrow edible plants. You may find yourself a relaxing hobby while saving money. And planet Earth will be the better for your doing it.