Garbage isn’t always garbage. Sometimes it is the beginning of an indoor garden.
Who among us hasn’t taken an avocado pit, planted it in a pot and enjoyed a large lush houseplant? It would never bear fruit, but it was fun to see this large seed grow into a substantial plant.
Growing seeds, roots and tubers from the kitchen is a great way to remind children of the different ways edible foods are propagated. This is a great kitchen science project, and fun for the whole family.
Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam have written Don’t Throw It, Grow It: 68 Windowsill Plants from Kitchen Scraps (Storey $10.95).
This book was first published nearly 30 years ago when Selsam was a well known and well respected author of science books for children. In a new introduction Peterson tells stories about their forays into ethnic food markets to find unusual edibles that they might be able to get grow. It is a testament to how food markets and our eating habits have changed that such exotics as papayas, mangos, ginger, daikon and others are available in regular supermarkets these days.
With simple 2 page directions and illustrations the authors explain how to prepare a seed, then how to plant it, and sometimes how to harvest. Their basic caveat is that the seeds must not be cooked. Herb seeds as well as beans and peas may very well be dried, but still be viable, but they can never be cooked and still produce a plant.
Some seeds that Peterson and Selsam talk about are familiar. Think of all the primary school projects of growing a bean or pea plant.
But there are many fruits, not all of them unusual, that can not only produce an interesting plant, but that will bear fruit. For example, although many citrus fruits, oranges and grapefruits will not come true from seed, kumquats, Meyer lemons, Ponderosa lemons and Kaffir limes will. It would be nice to have a Meyer lemon tree producing that delicious fruit for baking and cooking.
At this time of the year the markets are full of pomegranates. Recently we have learned that pomegranates are very good for you, full of antioxidants, but they have always been good to eat just because the sweet scarlet seeds are so beautiful. Actually, the seed is just yellow, the transparent juicy scarlet covering surrounding the seed is called the aril.
Fortunately, pomegranate juice does not stain, because working with pomegranates can be a messy business. To clean the seed, you can rub the aril covered seed gently on several thicknesses of paper towels to remove the aril. The cleaned seed can be dried, and it will even retain its vitality for a year.
The pomegranate seed can be planted in a damp peat pot and covered with a plastic bag. Given bottom heat, it can germinate in as little as a week or ten days. Without that warmth the seed will take a month or so to germinate.
Once they have sprouted the plastic bag can be removed and the seedling placed in a sunny window. When it is a few inches high it can be transplanted. Unlike most tropical plants it does not require high humidity and can be overwintered in the basement.
Other unusual plants that Peterson and Selsam discuss are carrots, turnips, potatoes, pineapple, mustard, and almonds. There is quite a botanical education to be found right in your own kitchen.
The pineapple produces such a sculptural plant that my husband and I closely followed the directions to prepare one for rooting.
First we twisted off the crown and were surprised that it happened so easily.
Then we pulled off the lower leaves, and we think we see the nubs described in the book as incipient roots. I put my pineapple crown is in a jar of water and I will wait for the nubs to swell, which should only take a few days, and roots form in about a month. I didn’t have any activated charcoal on hand, but I will add that to the water jar to keep the water sweet.
Once the roots are four inches long the crown can be transplanted into a pot with soil. Given a good sunny spot it will grow happily for three years before it is ready to bloom, but you’ll have to read the book to learn the magic with a black plastic bag and a cut apple that will help to bring this about. The flower will be enjoyable, but alas, it our climate we cannot expect to harvest a fruit.
Don’t Throw It, Grow It is entertaining and educational. It will provide many interesting botanical experiments during these snowy months.
A final note as we think about the seed starting season. Heat mats are useful for starting vegetable and flower seeds (and for keeping tropical plants suitably warm) for the garden, as well as the more exotic seeds like pomegranates. They have become useful and popular because germination is more dependable when the soil is warm. Heat mats are available locally at the Shelburne Farm and Garden Center and the Greenfield Farmer’s Coop at prices beginning at around $35.
January 17, 2009