August 31, 2023

Beginning to Regrow Food from Scraps

Roger Wilson

Whenever we cook a meal, our focus is on our ingredients, such as vegetables, grains, and proteins. But what about their scraps? Sadly, most get tossed into the landfill. CalRecycle estimates that Californians throw away 6 million tons of food scraps and food waste per year, constituting up to 18% of all landfill material. And, fruits and vegetables account for 40% of our food waste.

However, there is much untapped potential in plant scraps! Regrowing produce is very easy and a great gateway to gardening. It can be done with minimal space and saves money and grocery trips. This practice aids in reducing plant waste and can be done year-round. Most importantly, regrowing produce is rewarding and exciting! So, before you toss those scraps, read on!

Lucky for us, so many plants can be regrown from their roots, stems, and seeds. Each plant requires a slightly different environment, but most will simply need water, suitable containers, and ample sunlight. Here are some great vegetables to start with:

Leafy greens like celery, lettuce, and cabbage stumps can be partially submerged in water. As the leaves regrow in a week, simply tear off the outer leaves while leaving the core intact. Once the stumps have developed a few inches of roots, they can even be transplanted into a soil garden.

Alliums such as onions, green onions, and leeks are my personal favorites. These can have their roots in shallow water, without being fully submerged. They regrow quickly, and it's important to cut with a sharp blade so as to not crush the stem and hinder regrowth.

The lower leaves of herbs such as basil, sage, and cilantro can be submerged in water until roots develop, after which they can be transplanted into soil. With proper trimming habits, herb transplants can flourish.

It's helpful to wash scraps before planting to remove any insects or pesticides. Water should be changed out every few days and containers should be placed in a sunny and slightly warm area, such as a windowsill. Fertilizers can be beneficial, and water-soluble options such as fish or kelp extract can be added in small quantities. If you intend to transplant your scraps into a garden, it's vital to wait for substantial root or leaf growth. Regrowing food scraps also involves low risk. If scraps don’t sprout, they can always be added to kitchen compost!

Overall, regrowing food scraps is a simple way to save produce and money, and is a great sustainable practice. There are great resources online such as for troubleshooting, and there is always room for experimenting. Good luck, and happy gardening!

Roger Wilson is a UCLA student studying mathematics and digital humanities and is a current data science intern with Thaddeus. He runs a community garden at UCLA and loves teaching others about sustainable practices. In his free time, he enjoys juggling, playing tennis and listening to music.

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