Throughout most of human history, food was collected or grown within just a few miles of where people lived. Today, most Americans depend on food imported from far away for much of their diet.
We go to a grocery store and buy bananas from Ecuador, grapes from Chile and strawberries from Mexico. But it can be fun and educational to grow your own. You can even use kitchen scraps to grow a new plant – some for food, others just as an interesting novelty or houseplant.
• Tubers: Have you ever had potatoes begin to sprout in your pantry? I often plant them out in my garden.
In our area, it is best to grow potatoes in a container or raised bed with new soil in order to prevent infestations from wireworms. You can start harvesting new potatoes when plants are big and blooming.
Fresh potatoes are usually treated to delay sprouting, so only plant those that have started to grow on their own. Sweet potatoes can similarly be grown; they produce an attractive vine but need warmer weather to produce tubers.
Planted Jerusalem artichokes will multiply and grow into pretty sunflowers, too.
• Bulbs: Just recently, I rescued some green onions from the compost pile. They were a little limp from the fridge, so I stuck them in a glass of water to hydrate them before I plant them out.
I often plant extra garlic cloves into my garden beds. They grow quite easily, but they need to be marked because they are hard to find when the plants are dormant.
• Rhizomes: Ginger and turmeric are tropical plants that can be grown inside to make an attractive houseplant.
• Cuttings: Many people put basil and other herbs in a glass of water to keep them fresh longer. Some herbs will grow roots and can be planted; to prolong harvesting, pinch off flowers.
You can also regrow many plants from their top or crown. For pineapple, cut the top quarter-inch or so below its base into the fruit and plant in a sandy soil. The tops of carrot, beets, turnips and celeriac can similarly be planted to grow more greens.
For celery, cut most of the tops away and put the crown in a dish of water until the center leaves begin to turn green and grow, then plant in soil.
• Seeds: You can grow houseplants from avocado, citrus, mango and raw coffee bean seeds. But don’t expect to be harvesting anytime soon. They take many years to flower and fruit.
I get kiwi, melon, squash and tomatoes coming up in my compost all the time, but store-bought varieties may require a warmer climate, or, due to cross-pollination, the resulting fruit may be surprisingly different.
You can try planting different nuts, but I always have trouble with squirrels digging them up before they sprout. You can also try planting a bag of mixed dried beans when the weather warms up in May.
You can even plant birdseed, but usually rodents and jays do that for you, especially the sunflowers.
You could try planting spice seeds: anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, fenugreek, mustard, poppy and sesame. Some, such as fennel, are considered noxious weeds in Washington. Fresh seed is best.In the Garden columnist Dana Kelley Bressette can be reached by email at email@example.com.