Lowenfels: Gardening with kitchen scraps

GardeningFebruary 20, 2013 

For the Alaska gardener, these are desperate times. The days are getting noticeably longer (and warmer), trips to the Lower 48 reveal that some are already gardening in this country and those seed racks everywhere are becoming too tempting. The urge is there, but the wherewithal is not. Worse, there are at least two more months of winter to go.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We need to plant something and soon. So, in an effort to grow something, anything, this is a great time of year to turn to kitchen scraps. There are plenty to keep the frustrated outdoor gardener fully occupied and, if you choose to grow the right ones, you can actually claim to be starting stuff for the outdoor season.

Let's start with one of the easier crops to grow from scraps, celery, if for no other reason than this is the time you would also need to start these plants from seeds to get them ready for the upcoming season. Growing them from what would have been discarded store-bought, celery bases is much easier, however, and you really can plant your starts for more harvesting this summer.

All you have to do is cut off the bottom inch or so of the base of a bunch of celery. This is the part many cut off when they munch on celery anyhow. Instead of tossing it, place it in a dish, stalk side up. Fill the dish with enough water to keep the bottom half of the stump wet at all times. Give it good light -- artificial if you have it, your best window light if not -- and in a week or so new leaves will grow from the center. Who knew? Since there is not much nutrient value in just water, the leaves may be yellow, but once you place the rooted stub in soil, they should green up.

Make sure to change the water every day or so. You could even add a drop or two of organic fertilizer if you have some handy. After the plant fully sprouts, place it in a container filled with potting soil that drains well. Use a container at least 3 or 4 inches in diameter and equally deep. You will have stalks in no time which can be eaten anywhere along the way. It's an easy thing to start several plants and use these as transplants later in the spring.

Next, try growing some bok choi plants. These have similar bases from which leaves grow. Give the cut bases the same treatment as celery and in a week or so, they will be rooting and shooting. Once again, you can grow these stubs into transplants for this year's garden. What a way to go. Best of all, if you buy organic produce, you will have organic crops.

Next, the Kentucky Derby is not that far away. Why not root some mint for the juleps? It doesn't get any easier, that is for sure. Use the leaves off a few stems of store-bought mint and then stick the stems in soil. Skip the water treatment. They don't need it. They will root quickly in soil. A few sprigs will spread by roots in the pot. You can then place the entire pot in the ground after the races.

Finally, two standbys for starting indoors that never fail, are horseradish and ginger. Both make interesting plants. All you need are a couple of tubers. If you can find some with shoots starting from buds, so much the better. If not, cut tubers so they have a few buds and place the pieces in soil with the younger buds at the top. They will be the smaller ones. Stand back. In a couple of weeks, shoots will appear. Ginger is a goodlooking plant in a pot. Horseradish can be planted outside, but like the mint, keep it in containers so that the stuff doesn't spread and take over your garden.

Keep busy. Stay out of trouble. Try some of these this week and relieve some of the pent-up frustration all Alaska gardeners have this time of year.


Jeff Lowenfels' is author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to The Soil Food Web.

Garden calendar

Orchid 101: 10 a.m. Feb. 23 at Alaska Mill and Feed. Local expert will show how to care for orchids. Other events at Alaska Mill and Feed include Mary Jo Burns talking about primulas (10 a.m., March 9) and a repotting demonstration. Call 276-6016 to register.

Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference: March 8 and 9, featuring Gary Paul Nathan and lots of local experts. Go to www.alaskabg.org to register. Seats are filling up, so do it now.


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