Growing Food from Kitchen Scraps: How to Get Started

Growing your own food can be scary, especially if you haven’t done it before; but did you know you can start a small indoor garden with your food scraps? I found this idea while scrolling through Pinterest one day a year or so ago and didn’t really think much of it until Josh and I started to transition to a more low-waste lifestyle at the beginning of this year. I figured that since I’ve been gardening my entire life and have greenhouse experience that this shouldn’t be that hard. Well, we are about a month into this experiment and I’m about to share what has gone right and what I have managed to completely botch. Hey, you live and learn, then call Dad.

Choosing your scraps

One thing you always need to keep in mind when starting any type of garden is what you and your family actually like to eat. There is no use in growing food that you bought on a whim and didn’t enjoy because you aren’t going to eat it and you will have wasted your time and energy. Who wants to do that? With this in mind, Josh and I decided to try to grow lettuce and celery, since we eat at least a salad each a day and he loves celery and peanut butter in his lunch. He raised his eyebrow at me when I told him what I was going to do and then said, “Why not?” After a few minutes of research I got started. Here is what we used:

  • Old plastic produce containers from the store
    • like you get with mushrooms and berries
  • Seed starting soil
  • Something to scoop the soil with; we used a dry measuring cup
  • Food scraps that have been started in water (we’ll talk about that later)
  • A container for compostable trimmings from scraps
  • Kitchen sheers to open soil and converting packaging

Starting your scraps

Before you can actually say that you are growing your own food from kitchen scraps you have to start your plants. In this case, this means trimming the scraps and putting them in water so they can start to grow new roots, because with out roots they won’t grow in the soil. When doing the research for this project I found several ways to do this and decided to go with the more conservative numbers to ensure good growth and success for this endeavor. I took my lettuce and celery scraps and trimmed them to about 2 inches in length and scored the bottom with a sharp knife, kind of like you do with a Christmas Tree or cut flowers when you get it home so it can take up the water. Once they were trimmed and scored, I place them in containers with water in the bottom, to cover the bottom of the trimmed scraps. I left them like this on the kitchen windowsill, continuing to refill the water as needed, until roots began to form; roughly 1-2 weeks depending on the plant and lighting. During this time, I was checking them every day and was beginning to worry when I wasn’t seeing any roots but the plant matter on the outside was starting to breakdown, so I called my dad. He told me just keep the water clean and wait and it would be fine. It’s like an onion that has started to sprout in the onion bin, it is slightly mushy because the new plant is growing form the old one. This made me feel better and I stuck with it. Once the roots were starting to form, it was time to transplant them into some soil.

Why are we using Seed Starter?

Seed Starter soil usually has little white pellets in it that feel a lot like foam. These do 2 things:

  1. The pellets keep the soil from compressing too much and thus allow the new roots to continue to grow as well as allowing the growth of more new roots. This is very important, especially if you are trying to grow a root crop like onions or potatoes.
  2. The pellets usually are made of an absorbent material that helps hold moisture for the growing plant since seeds and new plants require more water than established crops.

To learn more about the ingredients in Seed Starting soil and recipes to make it yourself, check out this wonderful post by Balcony Garden Web: 5 Best Homemade Seed Starting Mix Recipes.

Transplanting the celery to soil

The celery with its new root growing in a Mason Jar

As you can see from the picture above, the celery was doing really well. The main feeder root that grew was about 3 inches long and several others were starting to form on its bottom. It was finally time to transplant to a new container with soil.

Picking the right container for you

Let’s talk about the containers we chose for a minute. We chose to use old plastic produce containers we had been saving for a while, as part of our journey to a lower waste lifestyle here on the TreadlingHome-stead. We figured we could use them to start seeds, but when I decided to try growing food from scraps I figured they would work just as well for that. We had 2 types of containers, ones that had drainage holes already in them, like the berry containers, and ones that didn’t, like this black one that originally had mushrooms in it. Either is fine for this project, but if you don’t have experience with watering plants and are worried about over watering, I would suggest going with the berry containers since the extra water will just drain out. If you use this type, make sure to put them on a baking sheet with sides or something like that so the excess water won’t leak all over your kitchen.

Once you’ve decided which type of container is best for you, take your scooper, we used a 1/4 cup dry measuring cup for this, and fill the container about half way with your seed starter.

Use your dry measuring cup to fill your container about half way with your seed starter soil.

Prepping your new plant for planting

Now that your container is ready, its time to give your new plats a home. The first thing you have to do when transplanting your new growth is clean the decaying old plant matter from it. See the picture below for a better image of what I’m talking about.

Remove the old brown, and sometimes slimy leaves to reveal the healthy new growth underneath.

Now that you have your new plant all cleaned up, its time to plant it in the soil you have ready. Make an indent in the center of the container and gently place the plant, roots down, into the soil. If you have a large root like this one, you may need to make a larger hole in the soil. Be careful not to break the root off or damage it. This could prevent it from getting the nutrients it needs and it will die. This will get easier with time and practice, so just take your time and it will be OK. Once you have the celery placed in its new home, top off the contain with more soil to the brim and water it until the soil is moist to the touch.

We use an old creamer container to water our plants.

That’s it! Now all you have to do is put your newly transplanted crop in a sunny place and make sure to check the soil moisture every day or so to make sure it stays damp. In a month or so you should have fresh, homegrown celery to enjoy with your family 🙂

Transplanting Our Lettuce

3 stalks of leaf lettuce, 2 green and 1 red, ready to be transplanted.

We did the lettuce essentially the same way we did the celery since they are both technically leafy greens. I left between 2 and 3 inches of stalk and scored the bottom, then placed the kitchen scraps in an old mushroom container with about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water in the bottom. I let these sit for about 2 weeks and it seemed like it took way longer for any roots to start showing on the lettuce than it did for the celery. I think it was because they were on the counter out of the direct sunlight since the windowsill was full. Once the roots started to show, we were ready to rock and roll. Here are some pictures of the stages the lettuce went through when growing its roots.

The stages of root growth on lettuce scraps

Once the roots began to grow, it was time to transplant them just like we did with the celery. I cleaned the slimy plant matter from the outside and triple checked the roots. Then I filled the containers about half way with the seed starter, made a divot in the soil and placed the lettuce stalks roots down into the soil. After that I topped off the container with the seed starter and watered them until the soil was moist to the touch.

Clean the lettuce and check that new root growth is still in tact.
The lettuces transplanted and ready to go.

After all the plants were transplanted to their new containers, Josh helped me move them outside to get some sun since it was a nice day out. The sun helped them perk up from being transplanted since they were all full light plants.

Josh taking the plants outside to get some sun.

Thank you so much for sticking with us through this article. I hope it gives you the confidence to try growing your own food from the scraps in your kitchen. We’ll be posting updates as the plants grow and hopefully sharing the meal we make with the harvest. Stay tuned to find out what happens next!

The newly transplanted plants getting happy in the sun.

Wanna know what happened next? Check out the follow up article GROWING FOOD FROM KITCHEN SCRAPS: CONFESSIONS OF A PLANT KILLER: 3 THINGS I WISH THE OTHER ARTICLES HAD TOLD ME

Helpful Links:

For more information about the different types of fruits and veggies you can grow from scraps in your own home, check out this great article by Garden Tach: How to Grow Fruits and Vegetables from Table Scraps.

For how to make your own Seed Starting mix, check out
Balcony Garden Web’s 5 Best Homemade Seed Starting Mix Recipes.

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