The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

There’s A Garden In Your Garbage

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Did you know there is a garden in your garbage? Those bits and pieces of fruits and vegetables that end up in the compost pile or garbage disposal can yield a garden. Garbage gardens are great indoor projects for kids or for frustrated gardeners anxious to plant something.

My first garbage garden experience was with avocado seeds. I think it was the shift of perspective that intrigued me the most - from garbage to garden. The reality that I was unlikely to actually see an avocado fruit from my new plant seemed unimportant.

To grow your own avocado plant: remove the seed from a ripe avocado and plant it into a six-inch pot filled with potting mix. Or stick three toothpicks into the seed about 1/3 of the way down from the pointed top and equal distance around the seed. Suspend the seed using the toothpicks for support in a glass of water so the wide bottom (where the roots will emerge) is in the water and the pointed end (where the stem will emerge) is pointing up. Place in sunny window. Once the seed forms roots, plant into six-inch pot of soil so seed is about an inch deep. Grow as a houseplant indoors in winter with summer vacations outdoors. A similar technique of water glass suspension can be used for sweet potatoes and white potatoes.

Some garbage gardens can be quite exotic including plants from the seeds of mango, papaya, kiwi and pomegranate. Citrus sprout easily from seed that has been soaked for a few hours in warm water. Unless you have a greenhouse and a great deal of patience you will likely never see fruit on these but they make interesting plants.

Carrots make easy projects. Purchase carrots with tops intact. (Carrots really don't grow as orange pinky fingers in plastic bags). Cut off the top of three carrots leaving about 2 inches of carrot with the top. Fill a pie plate with pea gravel or decorative rocks. Place carrots in among pebbles, cut side down. Place in a sunny spot indoors. Fill pie plate with water just so top of pebbles are wet. Soon the leafy part will sprout lovely ferny leaves. Keep plate filled with water. Enjoy the ferny centerpiece. Try using other root crops such as turnips and beets.

For another carrot project cut 2 inches of carrot with top but this time take a knife and hollow out the inside of the carrot. Stick 4 toothpicks into the carrot about one half inch from the cut surface equal distance around the carrot. Tie string to the toothpicks to suspend the carrot upside down. Keep the hollowed carrot filled with water. Soon the leaves will sprout into a ferny hanging plant.

If you want a garden you can eat, take garlic or onion bulbs that have started to sprout. Plant into a small pot of potting mix or soilless container mix. Plant so the bulb's shoulders are just below the soil surface. Place in a sunny spot and keep soil moderately moist. As the green shoots grow, snip a few for salads or vegetable dips.

Try planting unroasted (raw) peanuts, uncooked popcorn kernels, dry beans or tomato seeds. Cut off the top of a ripe pineapple. Dry the cut end for two days. Plant the cut end an inch deep into a six-inch pot filled with soilless potting mix or cactus mix.

Keep in mind many plants are hybrids so their seeds will not yield the same fruits and vegetables. You may never get anything edible out of your garbage garden but it's cheap entertainment.

Helpful books include: Gardens From Garbage: How to Grow Indoor Plants From Recycled Kitchen Scraps by Judith Handelsman and Get Growing! by Lois Walker.

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