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The Homeowners Column
Sprout Garbage Gardens for Indoor Winter Fun
State Master Gardener Coordinator
Potatoes sprouting stems in the vegetable bin or the fungal gathering developing on last week's leftovers; it's all exciting to a gardener suffering from January's sloth. To a gardener yearning for spring even the mold on the cheese is electrifying.
Sure house plants help, but it's just not the same as watching something sprout brand new and garden-fresh.
If you are looking for free indoor garden entertainment for you or the kids, consider garbage gardens. Bits and pieces of fruits and vegetables that are casually tossed into the compost pile or garbage disposal can yield a glimpse of spring.
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 my new plant would likely never yield any avocado fruit was irrelevant.
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 spent 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; however they make interesting plants.
Carrots are good garbage garden candidates. Purchase carrots with tops intact. It's a great way to amaze the kids (and a few adults) as they discover carrots really don't grow as orange fingers in plastic bags. Cut off the top of three carrots leaving about 2 inches of carrot root 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 sprouting the tops of other root crops such as turnips and beets.
For an edible indoor garden 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 peanuts, uncooked popcorn kernels, apple seeds, peach pits, dry beans or tomato seeds in yogurt containers filled with potting soil. Next time you enjoy fresh pineapple, save the prickly top. Dry the cut end of the top for two days. Plant the cut end an inch deep into a six-inch pot filled with soilless potting mix or cactus mix. The top will eventually root and with enough patience and sunlight it can yield another pineapple.
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 winter therapy for gardeners.