Growing Food from Scraps


There are an amazing number of things you can grow from the grocery store, and a surprising number which can be grown from scraps that you’d normally throw away. A lot of these, you probably know about already. A few were surprises to me.

There are three kinds of foods that can be grown, and only one is technically “scraps”, but the others qualify under certain circumstances. This list is not comprehensive – you’ll likely think of a few of your own as you read.

If you have a compost pile, and have ever had volunteer plants come up, you’ll already know that some things thrown out will still grow and produce.

Seeds – Almost any food that you buy that is fresh, or sometimes dried, which has not been chemically treated, or canned using heat, may contain seeds that are viable.

Tomato, fig, strawberry, and other small seeds with stuff clinging on them can be fermented for 24 to 36 hours, and then the seeds can be separated out. Some require chilling or a rest period before you sprout them, some do not.

Not all will bear fruit, but generally, even with those reputed not to, a certain percentage WILL. Many seeds from plants that are propagated by cuttings or by grafting (figs, apples, pears, peaches, etc) will not breed true – that is, the seeds will have a high percentage of marginal plants (some of which may not bear fruit at all), some which will bear poor fruit, some which will bear acceptable fruit, and a few that will bear good or very good fruit. Hybrid tomatoes, cucumbers, etc, will also have this issue, but are likely to produce some edible food. This is how plant breeding and pollination work, just like your kids, there is a lot of genetic variation in the offspring. They are included because the potential is there, and the experimentation can be fun.

I recommend that you Google about growing any of these from seed, and find out what it takes to actually bear fruit. In almost all cases, determination gets the job done.

  • Avocado
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Pomegranate
  • Persimmon
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Figs
  • Pepper Seeds
  • Tomato seeds
  • Strawberry seeds
  • Pineapple seeds – yes, some pineapples do have seeds! Some do not, but many do. They are in the flesh, close to the rind. Small black seeds, close to the size of sesame seeds, black or dark brown in color. Surprisingly, there is a lot of info online for growing pineapples from seed.
  • Raw Peanuts
  • Raw Almonds
  • Many herb and spice seeds – coriander, dill, celery, caraway, etc. Any whole seed is worth a try. Some may be heat treated. Lower cost ones are more likely to be viable. They can even grow when many years old – we had a wonderful winter crop of dill grown from dill seed that had to have been 7 or more years old, scavenged from a kitchen cupboard where it had been neglected for years.
  • Many grains and legumes – lentils, garbanzos, black beans, black eyed peas, wheat berries, etc.
  • Seeds from squash, pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe etc.

Bulbs and Tubers – Any one of these bulbs or tubers, and most others, can be re-planted. Now… some of them will bear more of themselves, others will need to go to seed to do that. A few, like onions, depend upon the variety.

  • Potatoes – cut old potatoes so that there are two eyes per chunk. Let dry overnight. Plant.
  • Sweet Potato – Google “grow sweet potato slips”. You can propagate from most sweet potatoes, even if they look too withered to eat.
  • Ginger¬† – A nice chunk of ginger root can be planted, and will grow. It is a tropical plant, and it usually takes quite some time to show growth.
  • Jicama – Can be replanted, and will grow and produce seed. Google for info on pollination.
  • Onion roots – Onions can be done many ways. Multiplier onions will divide and propagate. Top multiplier onions will produce more bulbs at the top, for you to plant. Standard large onions may sometimes divide, but may need to go to seed for you to expand them. Green onions may either divide into more, or go to seed, depending on the variety.
  • Carrot Tops – Actually, any carrot can be planted and left to go to seed. Many fresh food fanatics like eating the green carrot tops as a salad green. The top of a carrot can be replanted, it will root and grow green tops, which can then go to seed. Carrots from the store need only have some visible remains of the carrot top – if they have just a circle, and no green foliage (even very little is enough), then they won’t work.
  • Horseradish – pieces of horseradish root can be grown into new plants.
  • Jerusalem Artichoke – These bulbs, which resemble more compact ginger roots, are prolific, and once planted, will come back year after year. They may be hard to find in stores. They are excellent animal feed, both roots and tops.
  • Turnips – Turnips will produce edible tops if replanted, and if let go to seed, will produce more turnips.
  • Garlic – Virtually any kind of garlic will grow if planted. Break apart into cloves, plant each clove, and they’ll divide.
  • Shallots – Shallots are multipliers, the bulbs will divide fairly prolifically. If you purchase shallots in the store, the bulbs may have the beginnings of the division process. You can divide any bulbs that are starting to divide, and plant the pieces separately.

Really Truly Scraps – These foods are typically things you would throw away. Replanting gives you another crop from them, sometimes many more crops.

  • Celery bottoms – Save the bottom of the celery from the store – I leave the smallest ribs in the center. Set them in a bowl of water (shallow water) for 1-2 days, then plant. Just make sure the bottom of the plant is covered sufficiently to retain moisture at the base. Keep well watered for the first few weeks.
  • Potato peels – Depression era potato growing. Thick potato peels with the eyes were used instead of potato starts.
  • Lettuce bottoms (best with roots) – Two ways to do this. One is the same as celery. The other is to buy hydroponic lettuce that has the roots on it, and replant that. It will send out many small side heads. You can also let it go to seed.
  • Pineapple tops – they are actually specially designed to grow! Pull off the rest of the fruit. Then slice the stem, in thin slices, until you see a circle of brown dots around the edge of the stem – don’t worry, when you see it, you’ll know! If you pull away the leaves, you’ll see some brown roots curling around the stem. Pull off some more, about an inch up. Let it dry for a few days, and then plant it. Keep the soil moist for several weeks, and then settle in to a once a week watering schedule. Yes, you can get them to bear fruit. There is an abundance of information available online for doing so.
  • Mushroom stems and scraps – bury mushroom scraps (chop into small pieces) in damp half finished compost (for Portobellos), or in damp hardwood sawdust (for shiitake). Keep damp, but not wet. Google to learn how to induce them to fruit.
  • Cabbage bottoms – Cabbages work the same as lettuce.
  • Onion bottoms – the bottom root portion of an onion, if cut off just above the solid part, can be planted. Just set it in a bowl of water for a day or two, then settle it into damp soil – no need to cover it. It will send up greens from the middle, and form more bulb.

You can do these items in potting soil, or in dirt. Or in home grown compost, or a mix of all of those things. Whatever you have.

Now, you don’t have a choice of varieties. There is an element of gambling here. Also, due to modern food handling methods, sometimes it just won’t work – maybe the potatoes have been sprayed with sprout inhibitor (some are, some are not), maybe the seeds have been heat treated, or maybe the food has been irradiated or chemically treated in other ways. You don’t know. But if you NEED to grow food, this is worth a try. For sheer survival, it is a great experiment, and if you ARE in a survival situation, chances are at least half of what you try is going to work enough to justify the effort.

If you are on food stamps and want to grow a garden, this is one way you can get a garden going with foods you normally buy. Quality may vary, but there are still many things you can grow this way which will work nicely to produce more food with less money.

Update: Our book on this topic is now available for download! Get The Scavenger’s Garden: Growing Food from Groceries and Scraps for even more kinds of foods you can grow from groceries or scraps, and factors that influence whether they will grow and produce food.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.