01 March 2011

How to recycle produce scraps into good green eats (or great houseplants)

Taking a walk on the wild side (of one’s garbage can, that is) might seem like a weird concept since -- not too long ago -- disposing of anything that wasn’t in pristine condition was, well, perfectly normal. Now the greenie forces in the sky are even badgering us to reserve biodegradable scraps of this and that for compost piles…as if any of us have time to tend to our own personal mound of steamy, stinky rotting goo. It seems as though the days of giving something the heave-ho without a second thought are long gone.

When it comes to the slimy innards and inedible portions of fruits and vegetables, they may seem entirely worthy of being chucked, but those raw ingredients are actually capable of spawning future munchies or even lush, oxygen-producing household greenery. Trust me…it’s well worth the effort of fishing certain scraps out of your garbage can since you’ll be able to get something lush (and even flavorful) in return with minimal personal investment. Why would I josh you? For all the proof you need, read on, unwitting eco-soldier!


They tasted great the first time around, so what’s preventing you from indulging once again? Naturally, you can just go right back to the supermarket for another onion fix, but that would be a crying shame since you’d miss out on the DIY fun of sprouting your own infinitely replenishing supply from the scraps that you tossed into your garbage. You remember that little nub you cut off the bottom of your onion, don’t you? The one with the roots at the bottom? Just watch what happens when you stick it in potting soil or a bed of black gold

Sweet Potatoes

Earning a spot on every ‘superfood’ list from here to Timbuktu, the distinctively sweet orange fleshed tuber with the appealingly low glycemic index is just as comfortable in a holiday pie as it is roasted with garlic or dusted with chili powder and cumin. Since sweet potatoes are one of those nutritional powerhouses that all of us should really incorporate in our diets more frequently, here’s an idea – grow your own prolifically producing patch in your backyard. It’s as easy as sprouting the end of a store-purchased tater in water (using the age old toothpick method), watching for white roots, and then transplanting the leaf-topped ‘slip’ into soil or if you’re short on gardening real estate, directly inside a reusable shopping bag. In these challenging economic times, it’s heartening to know that just one 99 cent organic sweet potato will yield up to 50 plants, which means that you’ll be rolling in beta-carotene goodness for mere pennies on the dollar…as long as you’re not stingy on the water.

White, Yellow or Red Potatoes

Pssst…wanna hear a neat little secret? The older the potatoes in your crisper drawer, the more likely they’ll sprout a few ‘eyes’ to see you with, but resist the urge to hack them off with a machete (or expertly wielded veggie peeler) because they’re actually baby potatoes springing to life. The weird looking white clusters emerging from the base of your taters are, indeed, self-propagating plants that merely require some soil, water and a little TLC to come to fruition. Sure, store-bought potatoes are still among the most budget-friendly foods around, but you’ll be blown away by just how generously your DIY potato patch pays you back for your minimal investment of time. Plus, everything home-grown tastes so much better.


If you want a fun little project for the kiddies, gather them around a fresh apple and as you ply them with crunchy slices, let them know that you’re entrusting them to nurture their very own apple tree. Caution them that the seeds you’ll be recycling from their snack won’t actually yield fruit (since blossoms would have to be fertilized with the pollen of an entirely different apple tree -- not exactly feasible for the amateur green thumb), but they WILL emerge into lovely little household specimens. Since apple seeds have a 30% germination success rate, refrigerate 10 or so seeds in a zippered plastic bag filled with damp moss for 6 weeks. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded for your patience with several viable seedlings which can then be transferred into soil and allowed to take flight! Johnny Appleseed would be proud.


Love household greenery? Good! Here’s another super-duper eco-opportunity using a humble avocado pit, but there’s a caveat to bear in mind. If you’re an avid green thumb or you have kiddies bounding though your house, then by all means – reserve a few pits to sprout into cheerful houseplants (just remember that patience is a virtue since the process will take about 3 months). Unfortunately, your tenderly cultivated greenery may never yield any actual fruit, and if by some small miracle avocados eventually do emerge, they’re likely going to be uber-Krummy with a capital ‘k’ (flavor and quality-wise). That’s okay, though, because if you enjoy attractive looking bushy trees – and who doesn’t? – then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get the propagation party started. Just arm yourself with a handful of toothpicks, a few ramekins filled with water and several thoroughly cleansed pits (to ramp up your odds of germination success). Before you can say Jiminy Cricket 600,000 times while gargling, you'll be able to feast your eyes on a home grown pot of love.


There are certain times of the year when a fresh golden pineapple can be yours for the low-low price of one American dollar. That’s when you can (and should) make your budget-worthy investment all the more ka-ching-able by rooting its green crown in water. After approximately three weeks, you’ll have a pot-worthy Bromeliad plant with hopefully healthy roots that will thrive for years to come…and it may even bear real fruit down the road under the right care and conditions. For amateur pineapple propagating enthusiasts, these nice-n-simple instructions should hit the spot, but for those who wield their green thumbs like a proud badge of eco-honor, this sophisticated tutorial -- which even includes instructions on what to do when fruit actually materializes -- will most definitely fit the bill.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/silencematters