How to Regrow Vegetable Scraps

Tips for turning kitchen compost scraps into pretty spring greens.

Even thought my daughter is just six years old, it’s clear that I’m raising a little environmentalist.

Clara carries a bag and picks up garbage on our forest walks, aghast at people who litter. Of her own free will, she turns off the water in the shower when soaping and is keenly aware of water conservation. She wants to know about everything from global warming to water pollution and is fiercely protective of nature.

This simple kitchen project started as a way to demonstrate to Clara how not all vegetable scraps need to end up the compost bin – many can sprout again if given the chance. You all know how I love a good lesson from the kitchen, especially if it promotes food sustainability.

Once you start looking, there are a thousand little ways we can make environmentally friendly choices in the kitchen. Regrowing vegetable scraps is just one of them.

Pictured from back left: green onion, green garlic, beets, romaine lettuce, carrots, turnip, red onion, celery and Napa cabbage.

As a kid, I can remember watching celery magically regrow and carrot tops send up tall green fronds when placed in water. It’s fascinating to see what still holds life from the produce drawer, even when it’s cut down to a mere stump.

A few weeks ago I snapped the iPhone photo above and shared it on Instagram, thinking that my followers would enjoy the inspiration for a little greenery in February.

My readers responded enthusiastically and had so many questions that I decided to follow up the photo with this post. Now these tips can live on here and you can reference it as needed, because I hope you will all start regrowing your veggies.

Not only is this a fun science experiment, but I’ve been cooking these little shoots as they sprout. Green onion, Napa cabbage, onion and green garlic are all delicious in a stir-fry or fried rice. Baby beet greens, celery shoots and romaine lettuce is harvested for salads, and carrot tops can be made into pesto.

How to Regrow Vegetable Scraps: Myths Debunked

For starters, please note that this windowsill kitchen garden is not *really* to supplement your diet. Sure, you’ll be able to nibble away at your greens, but we’re not producing tons of vegetables here. I’ve seen a few articles on vegetable regrowth that claims it ‘builds self-sufficiency’. Ahem. Regrowing enough vegetables to support your diet would take a lot of space and time. And, well, a garden.

For me the goals here are part kid’s science project, part zero waste initiative, and part edible kitchen mini garden. And it’s lovely to have a bit of greenery around in the middle of winter, especially when there’s a snowstorm outside.

This also needs to be said: we are not regrowing root vegetables. When beets, carrots , turnips, etc are placed in water, they send up green shoots and it is these leafy tops that we are enjoying.

However, it is possible to completely regrow some whole vegetables. Celery, for example, if tended to properly, will regrow into full stalks. Boc choy, Romaine lettuce, green onions, fennel and leeks will all (eventually) regrow to be full sized, as well.

How to Regrow Vegetable Scraps

Starting your windowsill garden is as easy as placing the ends or tops of a few kitchen produce scraps in about an inch of fresh water and setting them in partial sunshine. Your only maintenance is to change the water daily – now you see why this is such a good project for kids.

For an easy start with quick results, begin with green onion and garlic. Place about 3 inches of the white part of green onion – with the roots attached – in a jar and in a few days, you’ll start to see regrowth. For garlic, choose a whole bulb or individual cloves that have started to send out green sprouts – we tend to see this a lot in the winter months as the garlic gets older.

A few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Keep the regrowing vegetable away from a direct heat source or they will just bake instead of grow.
  • Not everything will sprout. If you’ve waited a week and seen no sign of life, try again.
  • The taste on the regrown vegetables will be milder than from fresh vegetables.
  • Slimy bottoms are normal.

Which scraps to regrow

If you’re wondering which end of the vegetables to keep and place in water and which to toss in the compost, here’s a quick cheatsheet.

Grow these tops:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Turnip
  • Radishes
  • Daikon

Cut off about 1-inch of top and place in water but do not submerge.

Grow these roots/ends:

  • Green onion
  • Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Celery
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Bok Choy
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Lemongrass

Cut off about 1 -3 inches of bottom and place in water but do not submerge.

A few of these, like fennel and celery, may be transplanted to a garden once springtime arrives, but I feel like that is a whole new post. There’s certainly lots of information on the web around this topic, so seek it out for yourselves. Happy growing!

Have you ever regrown vegetable scraps? Share your experience in the comments.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. Speaking of sustainability, I would love a post about your freezer containers. I know you use Weck for some things but what about casseroles, meatball batches, etc? Do you use single-use trays or big ziplocs? If not, how do you keep them airtight? Just curious because the potential waste sometimes keeps me from doing a lot of make-ahead. I’m looking for some freezer-to-table dishes that I could purchase a number of without breaking the bank. Also, I am dying to hear your new garden plans for Halifax. Have you changed zones? What will be different? Can’t wait to read!

    • Oh that’s a great question! I do all sorts of things such as Pyrex with lids (freezer-to-table) and Tupperware. Meatballs I freeze in the sauce, usually in reusable containers. And I use a lot of widemouth jars for soups and stocks. I have a lot of room for improvement, but i recently read the following quote and was reminded that every little bit helps: ‘We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

      No garden plans until the property thaws out and I see what comes up out of the ground!

  2. Green onions I knew about but the beet greens and celery were new to me. Neat! I confess that when I grow beets in the garden, it is mainly for the greens so I’m excited to see this. Beet greens in the supermarket just look so defeated most of the time.

  3. Lee @ Dragon'sEyeView says

    I’ve been happily composting for over a year and am so excited to try regrowing now! Thank your for the clear instructions.

  4. how interesting and even really productive! Never would have imagined re-growing vegetables but for this article, thank you!

  5. GREAT POST. I enjoy growing celery plants out of the celery base, when it gets to about 3 inches tall and has a lot of roots in the water it is ready to transplant into the garden or a deep pot. Also one year I put a cabbage core (the white part) into water to root, just to try it. When it had lots of roots I planted into garden and ended up with 6 fist sized cabbages off of the one stock, that were so delicious–crazy but love how plants can be recycled.

  6. Dianna Rejman says

    I live in Australia and have been doing this for years. I inherited a New Zealand bird from my dauhter and she had him cooped up in a tiny cage. She said he liked bits of fruit and a certain small parrot seed that had fruit and nuts in it. I put him in a larger patio aviary and bought him a companion. I did some research and found they live in forests and eat the seeds and sprouts of grasses, vegetation and fruits on the floor. I also keep cooks and have raised Budgies in the past so took some clues from that. I was giving the chickens beetroot, leaves spinach leaves, cartot tops etc. as well as grains to get beautiful fresh eggs. The leaves where often too large for the Kakariki parrots but they loved the new growth in the centre so I would save carrot and beet tops to grow greens and I grow sprouted seeds for them, especialy when breeding. I don’t have a big garden so can only buy organic produce from the market and in the summer months with temperatures around and above 100°F they dont last long out side on the market stalls. We don’t have snow but do get frosts so I grow baby spinach and rocket in pots that can be moved depending on the weather. I am growing leaves from ends in the kitchen now in March, when temperatures are still a little warm and the season is summer turning to Autum or Fall as you call it. We still have the ducted evaporative air conditioner cranked up to keep us and the birds, who live under shelter on our back verandah next to an open window, cool.

  7. Elisa M Gray says

    You can also regrow pineapple. I currently have an enormous pineapple plant that started from just the top of a store-bought pineapple. We have got two mini pineapples off of it. Very yummy. And it’s really pretty.

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