Did you know that that there are quite a few edible plants that you can grow from things bought at the supermarket or farmers markets? Now, the supermarket isn’t the best source of vegetables or fruits for growing in your garden, because you don’t know where most of it has come from, what sprays or other chemicals it’s been exposed to or what varieties most things are. Many varieties could be F1, first generation crosses, meaning plants grown from their seeds might not look or taste quite like the parent. But they’re probably still going to be decent. And, hey, we’re living in strange times and any food crop is better than no food crop. If it’s hard to find seedlings or seeds or if the waiting times are too long, don’t overlook the possibilities that lurk in the supermarket. You might be surprised what you can grow from it, bearing in mind the times of year that different crops can be grown in. This is growing food on the fly.
Sometimes you can buy vegetable seedlings from the supermarket and even herbs in little pots can grow after being planted in the garden. Some might go to seed, coriander being the most likely suspect, but that’s ok, don’t rip it out, let it flower then form seedheads, then you can collect the seed from it to grow more plants.
Here’s what else you could find lurking in the supermarket, waiting to be grown. One word of warning: if you grow a patented or trademarked variety, you cannot sell it to other people.
Seeds can be collected from ‘fruit’ vegetables, you know, the confusing ones that some people like to tell you are actually fruit, because botanically they are, but categorically, use-fully, they are vegetables. All you need to do is select a good specimen or two, cut them open, scoop out some seeds, wash them in a sieve and then leave them to dry out thoroughly for a week or two before storing them in a bag in a cool place.
Seed could also be collected from some more unsuspecting specimens.
Now, if you live in the US, you probably don’t want to grow corn from an unknown source due to the amount of GE corn or GE-contaminated corn around, but here in NZ things aren’t so bad with corn. You could leave a corn cob in an airy, dry place to dry out completely, then the hard, wrinkly kernels come off easily and can be stored for planting when the time is right.
- Dried beans
Dried beans, if they haven’t been sitting around for too long, can actually be planted. They are bean seeds. They can remain viable for a while, so you won’t know unless you try! If you try a few different beans, something’s bound to grow.
- Pipfruit – e.g. apples and pears.
- Stonefruit – e.g. peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries.
- Citrus fruit – e.g. oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes.
Yes, you can grow your own fruit trees from seeds saved from these fruits. As mentioned above, they won’t grow fruit exactly the same as their parent. Fruit trees are usually grown from cuttings, which grow fruit of the same characteristics as the parent plant. There are two other things to note here: 1) the trees will take some years before they fruit – 3-5 years, or up to 10 years for avocadoes, and some may never fruit; 2) the resulting trees will grow differently from the parents because the parent trees are usually grafted onto a rootstock. This means that the roots and very bottom of the trunk are grown from a plant that has a better root system than the parent plant. It could have better disease resistance, it could reduce the size of the tree or it could improve its ability to grow in certain types of soil or weather conditions. This part and the cutting from the parent are grafted onto each other, which basically means they are cut and attached together until they have fused together and start growing as one plant.
A non-grafted plant can still be very usable, especially if it’s a stonefruit. In NZ Meyer lemons aren’t usually grafted so they are a great specimen to grow from seed.
A note about kiwifruit. If you live in NZ, do not try to propagate your own kiwifruit at the moment. PSA is a bacterial disease that spreads easily and can kill kiwifruit vines. It is a big threat to kiwifruit orchards. At the moment, only registered growers can grow kiwifruit plants and there are regulations and exclusion zones in force. I would love to have some kiwifruit plants myself, but as a horticulturalist I know it would not be wise to try do do so right now, because I don’t want to be responsible for ruining anyone’s kiwifruit orchard and source of income. There is hope for the future with disease-resistant varieties being produced.
Some plants can be grown from chopped-off bottoms. These plants have the kind of base that will re-sprout when the stems or bulbs are cut off 2-10cm above the base and the base is then planted shallowly in the ground.
- Pak choy
- Cos lettuce
Sometimes imported garlic has been sprayed with chemicals to stop it from re-growing. Choose locally-grown garlic.
- Spring onions
Spring onions or bunching onions can be sat in a glass of water for their roots to grow, then cut back to about 10cm and planted.
Other Things With Roots
I have successfully grown watercress from a bag of leaves bought from the supermarket. If you inspect bags of watercress or microgreens you may find one where the stems have started to form little roots. These are best grown on in a shallow tray of water or watery seed raising mix until the roots get bigger.
I’m sure everyone’s had potatoes or kumara (sweet potatoes) that have sprouted in the pantry before. These tubers can be propagated. There’s no guarantee you won’t introduce a potato disease to your garden, but it’s an option. Avoid tubers that are scabby or have rotten patches on them.
Small potatoes or larger ones cut into several pieces can be planted in the garden about 15cm deep. Ones that have sprouted more will grow faster.
- Kumara or sweet potato
If you let the shoots grow to 10-15cm long, they can be pulled off and sat in a jar of water to form roots, which can be planted when the weather is warm enough.
These are not the ways that I normally source edible plants these days, but they certainly offer some options for gardening in hard times. They are ways to quickly do something to start gaining some food security. Even better is if you use these methods from crops you have grown in your own garden or acquired from friends. And if nothing else, scouring the supermarket for things to grow can be a fun way to teach kids about growing food.