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My friend the horticulturist Ruth Clausen told me about a great activity to do with kids indoors. She calls it “garbage gardening” because it involves planting vegetable scraps that would otherwise be headed for the garbage pail or compost heap.
Ruth asks, ‘What sounds like more fun to a child than growing garbage on a windowsill?’ It’s a good question.
Start with carrots and onions, potatoes, pineapples and other vegetable waste, and use recycled cottage cheese or yogurt containers as your pots. Be sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom.
Here are Ruth’s instructions for different kinds of vegetables:
White Potatoes– White potatoes grow quickly. Look for old ones with nubbins of developing shoots (called eyes). Cut a potato in half, each with 1 or 2 eyes, let it dry overnight, then plant it cut side down. Keep moist and you’ll have an indoor garden in no time. If you plant it deep enough you can grow a new potato. For more information on how potatoes grow, click here.
Carrots– To start your garden cut ¾” or so off the top of the round end of a carrot. Press the cut end into a container of damp potting soil, and put it on a sunny windowsill. Keep the soil moist, and a green forest will soon start to sprout. It won’t actually grow a new carrot, but it will create green foliage.
Onions– Select a medium size onion and grow it in a glass or plastic drinking glass. Cut off a sliver or tiny slice at the root end of the onion to remove the shriveled old roots that have dried out. Fill a glass 3/4 full with water and put the onion, root end down, in the water in the neck of the glass. Place it on a sunny windowsill and watch as new white roots grow into the water. You’ll have to keep checking that the glass has enough water. You’ll be surprised how quickly the water is taken up by the onion and/or evaporates.
Garlic– If you have a clove of garlic in the refrigerator that is starting to sprout, save the root end and plant in soil with the sprouts facing up. Keep moist and in several weeks— voila! New shoots and new roots!
Pineapple– Cut leafy pineapple tops with only ¼” of the pineapple fruit left on. Clean away any flesh and let it dry overnight. Firm the top into a few inches of damp potting soil and new leaves will eventually emerge. The old ones will fall away.
Beans– Try growing some bean seeds in a jar. A large jelly jar is fine for this project. Make a liner for the jar out of double thickness paper towels or paper napkins. Make the paper into a roll and put in the jar so that the glass is lined with it. Spray water into the jar, wetting the paper, but not so much that it collapses. Then get some bean seeds—any kind will do but climbing beans work well as do purple hyacinth beans, which are pretty. Place several seeds between the paper liner and the glass —maybe 4 or 5 to a single jar. Place the jar on a sunny windowsill. Keep the paper damp every day and the seeds will start to fatten up and grow in a few days. To speed up germination, soak the seeds in water overnight before you start the project. Watch to see the baby root emerging at one end and then the little shoot will emerge afterwards. You can keep them growing for some time and will see the stem and then leaves appear.
This activity is a great way to impart a love of growing and gardening to children. If you give them a pair of kids gardening gloves to wear they will feel like real gardeners!