For anyone who has wondered if it's worthwhile to plant the cloves of store-bought garlic that are starting to sprout, the answer is a yes, but a qualified yes.
In general, buying seeds or plants that were intended to be grown for a garden harvest is usually a better idea than relying on produce aisle leftovers to grow more edibles.
The watermelon seeds you spit out last summer that sprouted in the compost probably came from a hybrid variety and will not grow true. The same can be said for many fruit trees that don't develop the same tasty fruit as the parent, most notably apples.
Avocados propped on toothpicks in water are dead easy to start but may take up to 15 years to fruit and will need grafting to produce anything guacamole worthy.
And although it's possible to start mushrooms and yams from store-bought product, both have fairly restrictive environmental demands that make it impractical to attempt recycling them into the garden for harvest.
"The effort it takes to grow veggies is worth the few bucks for known seeds from a good seed provider," says Erik Knutzen of Rootsimple.com. Still, he's grown crosne (Chinese artichokes) and sunchokes from store-bought produce while his partner, Kelly Coyne, has had success planting celery crowns in the ground for a second life.
After all, plants don't grow to feed us but to grow more plants. The list of market-bought edibles and kitchen veggie scraps that have been used by local gardeners to make new plants or extend the harvest includes apricot (and other stone fruit), chayote, fava beans, bok choy, celery, garlic, ginger, green onion, red onion, pineapple, basil, mint, melon, squash, jujube, papaya, passion fruit, flax seed, fennel, chia, carrot tops, daikon tops, sunflower, amaranth, mung beans, potato, peas, horseradish, lettuce, endive, mustard, heirloom tomato, popcorn, fenugreek and watercress.
Did the cilantro come with roots? It will take to transplanting and will set new roots and could save a trip to the store.
The calloused base of leafy greens (such as bok choy and lettuces) should be partially submerged in water and given direct sun until roots develop. Then they can be transplanted and new leaves can be harvested regularly as they emerge from the base. A similar soaking method is used for lemongrass, green onions and celery.
Pineapple takes a bit of preparation before transplanting — removal of leaves and trimming of the flesh before rooting in water — and will not yield fruit for a couple of years. And even then the pineapples will be smaller than the parent. Sweet, but small.
The easiest to attempt are plants that can be buried in good, loose soil to start, such as horseradish, ginger, sunchoke, chayote, potato and garlic. Garlic should be separated into cloves and planted with the fat end down; the potato should be cut into sections, each with at least a couple of eyes, and left to dry for a day or two before going into the ground; the chayote should be planted at a 45-degree angle. All take full sun except ginger.
Any seeds, beans or peas must be dried, not fresh. A fresh bean will simply rot in the ground, notes Yvonne Savio, coordinator of the L.A. County Master Gardener program. Tomatoes should be shriveled and overripe before restarting.
Whenever possible, buy organic edibles for recycling, advises Leigh Adams, artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. She has grown apricot, nectarine and peaches from seed. "The fruit, while smaller than 'named' varieties, was excellent," she says.
Knutzen says tubers are the best bet, while garden activist Ron Finley has grown purple fingerling potatoes, lemon grass, sugar cane and beet tops using store-bought produce.
West Covina gardener Janice Kubo says her kabocha grew true from seed collected from a store-bought pumpkin. She also planted Spanish Black Radish simply to collect the seed once it went to flower. She's also had luck growing market-bought mitsuba, pineapple crowns, dried fava beans and seeds collected from red and yellow peppers.
And sometimes the harvest can be spectacular.
Jimmy Ng, consultant for the Growing Experience urban farm at the Carmelitos housing development in Long Beach, got some ong choy (water spinach) at a local Cambodian market and started cuttings in the farm's aquaponics system. They did so well that they went up for sale at the Growing Experience's farm stand and in its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription service.