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Gardening: No garden? No problem!

March 30, 2014

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Growing food plants indoors is not as difficult — or as potentially ‘messy’ — as many people seem to think. Furthermore, quite a number of leafy greens, succulent stems and even herbs can be grown directly from what is generally considered to be waste.

Take something as simple as spring onions for example: It is customary to cut off the root section, which is usually about an inch in length, and either toss it into the garbage bin or the compost if, that is, you have got as far as making the latter at home. People without gardens, such as apartment dwellers, rarely make compost for their indoor plants which is an oversight that should be remedied.

Back to spring onions: The root section can easily be re-grown in a shallow container of water placed on, for instance, the kitchen windowsill where it should get plenty of natural light. Treated this way, the new crop of spring onions grows at a tremendous rate and, within a matter of approximately 10 to 14 days, you will have a perfectly edible crop of fresh onion tops to munch on, cook with or add to salads, sandwiches or whatever else takes your fancy. These re-grown spring onions can also, if you have a veranda, terrace or an actual garden, be transplanted into a reasonably rich mix of sweet earth and organic compost and be grown on. With regular trimming of the yummy bits, they can grow to form clumps of spring onions which will, with not too much care, keep on growing and multiplying for months on end. Those grown only in water, will — as long as the water is changed regularly — also provide a ‘cut ‘n come again’ crop for a surprisingly long time.

The same can be done with those onions, there are always some that start sending up new green shoots from the bottom of the vegetable basket and, let’s face it, ready access to a continuous supply of crunchy onion stems/shoots is a very handy thing to have around.

Then there are garlic cloves, either just the bottom bit or whole cloves if you like — wedged together to keep one another upright — can be sprouted into a little forest of nutritious garlic greens. These will provide an all year round supply, while they are purely seasonal in the market.

Lettuce — and everyone adores fresh, crunchy lettuce leaves — can also be re-grown, in just a little water, from the base section as long, that is, as the leaf bases are left attached to an intact section of what was the previous root. This need not have any visible roots on it yet, I assure you, they will soon appear and an entire new lettuce, albeit smaller than the original, will miraculously grow.

Other greens to be re-grown in nothing more than water include: Celery, cabbage, spinach, Swiss chard, endive, bok choy and basically any other ‘green’ as long as, like the lettuce described above, there is a small section of root attached.

On the herb front, basil, in all of its varied forms and aromas, is easily re-grown in water; so too are mints, lovage, lemon grass and even that increasingly popular salad ingredient known as both rocket and arugula.

Sweet potatoes can be cultivated in water as well. All that is needed is one smallish sweet potato, or half a large one and a narrow necked jar/vase. ‘Sit’ the sweet potato on the jar, with the help of wooden toothpicks if needed, so that just the base is in direct contact with the water beneath. The same system is often used for growing ornamentals like Dutch hyacinths indoors. Sweet potatoes do, admittedly, take time to begin growing but when the vine takes off, it can grow rampantly. So it will need some support and it will, in time, actually form a nice crop of sweet potatoes which, even though they are liable to be on the small side, will be absolutely delicious.

Then there are pineapples of course. The tops twisted, not cut, off and grown in the same way as sweet potatoes. Water grown pineapples can be grown on to maturity and even fruiting size in water. This will take two to three years so patience is needed, but they are hungry plants and will need a regular dose of liquid, organic fertiliser, added to the water to help them along.

Avocado stones, grown in exactly the same way as sweet potatoes and pineapples, make attractive indoor plants and will, naturally and if grown in large pots and then, eventually, put into the ground, make magnificent shade trees. But sadly, as the best avocado species are produced on grafted root-stock, they may not bear fruit or, if they do, it could very well be of inferior quality. Even if that is the case, at least you will have a glorious tree to admire!

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.