• Kate

Activity of the day: Crops from the kitchen


No, this isn't about growing things FOR the kitchen (though if you're patient you may grow things you can eat), it's about growing plants on your windowsill from things you will probably be able to find IN your kitchen.


The picture above shows a load of things which are likely to grow from our kitchen.

Most of them are seeds- including the peanuts, popcorn, star anise (seeds next to the star shaped pod), cumin, coriander, juniper and beans.

Some are whole fruits- you'll need to get the seeds out of those before planting them;

A couple are neither: Garlic cloves are parts of a bulb which forms at soil level and potatoes are tubers. As you can probably see, the potatoes are already starting to grow.


There are a couple of basic principles which show you if something is worth having a go at planting:


  • If it's been cooked, pickled or salted, don't bother planting it.- it's dead. That means anything that's been tinned is no use for growing, and nor is anything you pick out of your dinner- unless it's raw. Apparently peppercorns are often heat treated to stop them growing in your kitchen. I'm going to give them a go- because why not... but I'm not expecting success.


  • Seeds are happy to be dried- most other things are not. That completely dried out potato that fell behind the fridge months ago is unlikely to grow.


  • If it's growing already in the kitchen, it's likely to keep growing. Ginger, potatoes, garlic- and various other vegetables- are quite keen on growing whether you want them to or not. Planting them is very likely to work!


  • If it's a dried bud (eg cloves), root (eg liquorice) leaves (eg tea) or stem/bark (eg cinnamon), it's not going to grow. Even if it was a seed, it won't grow if it's broken- so ground spices won't work, and split peas or lentils are unlikely to. If you're not sure if what you've found is a seed, either look it up on the Internet (I wasn't sure about cloves) or try to sprout it and find out- see below.



How to get your seeds growing:


Obviously, you could just put them in pots of compost- but when you're not sure if something is going to grow, it's quite nice to see what it's doing.


If you want to watch seeds or other plants growing, start them off in just water.


  • For small seeds, spread them onto fabric or tissue paper on a shallow dish (like a tub lid) and make sure it stays moist.


  • For medium sized seeds, cover them in water in a shallow dish and change the water at least twice daily until the seeds start to grow - you do need to change the water or it will go stinky and the seeds will rot.


  • For larger seeds such as avocados or mangoes and things like potatoes, root ginger, Jerusalem artichokes etc, you can put them in a shallow dish as with medium seeds (well, quite a big dish for a mango- and more on growing them here) until they've started growing well.


  • Seeds DO NOT need light to start to grow- if you think about it, most seeds start growing under ground. They also DO NOT need soil- and nor do tubers or bulbs: They all start off with their own energy supply built in, to get them going- that's why they're great to eat!


  • Seeds DO need water- and many dried seeds will need quite a bit of time soaking up water before they start to grow. Make sure you keep them watered, as newly germinated seeds will die quickly if you let them dry out. So leave your dishes of seeds out of the sunshine until they're growing strongly!


  • Once your seeds (and whatever else) are growing well, plant them up into compost or soil and grow on in a bright position. Below are some seeds (and a root) we started off a couple of months ago, including avocados- only two out of four grew, as you can see- lemon, ginger and pomegranate.


As you may be able to spot, the plants are growing a bit tall and spindly (the proper word is etiolated). That's partly because we started them growing at Christmas, when there isn't enough daylight, but mostly because our windows are triple glazed, meaning not enough light ever gets through them for plants to grow well: If you have double or single glazed windows, you'll probably get much healthier plants than these- we just need them to hold on until May so we can put them in the greenhouse where they can cheer up!


...And to finish, here's one more advanced principle for those getting into this seed investigation thing: If you want to increase your success rates, look up seed dormancy. - the link is to the UK forestry.gov site page about tree seed dormancy, but it applies to other seeds too and is by far the clearest explanation I've found. Basically, you need to think about where the seed came from to work out what conditions it will want before starting to grow. Seeds from very cold climates may need to be refrigerated, frozen or even repeatedly frozen and thawed. Seeds from places where there are lots of bush fires may need heat treating. The juniper seeds we want to grow will need lots of cold before they stand any chance of growing, as they usually grow in cold climates. Investigating the background of different plants is really fascinating and can help you to grow them better!


Soon to come- handling seedlings, for all those tiny plants you'll shortly need to move...


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