For the curious gardener, a trip to the grocery store can be the start of something more than dinner. The aisles can yield cuttings and seeds that, with a little TLC, a healthy dose of patience and ample luck, will sprout into productive plants.
The operative word: productive. Those who have toothpick-supported sweet potatoes and avocado seeds in glasses on the windowsill can appreciate plants that will bear something other than leaves.
The pea-size black seeds inside the fleshy papaya grow easily. Scoop out the mass of seeds, clean them thoroughly and allow them to dry a few weeks. March is the best time to plant a single seed in a 1-gallon pot. Place it in a partly sunny spot and water it when the leaves droop.
It's a tropical plant, so bring it inside through fall and winter. In late spring, when the plant is a year old and about 6 feet tall, put it in the ground.
You'll be harvesting papayas by July.
Those gnarly brown roots sold in grocery stores as fresh ginger are rhizomes. So the next time you bring one home for stir fry, snap off a piece and plant it. Choose a firm piece without bruises, and cut or break off a piece with nodes.
Let the pieces dry for a few days, then plant them in a 12- to 14-inch pot that's about three-quarters full of rich potting mix. Cover them with an inch of soil.
Place them in filtered sunlight, and keep the soil moist. Sprouts will appear in a few weeks.
The mature plants, which look like bamboo, will be 2 to 4 feet tall. After a season, harvest pieces of the rhizome that appear above the soil. The tender stems can be used in stir fries.
A tropical plant, this ginger needs frost protection.
Growing a pineapple might test your patience, but with time, about 18 months, you get fruit.
Twist or cut the leafy crown off a firm, ripe fruit. Pull off leaves nearest the crown, then remove any flesh, and allow to dry for a few days.
Set the crown about an inch deep in a 5-gallon pot filled with sandy soil. Keep the soil moist for a few days, then water a few times a week. Overwatering will doom your plant.
These tropical plants like sun and a monthly feeding with liquid fertilizer. The plant will grow to about 4 feet wide.
You can do more with dried legumes than soak and boil them. Toss a few mung beans, lentils or some fenugreek in some water and see what pops up.
If you follow the directions they are simple, but the margin for error is slim you will be harvesting sprouts for salads and sandwiches in a matter of days.
Put about 2 tablespoons of seeds in a clear jar, either glass or plastic. Add two to three times more cool water than seeds, then cover the jar with cheesecloth and place it in a warm location. The top of the refrigerator works well.
Twice a day, drain and rinse the seeds until the water is clear. Lentils will produce sprouts in about five days, mung beans in three or four.
Fenugreek, a legume that looks like a rock, needs to soak about eight hours before starting the germinating process. You'll have nutty-tasting sprouts in 4 to 6 days.
From a firm garlic bulb, choose a few of the largest cloves. In late fall, plant them with the tips up about 2 inches deep in soil that's loose and rich in organic material. Allow about 4 inches between cloves. Keep the soil moist, not saturated. Cloves will sprout grassy foliage in a couple of weeks, but the real work is going on underground. Each clove will develop into a garlic bulb. It's time to harvest when leaves start to yellow. The process takes six to nine months.