I was in Paradise. The Caribbean Sea was, literally, just 500 meters away. All around me for miles there was nothing but lush tropical jungle, exotic birds and white beaches beckoning for long walks under the palm trees.
But all was not well in Paradise.
Paradise was almost out of cilantro.
And we used cilantro in everything. As the head cook on this tropical farm this was worrisome to me. The nearest town was an hour and a half hike away, and I was in Costa Rica—who knew if they sold little herb plants at the market or not. And how do you say cilantro in Spanish?
As I lamented our dire predicament to our resident gardener he quietly took the cilantro leaves in my hands and plunked them into his glass of water.
“There. In a few days that will grow roots and we can plant it.”
I’m sure my jaw dropped. It seemed so simple, obvious even, and yet it was a new world revealed to me—I didn’t need seeds or starts. Sometimes I just needed a part of the plant to get things growing.
Here are five plants that you can grow right now— from the useful to the exotic–with your kitchen scraps. Just remember to keep them all in a sunny place and change out the water weekly.
When your garlic starts to sprout instead of throwing it away plant it in a little flowerpot. Plant several! Just put the shoot facing down. In a few weeks you’ll have nice tall garlic stalks. Keep them trimmed to about 6 inches and your garlic can focus all of its energy into growing the bulbs under the soil. (Hint: you can cook with the stalks too!)
You can buy lemongrass in the produce section of most grocery stores. It’s great in Thai food and makes a wonderful morning tea—just boil the leaves in water for a few minutes, strain and sweeten. Lemongrass, honey and ginger tea is excellent for a sore throat. To grow your own lemongrass, simply put the tough ends in a glass of water for a week or so until they begin to grow little roots. Transplant to a window box or to a sunny area outside. Wait until your lemongrass is about a foot tall before you begin harvesting. It smells divine. Consider planting it somewhere where you will brush by it often.
Super simple: Place the white bulb end of the plant in a shallow cup of water. Keep the water as shallow as possible because the more of the green stalk that is in the water the more likely your plant is to rot. Within a few days you’ll notice new growth on the green stalk that you can harvest right away. Change out the water every week and you can keep harvesting indefinitely.
Like the scallions, plant the white root end of the lettuce in a shallow cup of water. Trim the greens down to about an inch above the water. Check daily that the plant has enough water and spritz the leaves to keep them moist. Within two weeks the roots will be developed enough to transplant into your garden. Within four or five weeks you’ll be ready to harvest your lettuce.
Cut off the tough, leafy green top of the pineapple and peel off a few layers of the leaves until you get to the root bulb—usually one or two inches worth of leaves. From here the process should look familiar: put the cutting in a bowl of water for a few weeks until it starts to root. Transplant to a large flowerpot in a sunny location and water weekly. You’re pineapple will be ready to harvest . . . in two or three years.
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.