A lifelong gardener, Marcy relies on creativity as she battles the hot, arid, rocky desert environment to grow things in New River, Arizona.
Never Waste Food Again
I loathe waste. Food waste, particularly, galls me. I compost. I feed scraps to my cows, my chickens, my goat. I am, yes, a bit obsessive. As if it's not enough that food scraps don't end up in the trash bin, I found yet another way to eke out another life for them. I call it my Zombie Garden.
There are, of course, no gruesome undead moaning and lurking in my garden (although that would be interesting). My zombies are plant scraps that can grow new, healthy plants. Not only does this cut out much of the food waste I produce, but it is a faster way to grow a mature and edible plant than to start from seed. As expensive as seed packets are now, the virtues of a zombie garden don't stop there. There's no monetary investment, you get a head-start with the plants involved, and you can enjoy a new gardening technique.
Head Vegetables Are Easy to Reuse
Head vegetables, such as cabbage and lettuce, are ideal zombie candidates. Save the bottoms and simply stick them in moist potting soil. You can start them in the house and move them outdoors after they root, or you can simply put them in the dirt. The romaine chunk shown had tiny "nubs" on the bottom that were just waiting to grow into new roots. I put it directly into the potting soil in my container garden outdoors. Within a day it was showing signs of growth, and within three days it had the vigorous green top growing out of it seen in the following photo.
Discard the Mushy and Moldy
When choosing scraps to salvage, discard any that have already become mushy or moldy. The zombie pup can be bruised (what zombie doesn't have a bruise or two?) or wilted, but shouldn't be soft.
Cabbage, like lettuce, is easy to sprout from the base. After you've enjoyed the usable portion of the plant, stick that bottom part into the ground. At top of this article is a photo of a cabbage growing from one small, sad-looking cabbage heart. Not only is it thriving, it's growing multiple cabbage heads from that single base.
Bunch-type vegetables, such as celery and fennel, will also sprout new plants from the bases. Just make sure you cut the stalks off at the base rather than peeling them away. Use a sharp, clean knife whenever you're cutting bases and bottoms to plant.
Allium Members Are Great for Garden Recycling
Members of the allium family, such as onions and garlic, are just begging to join your zombie family. Take a look at the garlic bulbs, onions, and leeks you pick up at the produce section. They already have roots at the bottom of the edible vegetable. Go ahead ... plant 'em! I've had particular success with onions. They're beautiful plants, as well, and you can use the tops of onions and garlics as chives. (Don't cut them all off, as the plant needs some to survive.) Those chives will be great with the potatoes you'll grow from those neglected taters that began to sprout in your pantry.
Incorporating Old Potatoes Into Your Garden
First off, you shouldn't eat any green portions of potatoes, including green-colored flesh of the vegetable itself. Green parts of nightshade plants (such as potatoes) contain a toxin called solanine and yes, it's dangerous if you consume enough of it. You don't have to discard those green taters, though, nor do you need to throw away the potatoes that have sprouted. Identify the "eye" of the potato and cut each eye into a separate chunk, or simply cut your potato into quarters, and plant it. If the potato is bruised or rotting, toss it in the compost heap instead. If it's firm and not mushy, and isn't stinky, it's ready to grow a few new zombie potato plants for you.
Don't neglect sweet potatoes when you're hunting zombies. The sweet potatoes that start to sprout in your pantry are the same sweet potatoes that grow into the gorgeous, ornamental "sweet potato vine" sold as hanging plants and container ornamentals at nurseries.
Don't plant your potatoes in the same garden bed or container you're using for your zombie tomatoes. Because tomatoes are also members of the nightshade family (as are eggplant), they suffer the same diseases that affect potatoes. For the health of your plants, keep them separated.
Replant Tomato Seeds
Certainly the seeds of tomatoes can be eaten, and most of the time we do just that. If you've ever let your tomatoes get too ripe, though, and have opened them up to find those wormy-looking seedlings inside from seeds that are already trying to make a living, you've got zombie tomatoes in the making! Scoop those babies out of there and keep them moist while you're enjoying the rest of the tomato. I put a wet paper towel over them to protect them from drying until I get them to the garden. Tomatoes are certainly one of the easiest plants to sprout from the seed of a grocery-store fruit, so have at it. The ones already struggling to grow are a great head-start on planting dried seeds from a seed packet. I always figure the tomato seeds stuck to the plate after I've sliced a tomato are going to waste anyhow, so I just rinse the plate over one of my plant pots. They usually grow and I have an abundance of seedlings at any given time.
Root Vegetables Are Perfect Additions to a Zombie Garden
What could possibly easier than rooting root vegetables? They're crying out to be zombies! Because I have a plethora of horses, I often buy carrots by the 20-pound bag. Because I'm not always organized, I often find a few of those carrots hiding in the bottom of the crisper, long after their cousins have become horse fodder. Much of the time, rather than grow mushy, they grow roots. These are ready to go into the ground and make carrot plants. Truth be told, I've had little success bringing mature carrots to fruition. The rodents here are merciless to them. However, I've enjoyed watching the plants grow, and have fed many of the carrot greens to my critters (as well as feeding many of the carrot greens to the wild critters, unintentionally).
Other root vegetables are zombie contenders. One of my favorites is ginger. I enjoy it in a fresh ginger-root tea, and have had luck growing the roots into lovely plants. If you buy fresh ginger root and find it drying up and looking unappetizing in the crisper, give it new life. Soak it in water overnight in case it has been treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting, then plant it about six inches down in your container or garden bed. Be patient. Keep it moist but don't drown it. It takes a while to start, but it grows vigorously once it's above ground.
Recycling Food Waste Costs You Nothing
The joy of zombie gardening is that if a plant makes it, hurrah. If it doesn't, you haven't lost the expense of a plant purchased from the garden section. You've got nothing to lose by giving those zombie pups a chance. If you're adventurous, you can have plenty of fun just tossing random seeds and cuttings into a spot of soil. If you aren't a serious gardener, you may enjoy the casual approach to tossing stuff into dirt. If you're lucky, you'll enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables from those seeds. I use a lot of avocados, and who can resist sticking the pits into the ground? At any given time I usually have several avocado plants growing in weird and wonderful places. Check out the one below that sprouted in my mesclun.
Basil, Catnip, and Other Cuttings Can Be Incorporated
Don't neglect traditional cuttings when preparing produce from the grocery store. Basil is remarkably easy to grow from cuttings rooted in water. They often wilt temporarily when you replant them in soil, but keep loving on them and tending them and they'll come back. Why buy seeds when you can root something, use it even as it grows in its bottle in your kitchen window, and then turn it into a thriving plant? Perhaps the best thing about growing basil (other than its heavenly fragrance each time you brush against it) is that it reseeds reliably and will keep coming up, season after season. To ensure you always have usable basil, keep bringing along cuttings once your plant has started to bolt (form seeds).
I also keep catnip cuttings in the kitchen to root. Our kitties love having catnip plants to roll in once they're planted, and they often nibble on the cuttings as they take hold. If you have indoor cats, make sure you put the cuttings in containers with heavy bases so your cats don't knock them over in their enthusiasm.
You can help your cuttings along by using a rooting hormone powder. Just dip the cut end of the cutting into the powder before putting it in water to root. It'll speed up the growth process.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Marcy J. Miller
Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on October 13, 2020:
Thank you for your comment, Linda!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 13, 2020:
This is an interesting and useful article. I love the idea of growing zombie plants. The activity is very worthwhile. Thanks for sharing the instructions.