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How to Regrow Root Vegetables for Leafy Greens

Our garden is the farm's pride and joy. We love spending time in it, and preparing meals out of our fresh produce.

Regrowing a carrot top

Regrowing a carrot top

When preparing carrots for supper, most of us cut off the tops and throw them into the compost. But this “scrap” of carrot, or any other root vegetable, can be used to regrow fresh greens and even seeds for next year’s garden (unfortunately, it will not regrow another edible root). Not only will you be growing your own food from scraps, but it is fun, educational, and very easy to do.

To regrow root vegetables such as beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, and radishes, use the top few centimeters of the root itself, sometimes called the shoulder or crown. Cut off the top 2 to 3 cm (1 inch) of the root vegetable. It is a bonus if a few greens are already present. Place this cut top directly in soil or partially submerge it in water. Within a few days, small roots will start to grow and new leafy greens will sprout.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at how to regrow root vegetables to reduce our environmental footprint and become a little more self-sufficient.

Planting the cutting of a root vegetable, such as a carrot, will NOT grow another carrot.

What to Expect

Before starting is it important to know what you can reasonably expect when regrowing root vegetables. You will not regrow another edible root. Instead, you will be able to grow leafy greens (you might be surprised how many of them are edible), and many of these cuttings will flower and produce seeds that you can sow in your garden.

Most root vegetables are biennials, meaning they complete their life cycle in two years. The first year they produce roots and vegetation, and they flower and produce seeds the second year. We harvest these root vegetables in the first year at their peak nutritional quality and flavour, essentially interrupting their life cycle before the plant starts preparing for dormancy. When we replant a cutting from these vegetables, they continue growing from where they left off by re-growing their leafy greens and going to seed.

The part we eat is the taproot, which is the main root of the plant. The taproot will not regrow but will send out new roots and new green leaves that you can use in a variety of ways. Here are some great root vegetables to regrow from scraps and what you can do with them.

  • Carrots: Carrot greens are edible and taste like a carrot-parsley cross. They can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, and can also be fed to your rabbit, guinea pig, or other small pet. Carrot tops will produce white, umbrella-shaped flowers, and the seeds can be saved and planted in your garden.
  • Parsnips: Parsnip scraps are grown for their seeds. Do not eat the greens. Not only do they taste bad, but the varieties we grow in our garden contain a similar toxin to their poisonous wild cousins and can cause allergic reactions. Wear gloves when handling parsnip greens.
  • Beets: Beet greens taste similar to chard and are extremely healthy, providing lots of vitamin C, Iron, and other nutrients. They will also produce seeds from unique and beautiful flowers.
  • Radishes: Unlike most other root vegetables, radishes are annuals, so they will produce flowers and seeds in their first year. While the greens are edible, they are quite gross and bitter, but they have beautiful flowers that are great attractors of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. The flowers develop into edible pods that are very delicious fresh (they taste like a mild radish) or are easy to harvest for seeds when they dry.
  • Turnips and Rutabagas: The greens of turnips and rutabagas are edible and very healthy, taste like a cabbage-mustard green cross. The leaves can be fuzzy and prickly when large, but this goes away when they are cooked. The greens are also excellent dehydrated. The buds and yellow flowers are both edible and will also produce seeds.
Carrot tops to regrow

Carrot tops to regrow

Regrowing Root Vegetables in Soil

  1. Cut off the top 2.5 cm (1 inch) of the root vegetable. It is a bonus if it still has some greens attached but this isn’t necessary. Set it aside and eat the rest of the root.
  2. Fill a pot with soil. Bagged potting soil works well or you can make your own soil mix. Garden soil on its own will compact too much in containers. You can also plant the vegetable scrap right into your garden.
  3. Water the soil so that it is thoroughly moist but not wet.
  4. Plant the top in the soil. Bury it so just the tip is showing.
  5. Place it in a warm location with plenty of light. The temperature will dictate how fast your scrap will grow, and a nice room temperature is ideal. Supplemental light might be necessary, especially if you are growing over the winter.
  6. Water your scrap as necessary like you would any houseplant.
  7. Pick and enjoy the greens as soon as they are big enough to eat (except the parsnip, of course).
New roots and greens

New roots and greens

Regrowing Root Vegetables in Water

1. Cut off the top 2 to 3 cm (1 inch) of the root vegetable (and eat the rest). It is a bonus if it still has some greens attached but this isn’t necessary.

2. There are many different ways to regrow vegetable tops in water. Here are some ideas:

  • In a bowl: the simplest is to plop the top in a bowl so it is half-submerged with water.
  • Suspended over the water: stick 3 toothpicks into the side of the cutting so they stick out like the spokes on a wheel. Rest the toothpicks on the edge of a container so the root top is suspended over the middle. Fill the container with water so the cutting is partially submerged.
  • On marbles: line the bottom of a shallow pan with marbles or small rocks. Set the cuttings on top of the marbles and fill the pan with water to partially submerge the top. This is a very ornamental option that is fun for kids to set up.
  • Using wet newspaper: Put a few layers of newspaper (paper towel also works) on the bottom of a pan or cookie sheet. Saturate the newspaper with water and set your root cuttings on top.

3. Place it in a warm location with plenty of light. As mentioned above, temperature plays a big part in how fast your scrap will grow, and a nice room temperature is best. Supplemental light might also be necessary, particularly over the winter.

4. Replace the water every few days or whenever it is dirty or stagnant.

5. When your top has established roots and greens, transplant it into soil for long-term growing.

The toothpick method

The toothpick method

How Long Do They Take to Regrow?

New greens will start to regrow a few days after planting the top, and the greens should be big enough to eat in 4 to 8 weeks. The greens will continue to regrow, and you can generally harvest the leaves two or three times before the plant is spent and should be pulled up and composted. The plants send up flower stalks that usually bloom in about 2 to 3 months after planting.

Of course, the timing will depend on your growing conditions.

Choosing the Right Vegetable for the Best Results

Regrowing a root vegetable for its greens is as easy as cutting off the top and sticking it in the ground. However, choosing the right vegetable to start with will help you be more successful. Just like choosing high-quality, viable seeds for your garden, you want to use good quality cuttings for best results.

A local farmer’s market is a good place to get good quality carrots. Choose a vegetable that is fresh and healthy, especially at the top where the greens grow. Use them within 12 hours of cutting before they have dried out too much.

That being said, we did plant some tops from carrots that had been stored all winter, shipped across the country, and the tops were trimmed and shrivelled. It took a while to establish and the greens grew poorly, but the carrot top still flowered nicely. We also planted a few that we found in the spring left from the fall harvest that regrew with good vigour.

Fresh carrot greens

Fresh carrot greens

Tips on Seed Production

As we mentioned before, most root vegetables are biennials and require a period of cold and dormancy before they will flower and produce seeds. This is called cold vernalization, and most store-bought carrots will have undergone this during storage. Freshly harvested biennial root vegetables can be vernalized in the fridge for several weeks to several months, depending on the type of root you are cultivating.

Choose locally grown carrots as these will be better suited to your particular growing conditions. Again, a farmer’s market is a great place to start, and ask the farmer which variety they grow. Here is another article that discusses some common carrot varieties. For us in western Canada, most carrots in grocery stores are longer season Imperator carrots shipped in from California which are not ideal for our short Zone 2b growing season.

Another disadvantage of store-bought carrots is they are likely hybrids, which means the seeds they produce might not be true to form, and you could end with a different variety altogether that has undesirable characteristics.

Pollination is also important to consider when growing your root scraps for seeds. Indoor plants need to be moved outside during flowering so pollinators can do their work. Have about 10 plants of similar varieties to ensure good pollination with desirable results. If you are growing tops from several different varieties, the plants will cross-pollinate and you will get a new, and possibly unusual, cultivar. Alternatively, you can pollinate the flowers by hand. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as gently rubbing the palm of your hand over the flowers (the recommended method for carrots and parsnips), shaking the plant, or using a small paintbrush and move pollen from one flower to the other.

Regrowing Kitchen Scraps for Food and the Environment

Growing food from kitchen scraps is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint and become more self-sufficient. Regrowing root vegetables is easy and a great project to do with kids. On top of that, the leaves are healthy and very versatile in the kitchen.

Let’s make the most of our kitchen scraps and give them another purpose before they end up in the compost bin.

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.

© 2021 Bellwether Farming

Comments

Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on August 19, 2021:

Thanks for the encouragement, Peggy Woods. It is really amazing how many vegetables will regrow. We were hoping to write future articles about other vegetables you can grow from scraps and we will definitely include onions.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 17, 2021:

This is an interesting article about growing food from scraps. About the only thing that I regularly replant is table onions. New ones grow if you plant the bottom of the green onion with the roots. I usually keep about a half inch of it to replant. Thanks for sharing this information with us!

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