San Diego Floral Association
From The Archives of California Garden
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January/February 2011, Volume 102 No. 1
There is a surprise behind the title of this article. While this goal is not mentioned, the piece offers another means for helping children connect with natural food sources and gardening, but has appeal for everyone who has not tried “after-dinner” propagation.
–Nancy Carol Carter
By Dewey Debutts Thaisz
[“After-dinner gardening” means saving seeds from the food you have just eaten] and planting them to yield inexpensive and rewarding indoor or outdoor plants.
Not many of us even think about the scores of free indoor plants we throw away in one month. Everyone knows that the delicious avocado contains a seed that readily grows into a lush, green, long-leaved tree suitable for the most fastidious home décor. But the indoor gardener with a sense of adventure, a little patience and a hearty inquisitive appetite can grow a large collection of plants from the seeds and shoots of pineapples, carrots, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, kiwi fruit, dates, grapes, bananas, and the entire citrus family; not to mention less common supermarket items such as sugar cane, pomegranates, loquats, litchi nuts, mangoes, and many more. Let us consider just a few of the interesting meal tidbits that can be turned into indoor garden plants.
The next time you buy grapes save the seeds [and plant] in a mix of sterile soil. Give the seeds several weeks to germinate, stakes to climb on, and you will have 10-foot plants the first season. They climb quickly and gracefully and can be trained to edge the window frame with a green leafy border. Most indoor plants bear little or no fruit due to their confinement in pots and the indoor environment, so do not expect to be bottling your own wine unless you transfer your grape plants to a warm outdoor garden in full sun.
The pineapple, which is both attractive and unusual, is another easy plant for the after-dinner garden. Select a pineapple with a full crown from the produce department. Lop the crown off, leaving about 1 inch of the fruit and plant the vegetative portion in a shallow pot containing acidic soil. Coffee grounds supply the acid necessary in a mixture of three-fourths packaged soil and one-fourth used coffee grounds. The pineapple is in the bromeliad family, which has a minimal root system, and in the wild takes most of its nourishment from the air through its leaves. However, container grown plants need to be fertilized frequently. Drench the entire plant with one-half strength fertilizer. Water only when the plant gets good and dry; then give it a good drenching. When firmly rooted, new shoots or aerial suckers appear on the parent plant. After about six new leaves have developed, the new growth may be removed to start a new plant.
Another unusual indoor plant is the papaya, reputed to be one of the easiest of all tropical plants to grow. The fruit contains hundreds of seeds, each wrapped with an aril, or its own blanket, to preserve it from deterioration until conditions are proper for germinating. Remove the aril by rubbing a handful of seeds on a screen under running water or squeezing the seeds slightly off center between the fingers to make the seed pop out of its container. The latter method slightly resembles the technique used to “shoot” watermelon seeds at an unsuspecting target.
After the aril has been removed by the method of your choice, place the seeds in a shallow pan on partially soaked cheesecloth and cover the pan with plastic food wrap. The seeds will start sprouting in one to six weeks and should be transferred immediately to a clay pot with a rich, loose soil. The fine roots are very sensitive to standing water and will rot within 48 hours, so a loose, fast draining soil in a porous clay pot to improve aeration has proven to work best. Give the seedling papaya no more than one hour of direct sunlight a day but lots of diffused light. After it reaches about 3 inches in height, it requires an exceptional amount of direct sunlight.
. . . From these few examples, you can see that after-dinner gardening is a rewarding and economical way to turn kitchen wastes into a living room conversation piece. Start now to plant those seeds that you normally throw away. You will soon have an after-dinner garden that you and your friends will enjoy.
Illustration by Marj Mastro
Mission: To promote the knowledge and appreciation of horticulture and floriculture in the San Diego region.