Growing food from supermarket scraps: update

Following my previous post on saving seeds from supermarket vegetables, I’ve decided to post an update. This week we have actually harvested the first tomatoes we’ve planted from seeds which came from a supermarket tomato. They sprouted and grew fast into little bushes which produced plenty of cherry tomatoes – which, though they didn’t exactly resemble the mother plant, were highly edible.

supermarketcherries

Our melons, too, are ripening fast, though we haven’t actually tasted one yet. These were grown from seeds we had saved from an especially delicious store-bought melon, and kept for about two years.

growingmelon

Bottom line: it is possible to save seeds from supermarket vegetables, though a reputable seed company will give you better reliability and variety, and higher germination rates.

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Supermarket seeds: grow fresh food from store-bought produce

Not long ago, my husband brought home a packet of coriander (cilantro) seeds from the store. They are great in soups, stews and many other dishes. Then, by a stroke of inspiration, he said, “hey, why don’t we try to make them grow?”

I wasn’t sure the seeds were viable, but we had nothing to lose, right? I tried to plant a few and, while only about 30% germinated, it was alright by me as we had so many and bought them so cheaply. A tiny packet of planting seeds would have cost us a lot more (yes, even taking into account the low germination rate).

Below, you can see one of the new coriander plants grown from these seeds. The other plants in the photos – cherry tomatoes, peppers, melons and beans – were likewise grown from supermarket produce.

All these wonderful plants were grown from scraps most people toss into the garbage without a second thought. 

There’s no doubt it’s always better to purchase high-quality seeds from a reputable company. This way you know exactly what you’re getting and the germination rate, with proper handling, is high. Supermarket vegetables are often hybrids, so saving and planting seeds from them can have unpredictable results. But I still think supermarket-produce seeds deserve a chance. They are very cheap, readily available, and most likely you already have some on hand. There’s certainly no loss (except for a little work and some garden space) in trying, and it can be a fun experiment.

I haven’t actually collected a harvest from these supermarket-originated plants yet, but when I do, I plan to write a follow-up post and tell you whether the produce was any good and how much it resembled the mother plant.

Collecting dew: another step in water conservation

There’s a lot of talk about collecting rainwater as a frugal and ecology-conscious way to reduce water waste, and that’s certainly a good thing and a project we hope to take up in the future. I do have to say, though, that in Israel we don’t get any rain to speak of approximately from May to October. What we can do in the summer months, without any special equipment, is collect dew.

Our system is simple. We have a plastic awning at the entrance to our home, and when I step out early in the morning I can see puddles of water around it. By placing buckets in strategic locations, and then combining their contents, we get roughly a bucket of clean water every day this way. We primarily use it in the garden, but if we used cleaner containers I wouldn’t hesitate to drink it. It’s easy, useful, doesn’t cost anything and could turn out very important in a survival situation. I expect we could harvest a lot more water if we set up a water catchment system all around our roof, too.

The dew we collect is used daily to water our garden. Our peppers already look very promising!

I have noticed that dew is especially abundant when a cool, quiet night follows a hot day. We have many such nights during the summer, as we live up in the hills and usually experience very pleasant temperatures once the sun sets. In Israel, and in other countries with an arid climate, dew collection can be done on a larger scale and play an important role in water conservation.

Gardening in hot, dry climates

cherryseedlings

I am always filled with admiration whenever I read about homesteaders up north, with their short growing seasons, long winters, early frosts and heaps of snow many months out of a year. I sometimes feel like a softie for living in a country where the land never freezes and we get a light snow maybe once every winter.

However, gardening in a hot, dry climate – often with water shortages – comes with its own set of challenges. We don’t get any rain for approximately six months out of a year – usually from May to October. A heat wave, if not properly managed, can kill plants as surely as a hard frost. Here is what my husband and I do to make our gardening venture successful.

Plant what grows well locally. This is true for every climate, of course. I would really love, for example, to grow some bush berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries – but it’s simply too hot for them here to grow and produce well. On the other hand, grapes thrive in our climate and produce superb fruit, so we have six young vines which, we hope, will start yielding next year.

In my vegetable garden, the tomato, pepper and melon plants are enjoying the heat, and herbs such as mint, sage and rosemary grow prolifically year-round.

Conserve water. Even when water isn’t scarce, it is expensive, and we must carefully evaluate every drop we put into the garden. We have a drip irrigation system for our trees, and love it. It saves us work, conserves water and is very efficient. In our vegetable garden, mulching and planting in partially shaded areas (still, however, giving the plants enough sun to thrive) help save water as well.

Many local-growing trees – such as grapes, figs, pomegranates, almonds and olives – require very little watering once they are mature and have a well-developed root system. It’s wise to take this into account when choosing what to plant.

We don’t have a lawn – keeping one just wouldn’t be sustainable – and we steer clear of tropical plants that require extensive watering, such as hibiscus or bananas.

Stay indoors during the hottest hours. In the long, hot days of summer we do all our garden work – watering, weeding, pruning, and so on – in the early morning or in the evening, before or shortly after sunset. We put in new plants in the evening, just before nightfall, to give them the best chance to survive the trauma of transplantation. This way, we avoid the health hazards of sun exposure. When we do have to spend some time outside around midday, we minimize damage by applying sunscreen and wearing wide-brimmed hats.

Keep an emergency water source. In our area we frequently experience water shortages during the summer. You can imagine what I felt one morning, as I went out to water the garden and discovered that the hose just isn’t running. It was an extremely hot day and, if the water flow hadn’t returned in a few hours, all of our plants would have died. We are wiser now. We have a large fish tank outside (for eco-friendly mosquito control), and we can partially empty it for emergency watering if need arises.

Protect young plants. I start many plants from seed indoors, because it’s hard to keep the soil outside moist enough for the seeds to germinate. A few weeks ago, when I transplanted my tomato and pepper seedlings outside, I knew the harsh midday sun might kill them, so during the first days I shaded the plants from noon until about 3 P.M. I did it simply by putting a wire cage over the seedlings, then pulling an old sheet over the wire and holding it down with rocks. It worked well and the plants thrived. The need for this is eliminated once the plants get hardened up a bit, in about a week or so.

On the brighter side: We do have advantages we are thankful for. In our warm climate, we can garden practically year-round, even without a greenhouse. After our summer garden is done and the cool rainy season kicks in, I plan a fall garden of greens, garlic and brassicas. Any winter frosts we might have are usually light, and most likely I will be able to protect my small garden by covering the plants.

Bottom line: in gardening, like in so much else in life, it’s pays off to play to our strengths. Wherever you live, there are plants that grow well in your area and can provide you with a beautiful, functional, easy-to-keep garden.

 

 

Garden update

As we’re just starting out (with baby steps) on our gardening journey, we aren’t expecting an outstanding harvest from the garden this season. So far, it’s more of a learning experience for us – we want to find out what grows well in our area, what works, what doesn’t, how to deal with pests, how often and how much to water, etc. And of course, we’re having a lot of fun – and learning loads – along the way.

We have very heavy, dense clay soil, so we splurged and bought some bags of garden soil which is lovely, but expensive. In the meantime, I have started a compost pile using kitchen scraps, garden clippings and manure from the chicken coop. It’s small, but I’m adding to it constantly and hope that in a few months, it will provide us with some valuable fertilizer. I know I should probably water and turn it more often, but hey, it’s organic material. It will break down, right?

We also have tons of rocks, so clearing even a bit of space for planting involves lots of rock-picking. I’ve utilized some of the larger, prettier ones for garden beds, as you can see below.

tomatobed

My little cherry tomato and pepper seedlings are now outside, and growing like weeds with plenty of water and sunshine. I do provide shade for them during the hottest hours of the day, from about midday till 3 PM. I do it simply by pulling an old sheet over their wire cages (I put the cages in to discourage cats and chickens from digging around the plants) and holding it down with rocks. I expect the need for that will be over once the plants mature a bit and put in deeper roots.

Our pepper plants (thriving and putting out flowers!), cherry tomato seedlings, and sage. 

We’ve also planted more herbs: sage, rosemary and spearmint. I love the smell of mint when I water it at the end of a long, hot day. And I have some coriander started in pots. We use a lot of coriander in cooking and it loses its freshness very quickly, so it’s really something that pays off to grow ourselves.

Gardening is more enjoyable than I ever thought it would be!

Chicks, seedlings and useful reading

Here is one of our newest chicks, hatched this week. Our current resident rooster is a Black Brahma, so we get a lot of black chicks with cute-looking feathered legs. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Black Brahma hen (I’d love to get one, so we can have pure-bred chicks), but in the meantime I’m hoping to get good birds from crossing the Black Brahma with our best hen, a mixed New Hampshire (I think). She’s a nice big brown hen and gives us plenty of big brown eggs. So hopefully I can get some pullets who will be beautiful, good-sized, and good layers.

brahmacross

Black Brahma cross chick held by Shira (7 years old)

seedlings

Above you can see a mixed tray of cherry tomato, pepper and melon seedlings. I realize it’s rather late in the season to have seedlings indoors, but I’m counting on the long, warm days we usually have well into October and even November. Either way, I have nothing to lose, right? The tomatoes, peppers and herbs we already have planted outside seem to be doing nicely. We’ll see how they fare and whether we get any produce by the end of the season. I can hardly wait.

In my spare time (ha ha) I’m catching up on a bit of useful reading. My current read is The Backyard Homestead, and I must say I’m greatly enjoying it. It has everything outlined in such a clear, straightforward way – gardening, raising small livestock, useful landscaping – and it really showed me that, rather than wish we had more land (which of course would be nice), we should instead work towards making the best of what we do have – and I know that, being creative, we can do much, much more.

Getting into gardening

A combination of several factors has prevented us from doing any serious gardening until now. There’s the fact that in our eight years of marriage, my husband and I moved four times (and gardening does go better with permanent residence in one place); then there was always something, such as being pregnant, or having a new baby, or keeping garden-destructive livestock such as chickens and goats, or it being the Sabbatical year (which, for Jews living in Israel, means you can’t plant in soil – only in containers).

Of course some of it, let’s face it, was just plain lack of motivation. More determined people would have invested in sturdy fences and large containers they can take with them when they move. However, in the past months we really felt ready and willing to finally start gardening seriously and diligently, and there was only one thing that stopped us.

To put it simply, our neighbors had goats. Now, we have kept goats in the past, and we know these animals are clever, nimble and extremely difficult to contain. However, we also believe it is the responsibility of the owner to prevent his livestock from becoming a nuisance to his neighbors. So we talked, we explained, and we pleaded… and all we got in return were some pretty lame excuses. To top it all off, at night I would hear our neighbor sneak off and let his goats out. He wanted the benefit of pasture for his animals without the responsibility of controlling them.

Luckily for us, we weren’t the only people annoyed by having their fruit trees repeatedly eaten down to the ground. After several neighbors lobbied together, the goat owner gave in and the offending goats were sold. I felt as though I could dance.

So we recently started a small garden, which we plan to expand in time, once we get a little more practice. We’re hopeful and really happy to watch our plants grow without being eaten. Here you can see a climbing tomato plant, a patch of mint that is really thriving, some flowers and some lemon balm.

 

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