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Growing Food from Scraps

Age range: 8-14
Time: 30 minutes
Materials cost: free


  • Vegetable scraps*
  • Kitchen knife
  • Cutting board
  • Cup or bowl
  • Water
  • Toothpicks
  • Flower pot
  • Potting soil
  • Warm, sunny place

*Several kinds of vegetable scraps can be used. You can use the eye of a potato; the roots of celery, green onions, or leeks; or the leafy tops of carrots or radishes.

Step-by-step Instructions:

Follow the instructions written here or check out our video instructions opens in a new window.

Tubers: potato, sweet potato

  1. Find a potato with protruding sprouts.
  2. Slice off a sprout and place it cut side down in a shallow dish of water.

Potato sprout

  1. Leave the dish in a sunny place, like a windowsill, until leaves develop on the stems and white roots form on the bottom. Change the water every few days. Warning: potato leaves are toxic when eaten. Keep them out of reach of young children or pets who may be tempted to eat them.

Bowl with potato sprouts with leaves

  1. After roots develop, you can break the potato into pieces and plant them in soil to grow new potato plants. You will have new potatoes in about three months.

Root: celery, lettuce

  1. Remove the outer leaves, leaving the brown base and some of the leaves in the center. This will protect the area where new leaves sprout and allow the plant to photosynthesize. (Romaine, green leaf, and other similar lettuces work well.)

Hand holding celery

  1. Place the bottom of your plant in a bowl or cup of water. Make sure the bottom edge is submerged. Change the water and rinse the container every other day until roots form on the bottom of the plant.
  2. Once roots form, plant the roots in soil.

Top Cuttings: carrot, radish

  1. Cut off the top, leaving the greens (if present) and a bit of the vegetable behind.

Hand holding top of cut radish

  1. Place the cutting in a shallow dish of water and leave it in a warm, sunny place. Change the water every few days until you see roots sprouting.
  2. Plant the cutting in soil and watch it grow. Depending on growing conditions, radishes will take about a month to regrow; carrots will take two to three months to regrow.

Bottom Cuttings: green onion, leek

  1. Cut off the white part at the bottom, leaving the roots intact.

Hands holding green onion with roots

  1. Place the cuttings in a glass of water and leave in a warm, sunny place. Change the water every few days. The leaves will grow back quickly.
  2. If you notice the roots getting slimy, gently clean them off. It is not necessary to plant these cuttings in soil, but you can.

What’s happening?

Most people know that you can grow plants from seeds, and you can find seeds in foods like tomatoes and bell peppers. But there are other parts of plants you can use, like pits, stems, and roots. Regrowing plants from these parts is called vegetative propagation, and it’s often easy to do at home!

Just as animals require food to grow, so do plants. Unlike animals, plants can make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. In photosynthesis, plants use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars (and the oxygen we breathe). The plant can then use these sugars to fuel growth or store them for later. When your onions or potatoes start to grow leaves, they’re using stored sugars to fuel that growth–that’s why old potatoes shrivel up when they start to sprout. Once the leaves grow in, the plants can collect energy from the sun and the photosynthesis process can begin again.