The Garden Gate: Recycle seeds, pits for a potential treat

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By Ellen Probert Williamson
Have you ever tried garbage gardening? All kinds of nice little plants can be started from kitchen discards. Call it a form of recycling.

Citrus seeds are easy to grow. Grapefruit or lemon seeds sprout fairly quickly and grow into small plants with glossy leaves and then into little trees.

It takes at least five years for them to produce any fruit.

Most of us have tried at one time or another to grow citrus or avocado trees from seeds, but a banana tree might seem a little more ambitious. Bananas and pineapples make decorative house plants and, with luck and patience, will produce edible fruit.

It is really surprising that bananas seem to have escaped notice as houseplants. They are fast growers, with leaves anywhere from 1 to 3 feet long and deep forest green, sometimes edged with red.

When you have a flourishing banana plant, new leaves may emerge at the rate of 6 inches a day or even more, during the growing season. That is almost alarmingly fast, but should delight the impatient grower.

Small banana seedlings can be obtained from some nurseries or acquired on a vacation trip to the tropics.

Each banana plant has only one flower during its lifetime. The flower bud, usually a dull purple and nearly a foot long, forms at the end of a long stalk which hangs down among the leaves. The fruits grow upward from this stalk above the terminal bud.

The bananas we find in the grocery store are usually the species called paradisiaca. There are several other varieties with smaller fruit, including the tiny dwarf cavendish and the large cavendish, whose fruits taste like ice cream.

Banana plants need large pots and frequent fertilizing because they grow so fast. They also need plenty of water. They grow well in sunlight or in artificial light indoors, and in variable temperatures.

If you have enough space on your patio or indoors for generous-sized containers, you might try raising a pineapple. Its exotic foliage will add a dramatic touch and, if you are patient, will be the other side of the coin from growing bananas.

A large red bud will appear after several months. This is an amazing collection of more than 100 tiny flowers. Beginning at the bottom, they bloom one by one for only one day, but each one develops into a small segment of the fruit.

Pineapples are easy to grow. The next time you prepare a pineapple for the table, slice off the leafy top with about 2 inches of the fruit still attached. Scoop the meaty part out with a spoon, being careful not to bruise the tough little stem in the center.

Be sure your pot has plenty of drainage, and mix some potting soil with some peat moss and a little charcoal. Plant the pineapple top just deeply enough to cover the skin, but leave the leaves exposed. Put it in a draft-free, sunny spot and water it daily from the bottom.

Grape seeds sprinkled on a pot of soil and covered lightly with more soil will quickly sprout and grow into handsome leafy vines that can be trained around the outside a window frame or along the framework of a porch. Young plants need a stake of some kind to climb on, but older plants will manage with a string. Grapes have to grow up. If they are left to droop and hang down, they give up and stop growing.

Carrot and turnip tops can produce very pretty feathery foliage, and potatoes and sweet potatoes will quickly produce trailing vines that can be trained on strings or fence posts.

One local garbage grower points with pride to her coffee tree which she started as a tiny seedling purchased at the supermarket for 25 cents. It is now 7 feet tall and produces fragrant flowers and coffee beans annually.

Herbs are wonderful windowsill plants. A sprig of any of the mints can be easily rooted in water and planted. Basil is a mint which has an amazing history. It had a bad reputation in ancient European times. It was thought that mint had the power to raise scorpions in one’s brain, and that it would grow in your garden only if you swore at it at regular intervals.

But in India mint is sacred to Vishnu and Krishna. Hindu housewives use it to protect their houses. Its name derives from the word for king, as well as from the word for a mythical monster, the basilisk.

It was used in perfumes, medicines and as a flavoring for food. Peasant suitors in Italy wear a buttonhole sprig of basil to signify their intentions, and in Romania, it is given as a love token.

Aloes, too, are easy to root in water and grow. The little plants are hardy and need almost no attention. If you grow one on your kitchen windowsill, it is attractive and provides instant relief when the juice is squeezed on a sunburn, or on the result of an accidental encounter with your hot stove.

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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.