How to grow celery, tomatoes, ginger and pineapples from kitchen scraps

Don't discard pineapple crowns; plant them! Don't discard pineapple crowns; plant them! Photo Credit: Justine Damiano

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print ...

It's the dead of winter and there's nothing that can be grown outside, so naturally this is the time of year when I get a little bored.

I flip through the garden catalogs that are arriving daily, highlighter in hand, and dog ear the corners. Who am I kidding? There isn't even enough space for another blade of grass in my garden, but, yes, I'll order the new Tuff Stuff reblooming mountain hydrangea. And a Peach Cobbler Buddleia. And a Clematis Piilu. I'll make it work.

And when I'm done dreaming and planning, I'll get creative. I'll clip some bright red stems from my red-twig dogwoods and bring them inside. In a vase of water, they'll sprout leaves; in a dry vase, their color will mellow and they'll add a high-end decorator touch that would cost a pretty penny if purchased on the retail level.

Next month, I'll bring in some forsythia stems and force them to bloom in water and feel like it's spring. In March, I'll do the same with lilacs, and their sweet scent will fill the dining room. And when I get really bored, I'll think about what I can grow from my kitchen scraps this spring, without the trouble of seeds or the expense of starter plants.

DO-IT-YOURSELF PROJECTS

1. JUST PLANT THE WHOLE TOMATO!

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If you've ever grown tomatoes, chances are you've left a fallen fruit on the ground and forgotten about it as it decomposed and seemingly disappeared. Then you were surprised when a couple of tomato plants magically appeared in the garden the following spring. The compost pile sometimes breeds similar volunteers, especially if left uncovered and unturned. So why not bury a few whole tomatoes next fall? There will be no seed starting indoors and you'll save money. If you're growing heirloom varieties, next year's tomatoes will be the same; if you grow hybrids, you'll be in for a surprise. Just weed out the weakest plants to ensure proper spacing in the vegetable patch.

2. TURN CELERY SCRAPS INTO CELERY

This spring, when you're making soup or a salad, save the bottom end of a celery stalk. Trim off the very bottom and soak it in lukewarm water for 8 hours or overnight. Then bury it under an inch of soil, cut-stalk side up. Water it and wait a week or two, and a plant will begin to grow.

3. PLANT GINGER

The part you scrape and slice is actually a rhizome, which grows underground. Soak a few plump, healthy ones in warm water overnight, then bury with the eyes, or buds, facing up in rich soil (amended with slow-release fertilizer or compost) in a shady spot. Cover by an inch and keep moist, but not soggy. You can also plant ginger in pots, with three rhizomes to a 14-inch container. Dig up in fall, after the leaves have died back.

4. GROW A PINEAPPLE

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You don't have to wait until spring to start growing a pineapple plant, though this project will require patience. Cut the leafy crown off the top of a fruit, keeping the knife blade as close to the crown as possible. Wait about a week, allowing it to dry at room temperature -- fleshy end up -- until the cut end hardens. Place it on top of a container filled with a mixture of 70 percent light soil or potting mix and 30 percent compost. Twist it in the soil, pressing down gently, to cover the crown slightly, but don't get any soil in the leaves. The top of the crown and the leaves should stick out of the mix so it appears you've buried an entire pineapple and left the top inch or so exposed, with the leaves attached. Place in a sunny indoor spot. Water every week and fertilize every four months with ordinary houseplant food.

In about 18 months the plant should sprout a red cone at the top. It will be followed by rows of blue flowers -- the precursors of fruit. The pineapple should appear around months 18 to 22. Allow the fruit to remain on the plant for a minimum of six months. When it's a rich golden color, it'll be time to cut it off and dig in. Your plant will be shot, but you can start all over with the crown from your home-grown fruit.

Have you grown plants from kitchen scraps? Send details to me at jessica.damiano@newsday.com. Include your name and hometown, and I'll publish a selection of your tips in a future column.

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