Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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Just because you don't have a garden, doesn't mean you can't make the move towards growing your own food. Even if you don't have a patch of dirt to call your own, you can still grow vegetables with one other ingredient: water.
To grow vegetables in only water, you can grow them from kitchen scraps, or you can grow hydroponically. Many vegetable kitchen scraps will regrow when put in water, but it is important to know that they will not grow back into a plant as large or as impressive as the mother plant. Hydroponic gardening is where you start seeds in a growing medium. This growing medium is placed in a nutrient solution that feeds the plant and helps it grow.
A plant needs soil and water to grow. Or does it? Below, we will look at how to remove soil from the equation and grow your vegetables in water.
Read Next: How big to make your vegetable garden.
Water is vital to the life of a plant. Water makes up approximately 90% of a plant. One of the main functions of water in growing plants is a process called transpiration, where water carries nutrients from the roots to the plant's tissues. The water is finally evaporated into the atmosphere through the leaves and the nutrients remain in the plant and help it grow. Another important part that water plays in a plants life, is that a plant cannot synthesis food via photosynthesis with water.
If you are trying to save water, grab our best 11 tips to grow vegetables in a drought.
In most situations, soil is also essential to a growing plant. Soil anchors the plant's roots. Soil also stores water, air, and nutrients so the plant's roots can absorb them from the soil.
It is impossible to grow vegetables with water. However, you can grow vegetables without soil by finding alternative ways to anchor their roots and provide nutrients. Let's look at how to do that by:
To grow vegetables from scraps in water, you reuse "garbage" from your kitchen and allow the vegetables to continue their life cycle that we interrupted when we harvested them. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation circulating about what actually grows when you grow kitchen scraps. You cannot grow a carrot from a carrot top. When you regrow lettuce or cabbage, it will not be as big and hearty as the original vegetable, but you will get small edible greens.
Also, it is important to know that these scraps will not continue to regrow indefinitely. This plan has already been pulled out of its growing environment and most of the plant or root has been removed and eaten. It is a wonder of nature that what is left after all of this can still continue to grow, but we should not expect a miracle cornucopia. Eventually, usually after 3 or 4 regrows, the plant the will have used up all of its available nutrients, and it is time to add it to the compost bin to continue to give to the next year's garden.
Growing vegetables from scraps in water is really easy. In most cases, you simply put the scrap into water and nature does the rest.
When growing kitchen scraps, you don't need soil to anchor the plant's roots because the plant is already established and does not rely on the roots for stability. In most cases, the cutting will send out new roots from the plant stem into the water, and these new roots will absorb water and carry nutrients through the plant. Here are the vegetables that are most successfully grown in water.
Image by Joy
Onions are probably the easiest vegetable to regrow from scraps. You can use green onions (or scallions), leeks, or the root base of a bulb onion. In any case, your scrap will quickly regrow and produce more onion greens. You can read my other article here about cultivating onions from cuttings .
Lettuce, bok choi, and cabbage scraps all regrow very nicely in water. When you are cutting these vegetables for dinner, leave 3cm to 5cm (1-2inches) of leaves still attached to the root end of the vegetable. Stand the vegetable cutting root side down in a small bowl or glass, and add water so about half of the cutting is submerged. In a few days, the plant will start to send roots into the water, and leaves will start to grow from the top. You can also stick three or four toothpicks into the side of the root base and suspend the vegetable scrap over a glass filled with water.
To harvest, simply wait until the leaves are the desired size, cut or break them off and enjoy.
Celery is regrown the same way as greens. When choosing a celery scrap to regrow, make sure that the core is not too dense on the celery, otherwise, new stalks will not develop.
Root crops, such as carrots, beets, parsnips, and turnips, will also continue to grow when you place their tops in water. However, it is very important to know that they will not be able to harvest another vegetable (a carrot top does not grow into a new carrot). Instead, roots will grow in the water, and the greens will grow from the top. Most of these tops can be eaten with the exception of parsnip tops , and all of these green leafy plants will produce seeds if left long enough. You can harvest these seeds and plant them in your garden.
Here is an article that shows 5 different ways to regrow root tops . This article demonstrates with a carrot top, but the same methods can be used for any root vegetable.
Hydroponic gardening is the method of growing plants in water. The topic of hydroponics is far too big to completely cover here, but let's talk about the basics of hydroponic gardening and its benefits.
Image by J Wynia
While a hydroponic garden does not use any soil, the plants still require something to hold and anchor their roots. In a hydroponic garden, seeds are started in a growing medium, such as a seed plug, or coco coir. Here is a link to a page that details the different growing mediums you can use.
The seeds are cultivated until they have sufficiently developed roots and leaves. When the seedlings are big enough, nutrient solutions such as this one are added to the water to feed the plant as it grows. If you want your hydroponic garden to be more self-sufficient, there are many ways you can make your own solution, though it will take more work and dedicated care to make sure your plants are getting what they need.
There are many different ways set up a hydroponic system . Most of these systems can be built at home easily and for quite cheap. Pre-built systems are also readily available online, and many started sets can be acquired for a reasonable price.
Every vegetable in a hydroponic system has different growing requirements. You can see the drastic differences needed to grow hydroponic carrots as opposed to what spinach needs in the hydroponic garden .
Whether you grow scraps in water or hydroponically, don't let your garden be limited by the soil you do, or do not, have. Self-sufficiency is about being less reliant on the outside world, and that includes growing your own food. A small hydroponic garden in your house can produce a lot of food all year round, and one small lettuce head regrowing on your kitchen counter means one more meal you have grown for yourself.
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