A lot of people probably don’t realise, or at least don’t stop to consider, that when they buy fresh fruit and vegetables, they are often buying the means to generate more fresh fruit and vegetables. Every time you spit out pips of any fruit you eat, you are probably throwing away the means to grow whatever fruit is your fancy. Of course, most commercial fruit comes from carefully selected varieties, nursery propagated by grafting a well known variety on to disease resistant rootstock to grow in a large plantation which will produce uniform fruit of consistent quality under well known conditions at a predictable time of year. Any seed grown from such fruit will not be exactly the same, due to the wonders of sexual reproduction, and resulting natural genetic recombination. But then, why does that matter?
If you want a well known variety of fruit, and you can grow it in your garden, chances are it will be cheapest in the shops when your tree is laden with fruit. That’s how the market works. But if you have a tree in your garden that has different fruit to any other tree in the world, which is quite conceivable, then nobody else will have it for sale. Sure, it won’t be much different; after all, if you save a seed from an orchard grown fruit which was surrounded by genetically identical trees when it flowered, the gene pool is small to begin with. But every now and then, random recombination combined with natural variation means something new and unusual will spring forth. It may have a different flavour, or colour, or more disease resistance, or better nutritional content, or prettier flowers, or larger fruit, or any other possible variation. The world renowned Granny Smith apple, for example, came from a seedling out of a compost heap in country New South Wales. And if you do get something worth spreading around, you obviously have the right to immortalise yourself, though I don’t think Maria Anne Smith referred to herself as “Granny”.
Some fruit produce seeds that are poly-embryonic, meaning they are capable of growing more than one plant from each seed. In the case of Citrus species, one of the embryos is asexual, meaning it’s a clone of the parent plant, along with one or two “normal” embryos. I used to peel the seed coat off citrus pips and stick them in my mum’s indoor plants. They usually grew, but I never took it further than germinating them as a kid. There’s no way of knowing which of the seedlings is the clone, obviously, until they fruit, or you have a genetics lab handy. And seedling trees take longer to fruit than grafted, nursery propagated fruit trees, possibly up to seven years, as compared to two or three. But seedlings are free, and if after a few years waiting the fruit turns out to be not to your liking, you can always graft on something you do like. Even commercial trees have this done as consumer tastes change.
Okay, so fruits are all good, but what about vegetables? In some cases, they are fruit anyway. Tomato, Pumpkin, Melon, Capsicum and Chilli seeds are easy to identify for example, and Eggplant too, though the seeds are a little harder to extract. But often we actually buy whole or almost whole plants. The onion family is the best example of this. Onion and garlic bulbs are basically dormant plants. Each individual clove of garlic is capable of producing a whole bulb of garlic if you stick it back in the ground. Just look for clove that are already starting to push out a leaf, and bury them pointy end up, just below the soil surface. Onions will regrow if planted, though not as deeply, and they usually just flower, which gives you a seed supply at least. Onions that have divided into separate bulbs may be able to become multiplier onions, this is where Shallots originally came from.
Leeks are also a whole plant, though they are usually trimmed of excess leaves and roots before they arrive at the market. But you can use the leek as normal in the kitchen, and then replant just the base, which will re-grow. Again, you may only end up with a flowering stalk, but they do look attractive, like pink pom-poms, and again, you will be able to collect plenty of seeds. Pretty much anything that comes with a root attached, for example bunched herbs, can be replanted and grown again, though the shock of harvest and transport may mean they simply flower quickly and produce seeds. But you may get some foliage, which is what you want from herbs, and at the very least you will get seeds.
Whole bunches of celery can also be a source of planting material. I usually pull off the large outside stalks of celery until the pale, tiny leave in the centre are all that’s left attached to the base of the plant. That base can be planted either in the garden or in a pot, and will grow new leaves and roots, which may either be harvested, or left to produce seed for next year.
These are just a few examples of how your grocery basket can be a way of filling up your food garden as well as your fridge. If something looks like it will grow, give it a try, you never know your luck. I am currently eyeing a pineapple top in my compost bin. I will get back to you…