Gardening: Plants from the pantry

By Justin Newcombe

You can grow new crops just from what you find in the fridge or pantry, writes Justin Newcombe.

Potatoes are great for replanting, but, make sure you choose ones that are as blemish-free as possible to eliminate the problem of blight. Photo / Richard Robinson
Potatoes are great for replanting, but, make sure you choose ones that are as blemish-free as possible to eliminate the problem of blight. Photo / Richard Robinson

Many times I have gone through the produce drawer to find things living in there. I don't mean furry friends with long tails and pointy teeth - although from time to time I have had a gourmand in residence who fits that description. One poor furry soul loaded up on bread, was too fat to escape through the hole from whence it came and died with its head jammed between the skirting and the wall. Aah, the perils of carb-loading. I unfortunately didn't notice for some months, although I did notice the smell - which at the time I believed was some weird south American bark tincture my flatmate was cooking (this was with good reason).

I digress. The sorts of things I'm thinking of here are more along the lines of vegetables and fruits. By living I don't mean supporting other forms of life like a bacterial swamp of mould. I mean living entities in their own right, or at the very least things having the potential to create new and fresh versions of what they once were. This is a gardening column, after all.

The obvious one is the potato. I have been given all sorts of reasons why I shouldn't plant spuds that sprout in the bottom of the drawer but the biggest one is blight. Blight is a very hard situation to retrieve once it is established. You need to be sure that the potatoes you use as seed are as blemish-free as possible. If there is any doubt, then pick up a bag of potting mix next time you're at Bunnings, cut a half dozen slits in the side and plant your rogue tubers straight into the bag. That way, if by chance they misbehave, you can remove all plant material including the bag of soil from the property. The mushy white spuds seem to be the worst but the heirloom varieties are a lot more durable to combat blight. I now plant all my potatoes in trenches lined with milk powder, then dress the rows every couple of weeks or so. Any foliage blemishes are sprayed with milk and water.

Kumara is another plant that survives at the bottom of the produce drawer and is a lot less problematic. The suckers from a tuber can be removed and planted in late spring. Kumara is a lot less hassle than potatoes as far as pests and disease are concerned, so they are a good option if you are currently struggling with blight. You will grow just as many calories per square foot as you do with potatoes.

Garlic is something which is also a good bet to transfer from the shopping trolley to the garden. Make sure it is New Zealand garlic, not imported, as this seed material will do best in New Zealand conditions and is generally a bigger, healthier proposition anyhow. Bigger cloves give a better crop but by spending more time feeding and weeding smaller cloves you can get a good result.

And finally, in your vege bin clean-out, some veges are good as a seed source, like many of the cucurbit family including pumpkin. But be aware that many of your favourites may disappointingly not be true to seed, in which case they can be consigned to the compost.

- NZ Herald

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