I planted popcorn the other day. That’s right, popcorn. The same stuff you put in a microwave or heat over a stove or dump into an air popper with the happy result of a big bowl of fluffy white stuff you pour salt over and maybe lots of butter and sit back in front of the TV with because you don’t want to mow the lawn today.
Popcorn grows just like regular white or yellow corn on slender green stalks with fine threads of golden silk leading to each kernel, a couple hundred of which are on a cob and surrounded by a husk you have to peel back and toss out. Only difference is the popcorn stalk is not as tall and the kernels are hard like rocks when you pick them and you can pop them on the stove that same day if you want. (Popcorn image)
But I didn’t buy any popcorn seeds from a plant nursery and doubt if they sell them anyway. Grocery stores sell popcorn in two pound bags for less than a dollar a pound which, if all of it were planted, would be the equivalent of the entire field in “Field of Dreams.” Every kernel of popcorn ought to spring to life if you put it in a bowl, cover it with a napkin or paper towel cut to fit and pour water over it.
That is the usual method I employ to start almost all the seeds obtained from my kitchen cupboard or vegetable crisper. Yes, you have a potential fruit and vegetable garden right in your very own home without buying a single packet of seeds from the nursery if you raid your spice rack and refrigerator rotter. That’s what my friend, Betty, used to call the vegetable drawer: The Rotter.
Of course, there are limitations to this cornucopia of seeds at your fingertips. For example, I cannot grow carrots or radishes in this manner and still must purchase the seeds if I want to harvest them later. However, if you take time to look, there is a large variety of potential plants ready to blossom right out of the kitchen.
Take the vegetable rotter, for example. Seeds from the cantaloupe, watermelon and almost all types of squash including acorn, summer and zucchini as well as citric seeds such as lemon, orange and grapefruit may all be reserved when you are about to eat the fruit. Dry the seeds for a season, plant outdoors in spring or sprout first, then plant.
The trick to reserving seeds which will sprout is to allow them to dry out at room temperature, not in an oven, for one season.
Every type of potato including russet, red and sweet will spring up as a leafy green plant from each unmolested eye planted in the earth. Chop a fresh potato into large pieces being careful not to damage the indentation commonly called an “eye,” and plant the pieces. However, I am told the leafy green tops are poisonous. Do not eat them. That is a caveat.
One of the best crops I ever grew was the Jerusalem artichoke which is nothing like an artichoke. It’s a tuber not a flowering thistle and you have to dig them up with a pitchfork like you would a potato. I bought some at the grocery and carefully removed protruding bulges when preparing them for salad. These cuttings were simply left in water. They grew roots, then stalks which I planted in terrible rocky red clay because that’s what I was working with at the time. They went nuts and provided an ingredient in many future salads.
Other whole uncooked seeds commonly found in the spice cabinet include anise, fennel, celery and cumin seeds. I have never been able to sprout a cardamom seed, an aromatic East Indian herb which I buy whole and add to the grind when I make coffee. Coffee beans, by the way, are dead. They have been roasted. Do not attempt to sprout them, it’s a waste of time. That is another caveat. Furthermore, I discovered that my oregano, dill and ginger were already ground to a fine powder when I bought them. Crushed or ground up seeds will not sprout either. But you knew that.
You can split a garlic into its many cloves and each will grow a whole new bulb. Onions, I suspect, will grow if you plant them, but they are already full grown when you buy them so what’s the point?
There are seedless grapes, but one thing I have never seen is a seedless apple. Every type of apple seed should sprout. Theoretically grape seeds will too, but I have never tried them.
One day I was at the grocery and there were lemon grass stalks for sale. Although I have had them in Thai cuisine, I have absolutely no idea how to cook them or what to do with one. Yet I bought four for seventy-five cents, took them home and put them in a wine carafe with water up to their hips and they sprouted roots two weeks later. Now I don’t have any idea what to do with them. Do they need special fertilizer or are they like rice which must be grown in water logged paddies? I don’t know.
With some exceptions, every whole bean from fava to black eyed pea to pinto will grow with almost no special effort. Please note, split peas by their very nature will not grow. That should be obvious. Whole dried peas, that’s another story. Garbanzo beans have never sprouted for me but Lima beans have.
I have even been able to get fertile seeds to grow from fresh whole green beans purchased in the produce section of the supermarket. Take several of the freshest, fattest, fullest long green beans and leave them out to dry. The husk falls away and you are left with a white, red, black or speckled bean, perhaps five to the pod, which will grow if you allow them to dry out completely. I once grew purple beans like that.
In researching this piece I went into the kitchen and started rummaging around in my spice cabinet which is over the stove. Lo and behold, I found a nearly empty package of sun dried tomatoes that has to be 20 years old. Yes, I’ve lived in the same apartment that long. Longer, actually.
Sometime in the early 1980’s I ate an avocado. I took the pit and stuck toothpicks in it and when it outgrew the Mason jar I put it into a pot which it also eventually outgrew and now it is a towering three story tall leafy tree that occasionally bears fruit. Many people believe you need two avocado trees to get fruit because they are separately sexed. That would mean you would need a male and a female, not just any two trees.
Well, the belief that you need two trees is correct but for the wrong reason. Turns out the avocado blossom is male in the morning and female in the afternoon. The rare overlapping flower may self pollinate, but it is an insect that usually performs the act. Why you need two avocado trees is because, if you don’t have two, insects with pollen on them don’t usually come back after a lunch break and return to their business. It is possible for one insect to hang around for the sex change, which is probably what happened with my avocado. True, there are other avocado trees in San Francisco, but not many.
Back to the sun dried tomato. It was so old (how old was it?) it was so old the big wide rubber band holding the wrapper shut had calcified.
The cellophane package contained one single flattened out black tomato and its interior was full of seeds. The tomato was so old (how old was it?) I had no intention of eating it and it would have gone directly into the trash except I read somewhere that archaeologists not only found the recipe for beer the Pharaohs drank, they also found seeds that germinated in the 2000 year old tomb. Therefore, I thought, let’s soak the dried tomato and its seeds to try and get whatever type of tomato it is to grow.
I’ll let you know if it worked.