We’ve all been there: just a few greens shy of a satisfying salad or a sandwich that’s lacking a fresh leafy crunch. Fortunately there’s a smart, simple way to make sure you always have some extra greens on hand while also cutting down your at-home food waste. The answer is food regeneration, a process that gives your scraps and stems new life. And in the case of romaine lettuce, you can strengthen your food supply right in your kitchen.
Regenerating food scraps is a great idea for local food lovers and for extending the life of the produce you buy. It’s both cost- and time-efficient compared to outdoor gardening and requires just as little more care than the classic countertop herb garden. With a little bit of water, counter space and sunlight, you can produce some vibrant greens from what would otherwise be tossed aside.
We’ve put together a brief step-by-step guide for regenerating romaine lettuce (or other kinds of lettuce) on your own.
1) Find your favorite lettuce
When purchasing your lettuce, it is essential to consider the stability of the greens you hope to reproduce. One of the most stable lettuce varieties to choose is romaine, given its high water content that gives the leaves that rich “crunch.” Other varieties such as bok choy and iceberg lettuce are common options as well.
2) Save the stem
After washing and drying your lettuce, cut the head of the lettuce horizontally, leaving approximately 1-2 inches from the base of the stem. Carefully tear off the outer leaves, revealing the center stem. This important step helps to prevent rotting. You can cut the leafy green section as normal, saving the stem separately.
3) Prepare a plate or jar
Grab a shallow plate or clear jar to place your stem in. If using a jar, glass is the best way to allow the sunlight required for growth. There should also be space around the stem for the leaves to grow without cramming and water to surround it. The water, either from the tap or collected rainwater, should cover about half of the stem. Your plate or jar should remain uncovered and in an area of high sunlight, usually near a windowsill inside the home as outdoor temperatures can lead to quick evaporation of the water.
4) Switch the water regularly during growth
Changing the water every day or two is a smart idea to properly allow growth without rotting. Sprouts will slowly grow into new leaves over the next 8-12 days until harvest if done properly. Common mistakes to avoid include not allowing enough sunlight onto the stem or covering the container, causing the leaves to mold. Sometimes during romaine regeneration you may experience bolting, which is when the lettuce goes to seed, and your leaves take on brown spots and a bitter taste. Regeneration can be a difficult process to get a hold of, but multiple trials often lead to success.
5) Harvesting your regenerated leaves
The leaves should grow over an 8-12 day period. Once pleased with the growth, it is time to harvest your spoils. By cutting your leaves off the stem, you can harvest your lettuce right at home. Ensure that the leaves are washed prior to enjoyment!
6) Dispose of the stem
A single stem can only provide one good harvest before it needs to be disposed of, in case it begins to mold or grow harmful bacteria. The most eco-friendly method to dispose of your stem is through compost.
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Patience is key when it comes to regenerating your lettuce heads into new leaves. Though you will not grow a full new head of lettuce, you can harvest enough leaves for a small salad, side dish or possibly a sandwich. You can boost the strength, stability and growth of your regenerating produce by using organic fertilizers or watering the plants with cool, leftover water from boiled vegetables. The starches from the latter can help with the yield, though the timetable for your countertop harvest will remain unchanged.
Numerous other foods can be regrown similar to romaine lettuce. Garlic sprouts can be grown from cloves on countertops to replicate the garlic flavor without using multiple cloves in addition to growing new bulbs from existing cloves in soil. Potatoes’ eyes can be planted and harvested in a few months as fully grown potatoes, while celery also can generate from its base stalks with a little bit of water and sun. Food Revolution has a handy guide to regrowing other types of produce at home.
With a bit of patience and a lot of care, the opportunities to regrow your food scraps are endless.
If you want to take your at-home growing to the next level or discover other ways you can be more sustainable with your food, download our local food toolkit “Building a Better Local Food System.” Filled with beginner growing tips and advice for supporting local food producers, this resource will help you eat more sustainably.