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I love growing things, almost anything, really. Now, in winter, outside growing isn’t possible, so we’re limited to growing inside.
Sure, there are hundreds of houseplants to choose from and they are all good. For many, choice of houseplant depends upon amount of sunlight available and what kind of sunlight — direct or indirect. The next time you shop for a new houseplant, these are the things to keep in mind. Match the plant to your indoor situation and it should prosper.
In addition to “accepted” houseplants, have you ever considered a walk on the wild side, specifically, have you ever tried non-traditional houseplants? Today we’ll discuss two useful houseplants that you can find in the produce isle of your local supermarket.
First, we’ll go for onions and we’ll finish with sweet potatoes. We’ve all been there. You buy a bag of yellow, sweet onions and half of them are a bit soft and some have begun to sprout. That may not be good for cooking, but the sprouted ones make fine houseplants.
Here’s a neat thing about sprouting onions. The green top growth makes a good chive substitute, albeit more “oniony” and considerably larger. Use these cut up on salads and in recipes, the same as chives.
Too many of us simply chuck onions once they sprout. I was guilty of that at one time, but am now totally reformed. The sprouts are too good to waste. Even better, the leafy sprouts have a long growing time, so they’ll keep you supplied with ersatz “chives” for a good, long while.
It isn’t necessary to plant your onions in soil, but if you do it will make it seem more like a “real” houseplant. Just leave the growing top exposed and water only lightly. Overwatering will cause the onion to become soft and spoil.
You can grow onion sprouts in almost any light. I have a severe shortage of direct sunlight in my new house and still my onions flourish. In fact, I grow my onions in a wire basket, the two-tiered kind that you keep root vegetables in. This may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it works.
As your onions grow, just snip the tops as needed. Two or three onions will give all the onion/chives that you need. And as opposed to so much of today’s commercial produce, your onion tops will be absolutely fresh.
The various ivies and other tropical vining provide us with all the vines we could ever want. But these lack one thing that sweet potato vines have. They aren’t edible, while the leaves on sweet potato vines are.
To begin, look for sweet potatoes that have begun to sprout. You’ll have better luck with organic sweet potatoes rather than standard, commercial-style potatoes, because the regular kind are treated with sprout retardant. Even with non-sprayed, organic types, look for already-sprouted potatoes because they will begin growing far sooner. Non-sprouted ones may not sprout at all.
Next, and this will come as second nature if you have ever sprouted an avocado seed, you can simply use toothpicks to suspend the tuber in a water-filled glass or jar. Depending upon the size of the container, fill with room-temperature water at least three-quarters of the way full. Then, push your sweet potato, sprouted end up, into the container until the tip is barely submerged in the water. Keep the tuber stable by inserting four, evenly spaced toothpicks about one inch into the potato.
That’s it. The only maintenance required is to keep the water clean, which means changing about every other day or so.
You may wish to set your sweet potato plant near something upright so that as the vine begins to grow, which it will do very quickly, it has something to grow on. A sweet potato vine grows like lightning and you can wrap it round a stake, use fasteners to allow it to grow up and around a windowsill, or any way you see fit.
The vine will develop purple leaves, which have a mildly spicy flavor. Try them in salads first, then devise other ways to enjoy them.
Finally, your sweet potato vine will do best when set by a sunny window.
If you allow your vine to reach its full potential, it’s sure to become a conversation starter when you have visitors.
If you decide to try either or both of these, I hope you enjoy your “produce section houseplant garden.”
Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.
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