Grocery Store Gardening

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

Around here there are all kinds of chichi food stores and Latin and Asian markets. And in some of them, the produce sections bulge with all manner of intriguing looking items:  tropical bulbs, rhizomes and who knows what all. I have no idea what these strangely bulbous things are, other than a part of somebody else’s diet. 

And though I’m not chomping at the bit for a taste, I am curious about what kinds of plants might grow from these oddly-shaped tuberous treasures. So this year I decided to find out.  I just got back from Whole Foods with a big chunk of galangal root. Wikipedia informs me it is a member of the ginger family, most likely blue ginger (Alpinia galanga). A mix of galangal and lime are used in Asia as a stimulant and aphrodisiac. And in Haiti, the stuff is an ingredient in Voodoo potions. What I have looks a lot like a canna rhizome (but more yellowy) complete with a few eyes that seem ready to get growing. I’ll pot it up just as I would a canna, wait for some stems and leaves to appear then grow it on in a big pot outdoors. In the meantime, I plan to make a few more trips to the grocery store.  I noticed a few other promising candidates: something that looks a lot like an elephant’s ear bulb, and some spudlike stuff called malanga. I may try some sugarcane too.  It’s going to be fun and, maybe, even tasty.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Heather's Garden April 29, 2008, 5:39 pm

What a crazy idea. My step-son just informed me that you can grow pineapples from the plain old pineapples in the grocery store. I Googled and sure enough, you can. Who’d of thought it?

Hi Heather–And of course avocados, from the pits. I could take the whole thing a step further and grow all the refuse from some wild tropical salad and see what happens, but then again, maybe not.–Steve

Megan April 29, 2008, 6:04 pm

Brilliant. Can’t wait to see what comes of it.

Thanks Megan. that makes two of us.–Steve

Lisa at Greenbow April 29, 2008, 8:49 pm

I will be interested to see what comes of this grocery store gardening project of yours so keep us posted.

Hi Lisa–It should be interesting and fun too. Another way to try some new plants!–Steve

Teresa April 29, 2008, 11:05 pm

What a great idea! In the past I have rooted a Vietnamese green called something that sounds like rau-rum. (That is totally phonetic spelling by the way.) Anyway, it worked and I used it in stir fr y dishes.

Hi Teresa–You’re not talking about lemon grass or anything are you? While I’m not planning to eat whatever my experiment produces, I do hope it proves a tasty addition.–Steve

gina April 29, 2008, 11:34 pm

gosh steve, this makes me want to go to whole foods and find some freaky tubers so that i can join your experiment. i can’t wait to see how these do for you!

Hey Gina! i just figured, why not? I know from my travels that lots of those tropical foods have interesting foliage. We’ll see about this one. I’ll keep you all posted, so to speak.–Steve

Kim May 2, 2008, 12:37 am

You can grow regular ginger, if you get a piece that’s fresh enough from the store. I found this out the interesting way when one that I had started to sprout!

Theresa in Merida May 7, 2008, 6:01 pm

I have planted ginger, jicama, chayote,turmeric and pineapples in my garden from the grocery store. The ginger is not pretty but the fresh ginger root is exceptional. The pineapple took about a year but it got a pineapple! I do however live in a tropical climate,

Hola Theresa! We go to the Yucatan almost every year, usually around Tulum, but we’ve been to Merida many times. I envy you. Not just for your address, but for all the incredible things you can grow down there. I’ve stopped at roadside viveros in little Mayan towns and seen so much cool stuff, varieites of plants sold here, but with distinctive characteristics. I’d love to putter in a garden down there. –Steve

Phanaeus igneus May 9, 2008, 10:00 am

This is one of my FAVORITE diversions. It’s definitely not practical and maybe not “normal”; but for the adventurous it’s lots of fun. If you want to commiserate and get a few laughs check out the “The After-Dinner Gardening Book”. I think it’s been out of print for a while, but you can find it. I had to special order it from cryogenic storage at my university library. Once you start thinking about growing, rather than just eating, everything in the grocery store looks different! Some things I’ve had going: the classic avocado and pineapple, all kinds of citrus, date palm (tough to get started but then grows like a champ), dragonfruit (crazy cactus grows all over and roots in anything), kiwi, cherimoya, mamey sapote, sugarcane (it get’s big and sharp!), tamarillo (leaves smell like buttered popcorn – weird), lychee, passionfruit and others. I’m very curious to learn how your galangal and malanga turn out! One thing I’ll passed on is that somebody gave me a stern warning to research mystery plants to make sure they aren’t invasive or else keep them in containers.

Hi Phanaeus–Sounds as if you’ve got the grocery store gardening thing down pat. I’d like to give the sugarcane a shot, I know it can be dramatic. I had a friend who grew poppy seed bagels-or at least the sees on them. anyway, I grow the stuff in pots , not because I’m worried about issues of invasiveness–at least for tropical plants in chilly Connecticut–but so I can keep a better eye on the plants and give them specific attention. –Steve

Anthony December 29, 2008, 11:42 am

Pineapple: you need a healthy tuft at the top. Screw it off, trim off dead leaves and surplus fruit, leave it to dry for at least a day, plant in a pot.
Jerusalem artichokes are fun: plant a tuber from the grocers in winter – outdoors – and let it rocket for the sky. Next winter try to dig every single tuber out – you’re bound to miss some – scrub clean and cook. Or eat fresh and crisp. Try growing runner beans up them – 2 crops in one. You can also use the runner beans like kidney beans, and try using the tubers – taste like beans with a bit more starch.

Yes Anthony, I’ve eaten those Jerusalem artichokes and love their nutty flavor. I like your 2-fer idea; may have to try it this spring/summer.-Steve

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