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Salad from Garbage

March 5, 2013

Don't throw away your lettuce stems. Grow more salad on a sunny windowsill.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
Your rating: None Average: 3.5 of 5 (17 votes)

I couldn’t believe what I saw on Facebook a couple weeks ago—lettuce growing in a glass of water.  I had to try it. 

The instructions specified that one should cut off all lettuce leaves from a fresh head, leaving an inch-or-two stem, and put it in an inch of fresh water in a bright sunny window.  This works only with lettuces that form a round head or cone at maturity, not leaf lettuces.

There were three heads in my refrigerator, romaine, red leaf and Bibb.  I cut them all in the manner described and refrigerated the leaves in a sealed bag for salads.  Then I put an inch of water in various containers and put the stems into them.  All were placed under the LED Mini Garden I received to trial in early February from Tucker’s Pride.  I set the seven-inch-long garden’s timer for 12 hours of light daily.

I used a LED Mini Garden in my kitchen as the light source under which to grow lettuce stems.

I usually throw stem sections of head lettuce in the compost bin, so I figured even a handful of fresh leaves would be a plus.  I got those and much more!

Within three days, there was dramatic growth of fresh, dark green leaves from all stems.  The romaine was the tallest, red-leaf almost as vigorous and the Bibb immediately put its growth into curving leaves, forming a lose head.  Two days later (which was five days after sitting the stems in water) I cut my first salad!  Leaves were crisp, tasty and fresh.

Three days after placing romaine, red leaf and Bibb lettuce stems in water, there was vigorous growth.

The stems started growing more leaves after the first shearing.  I used kitchen scissors to harvest, because the cuts were clean, with little damage.  I’m anxious to see how many harvests can be made until the stems finally stop putting out new leaves.

Two later, I harvested my first garbage salad!

The water in which stems grow should be changed every day.  I use reverse-osmosis water, which is extensively filtered to remove any pesticides, minerals and chlorine from the water supply.  My water source is a well, sunk into a limestone glacier.  Distilled or bottled water is a good choice, too.

More Garbage

Other salad vegetables that can be grown from their root stems include green onions and celery.  They, too, sprout new growth from stem centers rapidlyClick here to see the growth progress one gardener had with celery.

Don’t throw away your lettuce stems; grow more!  Let us know about your experiences with various lettuce types.

Related Articles

Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including Amazon.com.


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Doreen, I'm excited to see

By Susan Squire

Doreen, I'm excited to see new leaves on our romaine. Our question is, can we plant it in soil? And will it root?
Thank you

Have lettuce growing in small

By Gary Lynn

Have lettuce growing in small dish presently. Have grown celery with good results. Am going to try a radish (root system)and try seed planting for a lemon tree and cinnamon tree. By the way, you can sterilize soil in the microwave.

Can I use a large "daylight

By Marilyn Jones

Can I use a large "daylight lamp" instead of an LED light? If so, can I grow the vegetables in the basement using the "daylight lamp" for it's source of light. I have just 2 very small windows in my basement.

Marilyn, you probably need

By Doreen G. Howard

Marilyn, you probably need more light that what an incandescent bulb can provide.  Do you have an east or west facing window in your home?  If so, put plants there and add the large daylight lamp.  Good luck!

I just started green onion

By Kelly L. Baurle

I just started green onion and romaine so excited to try something new! Thanks!

Good luck, Kelly!  I got six

By Doreen G. Howard

Good luck, Kelly!  I got six salads from one romaine stub.  Hope you do the same.

Was that only from the water?

By Mary Ellen A.

Was that only from the water? Do you know how many salads if I plant rooted base in soil? I wonder if there's some way to grow a new base? Has anyone tried cutting in half and then rooting?

Great idea - Next time I'm at

By ElectricFertilizer

Great idea - Next time I'm at the store I'm going to give it a try, too! But I'm going to take things a step further - applying electro-horticulure to it! By applying electricity to either the water or the stem itself, I expect the stem to grow much faster, larger and greener.

What about adding some kind

By GenaK

What about adding some kind of fertilizer to the water? Wouldn't the nutritive value be less if they are not being fed by any nutrients from soil? If so, what would be the best way to enrich the water?

No fertilizer needed! New

By Doreen G. Howard

No fertilizer needed! New lettuce leaves are nourished by stem. It may form roots in the water, BTW. If the stem roots, plant it in a pot for bigger plant.

This is awesome! I am sharing

By simplylovegardening

This is awesome!
I am sharing with my friends and trying this for myself today. Thanks!

I cut off the bottom of some

By WxByHart

I cut off the bottom of some asparagus spears, placed them in a glass of water to keep them fresh, and one spear actually grew to near double it's size.

I began using this method for

By Azriel

I began using this method for celery and cabbage. I also found that the root base produces new roots. After about three weeks, I had enough root system to plant in pots of sterilized soil. Made it sterile by putting soil in pressure cooker at 15 lbs pressure 30 min. Also too, allowing these to grow in a cool place in house or garage is best, esp. with celery as it has the tendency to rot. So, you end up with not only more food, but it is organic and has more nutritive value than if grown in just plain water that has no nutrients at all.

What is the purpose of

By Mary Ellen A.

What is the purpose of sterilizing the dirt? Are you taking soil from your yard and don't want bugs? I'm used to using potting soil for indoor plants. I have some organic potting soil that should not contain any synthetic fertilizers or other chemicals. Can't I just use that if the lettuce roots?

Will try this,,It works with

By gmom49

Will try this,,It works with celery, have 3 plants growing and have been able to cut stalks for my salad or cooking. I planted the base of the stalk in potting soil and put outside...growing great...

Do you HAVE to have an LED


Do you HAVE to have an LED light? I have southern facing windows in my kitchen. Thx!

You can use a south facing

By Azriel

You can use a south facing window. Just be aware that celery and romaine are more in tune with cooler weather and a south facing window might make them too hot and they would rot within a week. A cool place in the house with florescent lights or a eats window might be better.

A south-facing window will

By Doreen G. Howard

A south-facing window will work, too. I don't have windows with bright exposures in my kitchen, and the two I have in other rooms with south and west exposures are filled with tropical plants. The LED Lite Garden worked well for me.

KMJ ~ you have nothing to

By dobie1951

KMJ ~ you have nothing to lose (except a lettuce stem!)by trying this in your windows...and perhaps can save the cost of a grow light. Go for it! Experiment...and share your results!!

I happen to have romaine in

By Edie Gray

I happen to have romaine in the fridge right now. I'm going to go cut it off and try this. Thanks

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