Stem To Root Gardening – Learn About Gardening Without Waste

When prepping our homegrown vegetables, most folks trim their produce removing the leaves, greens and skins. In some cases, that is a whole lot of waste. Using the whole plant can practically double your harvest. The practice of using every part of a plant is called stem to root gardening and results in gardening without waste.

So what wasteless vegetables can be used in their entirety? Read on to learn more.

What is Stem to Root Gardening?

Those who compost are utilizing the remnants of plants to nourish next year’s crop, but if you really want to maximize your yield, think twice before lopping off those turnip or beet tops and tossing them into the compost pile. Turnips and beets are just some of the virtually wasteless vegetables available.

The practice of using every part of a plant isn’t a new one. Most ancient cultures utilized the entirety of not only the game they hunted but also the vegetables harvested. Somewhere down the line, the idea of using the whole plant fell out of fashion, but today’s trend towards sustainability and environmental stewardship has made not only gardening but stem to root gardening a hot commodity again.

Gardening without waste not only saves you money by doubling the amount of produce available, but it allows for a wider array of flavors and textures that might otherwise be overlooked.

Types of Wasteless Vegetables

There are many vegetables that can be used in their entirety. Some of them, such as pea vines and squash blossoms, have been made popular by chefs. Just be sure to only use the male squash blossoms; leave the female blooms to grow into fruit.

Thinning seedlings can be painful because basically thinning means throwing out a potential crop. Next time you need to thin your greens, cut them and then toss them into salad. No need to spend money on those pricey baby greens at the grocers. When carrots need to be thinned, wait as long as possible and then thin. The tiny carrots can be eaten or pickled in their entirety and the tender green used much like parsley.

The tops of root veggies, such as turnip, radish and beet, shouldn’t be discarded. Chopped, fried turnip leaves are, in fact, a delicacy in Italy, Spain, France and Greece. The peppery, slightly bitter leaves are wilted and served with pasta or fried with polenta and sausage, stirred into eggs or stuffed into sandwiches. Radish leaves can also be used in this manner. Beet leaves have been eaten for centuries and are packed with nutrition. They taste somewhat like their relative chard and can be used in the same manner.

Much of the world is enamored of the young tendrils of pumpkins, zucchini and winter squash. It’s time for Westerners to embrace the idea of eating the tender, crunchy leaves with a flavor combination of spinach, asparagus and broccoli. They can be stir fried, blanched or steamed and added to eggs, curries, soups, etc. Let’s face it, squash tends to take over the garden and is often snipped back. Now you know what to do with the tender vine ends.

Like squash blossoms and pea vines, garlic scapes have become popular with chefs, and for good reason. Hardneck garlic produces garlic scapes – delicious, nutty, edible flower buds. Harvest scapes in the early summer. The meaty stem is crunchy like asparagus with a similar green flavor and a hint of chive. The blossoms are similar in texture and flavor to broccoli. They can be grilled, sautéed, flash fried in butter and added to eggs.

The tops of broad beans are sweet with flavor and crunch, and are excellent raw in salads or cooked like a green. They are one of the earliest leaf crops in the spring and are delicious incorporated into risottos, on pizza, or wilted in salads. Even yellow onion blossoms, black currant leaves, and okra leaves can all be eaten.

Probably one of the most wasted parts of vegetable is the skin. Many people peel carrots, potatoes, and even apples. The peel of all of these can be added along with herb stems, celery leaves and bottoms, tomato ends, etc. to make a delicious vegetarian broth. What’s the old adage? Waste not, want not.

What is Eco-Gardening?

What is Eco-Gardening? Gardening is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people all over the world. It can be exciting to help something grow from a tiny seed up to a large plant, flower, veggie or tree. There are literally hundreds of different things that can be planted and gardened, so the opportunities are endless. In addition to being fun, gardening can also help people grow their own food. In fact, 33% of American families grow some of their own food. Some may only grow a few veggies here and there, while others might grow everything that they eat. Gardening can also have health benefits for us as well.

As a result, gardening can be very beneficial to us for many different reasons. However, gardening can also be harmful to the environment. Many gardeners use products full of chemicals, ruin the topsoil, use gas-powered equipment or over water their plants. All of this can contribute to a garden with a high environmental footprint.

Thankfully, there is a way to ensure your gardening doesn’t hurt the environment, and that is by eco-gardening. Eco-garden still allows you to grow your favorite plants and use many of your favorite tools (such as this broad fork found on Easy Digging ), but still reduce your environmental footprint at the same time. Without any further ado, this article is going to look at the idea of eco-gardening and look a little bit closer at what exactly it is.


Saving water in your landscape doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming. Many of the most effective things you can do to reduce your water bills and protect your community’s water supply are simple and easy. Here are a few suggestions that are either one-time investments in water-saving equipment that you can do or have someone else install for you, or simple changes of habit.

  1. Install an automatic-rain-shutoff device. This is an inexpensive device you can install on your irrigation system controller that tells it to shut off when a specified amount of rain has fallen. It protects your lawn (and your water bill) from accidental overwatering. An automatic rain shutoff typically costs under $200 to install, including labor. In many parts of the country, it can save enough water to pay for itself within the first season.
  2. Update your irrigation system with a smart controller. A slightly larger investment ($300 to several thousand dollars) will buy you a weather-based irrigation controller capable of improving your watering efficiency by up to 40%. If your water bill has been large it will probably pay itself back within a couple of years.
  3. Upgrade to water-efficient emitters. The past decade has seen growth of leaps and bounds in emitter technology. If your sprinkler heads, rotors, or drip irrigation emitters are more than a couple of years old, ask your local irrigation expert to inspect your system and recommend more efficient alternatives if appropriate.
  4. Eliminate leaks. According to the EPA, a single 1/32” diameter leak on a hose, emitter or outdoor faucet can waste more than 6,000 gallons of water in a year. Imagine the cost if you have multiple leaks! Outdoor leaks are especially prone to waste because they often aren’t noticed. If you hire a competent landscape company to maintain your lawn, you won’t have to worry because they will check for leaks at each visit. However, if you do your own maintenance, be sure to put leak inspection on your weekly list.
  5. Install a rain barrel. It’s good for plants because it’s free of many of the salts and chemicals that are present in most groundwater or city-water sources. Many municipalities are now offering incentives to homeowners who install these inexpensive water-saving devices. A landscape-irrigation expert can help you decide how best to integrate your rainwater with your existing irrigation system.
  6. Choose drought-tolerant plants. Careful plant selection can make a huge difference in your water use. Many plants, such as white fir, yarrow, yucca, and sage are naturally adapted to thrive in low water conditions. Check with your local landscape professional for advice as to which species will do well in your area and on your specific property.
  7. A thick layer of mulch helps keep the root zone cool and moisture in the soil. Organic mulches such as wood chips and shredded bark will also contribute organic matter to the soil over time. Some mulches are more appropriate than others for certain applications, so choose carefully.
  8. Water the soil, not the leaves. Water at the root zone to keep evaporation to a minimum. Keeping water off your plants’ leaves will also help control fungal diseases and prevent sunscald. A professionally-designed irrigation system – drip or otherwise – is far better at proper water delivery than the simple lawn sprinklers you can buy in the hardware store. It is an investment that will pay for itself over time in reduced water bills and healthier plants.
  9. Mow high. Keeping your grass at the upper recommended limit (about 2 inches for most species) will help shade the soil and prevent excessive evaporation.
  10. Don’t overwater. It sounds simplistic, but more water is wasted through overwatering than for any other reason. Watering too much doesn’t just waste a precious resource. It is also very bad for your plants. Too much water in the soil stresses your plants’ root systems and contributes to root rot and fungal and bacterial disease. Consult your landscape professional for help in designing a watering system and/or schedule to deliver the correct amount of water for your landscape.

These are just a few suggestions you can implement to keep your outdoor water use to a minimum while enjoying a beautifully healthy lawn and landscape. Try a few this year, and see how much water you can save!

Re-Grow Vegetables (and Fruits) from Seed

In addition to learning how to re-grow vegetables from scraps, it is also important to remember that you can also learn how to save your own seeds and sow these the following year to propagate your crops.

This is, of course, another important way to make sure that you make the most of everything that you grow and eat on your homestead.

Seeds should never be discarded. Some, you can eat along with the main edible yield from the plants in question.

For example, the seeds from your pumpkins and squash are delicious roasted and can be used, for example, as a stand alone snack, or to top dishes that are made with the flesh of the fruits.

Others can be saved and stored securely to plant next year. Some can also be sprouted right away.

For example, you could consider making some beansprouts, or growing some micro-greens on a windowsill to supplement your diet over the winter months.

All You Need to Know About Keyhole Gardening

Keyhole gardens, so named because they’re shaped like an old-fashioned skeleton-key lock, were developed to help folks with less-than-super soil grow nutritious produce. They were first established in the 1990s for residents of Lesotho, a small nation in southern Africa subject to frequent droughts and soil erosion. Keyhole gardening proved successful in providing a reliable source of food for the people of Lesotho, and the concept has spread across the globe. Read on to understand how these small, smart gardens work—and all it takes to start one of your own.


The traditional keyhole garden is a raised circular garden bed with a wedge-shaped cutout along one side that allows easy access to the center of the garden, where a cage serves as a compost pile. The cage is filled with yard and kitchen waste, which decomposes and releases vital nutrients into the rest of the raised garden.

A keyhole garden is considered a type of permaculture (permanent agriculture) because it’s sustainable and regenerative. When watered, the nutrients from the compost spread through the soil, fertilizing it without the need for added commercial fertilizers. Because the soil is highly nutritious, you can grow more plants than you can in a traditional garden.

The reason the garden is raised is twofold: It promotes adequate drainage, so the soil remains moist, but not soggy, creating an optimal growing environment. Plus, there’s no bending and stooping required to tend plants.


Composting is the method by which accumulated organic matter decomposes. It’s the ultimate recycling process—dried leaves, grass clippings, and leftover vegetable waste are placed in a mound or container, and with the addition of water, the decaying process begins. During decomposition, the organic matter breaks down and is transformed into dark rich compost—a fertile soil conditioner.

The organic matter in the compost cage at the center of a keyhole garden is continually decomposing—the gardener adds new organic matter to the top of the cage while the layers beneath are decaying and releasing nutrients into the surrounding soil. By watering the keyhole garden at its center, the water drains through the compost and then into the rest of the garden bed, offering a constant source of nutrients.


Stacked stones are traditionally used to create keyhole garden beds, but bricks, concrete blocks, and other materials can be used as long as it’s sturdy enough to support the soil. Keyhole gardens are relatively small—six feet in diameter, or less—in order for the gardener to be able to reach all areas. The outside wall is two to three feet high, and the compost cage in the center is often one to two feet taller. The cage is constructed from a perforated material, such as chicken wire, which allows water to flow easily out of the cage and into the garden bed.

While the original keyhole garden shape is circular with a wedge-shaped cutout, there are no set rules. You can construct your own keyhole garden in any shape you like—circular, oval, square, or octagon—just be sure to include a compost cage in the center. Square PVC keyhole garden kits, measuring approximately six foot by six foot, are available from DIY centers and online retailers for between $250 and $500 (like this 3-foot-by-5-foot aluminum keyhole garden on Wayfair, which retails at $419.99, or this 6-foot-square cedar option from Gardener’s Supply Company, which retails for $499).


Building your own keyhole garden is a simple process and no special construction skills are necessary. If you opt to purchase a kit, it will come with all the instructions you need to assemble the panels if you prefer to build a traditional keyhole garden from scratch, the following tips will help.

  • Choose a location where the ground is level and not subject to flooding. Keyhole gardens are designed for function but not for looks, so most homeowners choose a backyard location rather than out front.
  • Determine the configuration of the outside wall. For a circular garden, hold a three-foot string in the center of the proposed garden and use the other end of the string as a compass to mark the perimeter wall location.
  • Allow for a 24-inch opening along the perimeter wall that narrows slightly as it reaches the center of the garden.
  • The compost cage in the center (if you’re making it from chicken wire) may require staking to hold it in place, and to keep it from collapsing when you add soil to the surrounding garden.
  • Use stacked stones, bricks, or concrete blocks to form the perimeter wall of the keyhole garden. Corrugated metal or old fencing are suitable as well, as long as it’s strong enough to retain the soil.
  • Consider lining the insides of the growing area with cardboard if the material you’re using to build the wall has large holes without the cardboard, the soil may filter out or erode. The cardboard helps retain the loose soil but will also allow water to drain away.
  • Fill the growing area with the best soil you can get. You can purchase bags of “garden soil” or make your own optimal growing blend by combining equal amounts of sand, topsoil, and compost.
  • Grade the soil to slope down away from the compost cage so water runs to the outside edges. Just a slight slope the soil level at the outside wall should be about two inches lower than the soil around the compost cage.
  • Put three to five inches of rocks or large gravel at the bottom of the compost cage to allow for aeration from the bottom. Compost needs air in order to decompose.
  • Fill the compost cage to the top with alternating layers of kitchen scraps and yard waste. As it decomposes, it will provide natural fertilizer for the plants.
  • Plant your garden. What you choose to plant depends on what your family likes to eat, but good choices for keyhole gardening include lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, kale, onions, spinach, herbs, and tomatoes.
  • Add a two-inch layer of dried leaves or shredded bark around the base of the plants. This is called “mulching,” and it helps keep the moisture in the soil from evaporating.


Keyhole gardening is sustainable, meaning that these structures will provide their own nutrients for years when constructed and used properly. As you add fresh scraps from your kitchen to the compost cage, you’ll be constantly replenishing the compost, which will settle as it decomposes. For the best results, year after year, check out the following tips.

Watch the video: How to build a no-dig garden. DIY Garden Projects. Gardening Australia

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