Can I plant vegetables by just cutting them up and putting them in the ground?
May 9, 2011 7:54 PM   Subscribe

Can I plant vegetables by just cutting them up and putting them in the ground? Specifically tomatoes and cucumbers.

If I'm looking to plant a garden, can I take tomatoes (Roma, specifically) and cucumbers and just chop them in quarters or so and put them in the soil a few inches down and water them regularly? The tomatoes I'm assuming that I can, but I'm not sure about the cucumber.
posted by Slinga to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have seen very overripe tomatoes with seedlings already sprouting inside, but in general this is not optimal and your chances of success are low. The seeds would rot inside the burried veg before they became fully mature and capable of sprouting.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:57 PM on May 9, 2011

Slow Graffiti is right...I tried it with tomatoes accidentally when one landed in the flowerbed. It only grew to be about 3" tall. I'm not sure where you live, but starting them as seedlings will have a great chance at growing. What is your level of gardening experience?
posted by Calzephyr at 8:00 PM on May 9, 2011

I am kind of a dilettante gardener myself, but I'm the granddaughter of a man with a masters degree in agricultural engineering who to this day feeds his descendants on home-canned tomatoes and cucumber pickles, and he does not do this. He does save seeds from year to year, but he starts those seeds in the traditional manner. He is a daring man when it comes to growing food and I'm pretty sure if your idea worked better, he'd be doing it.
posted by padraigin at 8:04 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You could do this, and many plants are started this way unintentionally when vegetables fall to the ground and rot there. But you won't get very big plants. At least in the temperate climate where I live, if you want plants that will produce fruit, tomatoes and cucumbers need to be started from seed indoors in the late winter/early spring, where they can get a jump-start on the weather. They need warm temperatures to germinate and grow, and the growing season is too short for them to be planted outside from seed. By the time the outdoor conditions are right, they may germinate in July, but the plants will not have enough time to get to be fruit-bearing size.
Maybe if you live in a tropical location things are different though! I'd be interested in knowing.
posted by feidr2 at 8:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can almost guarantee that this will not work for either tomatoes or cucumbers. I'm not even sure you can get viable seeds from supermarket-bought vegetables: they're usually picked well before they're ripe, to make sure they do better during shipping.

To get seeds out of seeded vegetables, the fruit needs to stay on the plant until it's extremely ripe and basically falling off. Then you can let it sit some more in a dry, warm environment, or just take out the seeds and dry them on sheets of paper.

The idea is to let the seeds mature as long as possible inside the fruit, and then make sure they dry out as thoroughly as possible. Then they might sprout.
posted by Nomyte at 8:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

This will not work. Fruits aren't set up to be dispersed this way.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:18 PM on May 9, 2011

I currently have 3 tomato vines (cherry) approx 3 feet or more high, with ripening tomatoes on them that sprung up of their own accord - I had merely dug over-ripe tomatos into the soil, and they've sprung up of their own.

But what with the temperature starting to drop, I don't hold out much hope for them. Plus I'm lazy and can't be bothered harvesting the fruit before they split. Hopefully the seeds will fall into the garden and sprout by the end of winter.
posted by robotot at 8:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Remember, too, that a seed is the equivalent of a fertilized ovum. Pollen from somewhere has contributed its DNA, to grow a seed in the fruit. The way the delicious fruit/veg turns out is the product of the plant it grows upon. The way the seed turns out is the product of both of its progenitors. Your tomatoes and cucumber seeds, when planted, might very well not produce something like the vegetable they came from, even if you nicely extracted them, dried them, and planted them in a nice nutritive environment.

Far better to buy packets of professionally produced / saved seed, which is guaranteed to grow something very closely-resembling the pretty picture on the envelope. Tomatoes tend to be self-pollenating plants, and so are more likely to breed true (assuming that they're open pollenated or stabilized hybrids), while cucumbers are more likely to create weird unexpected offspring, like squashes.

Not to dissuade you from saving seed, but, the odds of success are much greater if you actually know what variety you're saving from, and are able to ensure the right pollen source.
posted by mumkin at 8:30 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

It will work for some species and varieties, and not for others. Many of the fruits and vegetables we buy at the store are hybrids which don't breed true. This means that often what you will grow is the plant version of a mule: a sterile plant that doesn't grow well, or produce something that's edible.

Luckily, seeds are super cheap. And you can buy seeds for varieties which are a thousand times better than the stuff you buy at the store.

The produce they sell at the store is optimized for being able to be picked by machines and shipped across the country. Not for qualities like, you know, taste.
posted by ErikaB at 8:34 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: Starting this late in the season (assuming your WI location marker is accurate) I'd strongly recommend buying seedlings at a plant sale (this is prime time for fundraiser plant sales at schools, coops, etc) or garden store. My experience is that you are a lot better off going with seedlings for both tomatoes and cucumbers (I've actually done okay with cucumbers straight from seed in the ground but not tomatoes) - and it's too late to start your own.

I always get "volunteer" tomatoes in my garden (those that have come up from dropped fruit of other plants) and I often let one or two go just to see what comes out and how they do, and they are always underproducers, the last to have ripe fruit (if they get any at all). Veg seedlings are a very cheap investment for the productivity. Nobody serious gardens tomatoes or cucumbers in the manner you're describing which probably says all that needs to be said about it.
posted by nanojath at 8:39 PM on May 9, 2011

Response by poster: You guys are absolutely fantastic, thank you.
posted by Slinga at 8:48 PM on May 9, 2011

You're definitely best off buying seedlings at this point in the season, or purchasing and starting from seed a little earlier.

But if you want to grow tomatoes from existing tomatoes, they need that ferment/mold/whatever process for the seeds to grow properly, so you actually have better luck if you just drop an entire tomato so it splats a bit on the ground and leave it there. My husband chucked a handful of nearly-spoiled cherry tomatoes at the compost bin two years ago, missed, and shrugged because they landed in a flower bed and we figured they could spoil on their own there and compost there and make squirrels happy. In fact, we got half a dozen cherry tomato plants in the middle of the flower bed! Which was frankly more annoying than anything else. (Also, nota bene, those were home-grown overripe tomatoes, not supermarket tomatoes, so the tomatoes were fully mature and the variety in question could reproduce if you saved seeds and all.)

Of course when we tried to replicate this on purpose this year, out of curiosity, it was a complete fail. Some combination of the perfect weather and very good luck, I guess. I'd much rather just go buy some seedlings!

I know nothing about cucumbers because they are Satan's vegetable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:54 PM on May 9, 2011

I shall have to tell my work acquaintance who grew tonnes and tonnes of tomatoes this year (a year in which the rest of us experienced late fruit that has refused to ripen, regardless of variety) that he is doing it wrong. Here's how he does it wrong, precisely:

- wanders down to the supermarket and buys a punnet each of the varieties he likes
- gives them to his kids, who can eat most of them as long as they squish up a couple and push them into pots
- many, many seedlings spring forth, and he transplants the biggest few
- profit, because they tasted awesome.

It's what I'm doing next year.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Both of these veggies (and yes, I realize tomatoes are technically a fruit) have a coating on their seeds. You can scoop the seeds out, then let them soak in a plastic cup full of water until they start to separate from the goo. It can get a little stinky, so I would do that outside. Once that happens, scoop up any seeds that float to the top, dry the rest, and you're ready to go.
posted by Gilbert at 11:10 PM on May 9, 2011

Here is a book that will fully inform you on basic gardening. I have it by my bed and can't recommend it enough-- I'm an advanced beginner gardener and I've been learning new things from it since I got it for my birthday in December.

If gardening is a potential long-term hobby for you, buy seedlings from heirloom/open pollinated varieties this year and then you can save the seeds at the end of the season and start your own plants next early spring. I find gardening incredibly rewarding and I have several varieties of tomatoes I have raised for multiple generations. Here's a simple example of why you can't generally start plants from the tomatoes that you buy in the market:

Nearly all commercial tomatoes and commercial seed are hybrids of two or several strains. Let's imagine that Tomato Strain A yields many pretty fruit and does it early but is fragile, Tomato Strain B is strong and the fruit doesn't crack but doesn't produce much.

season oneTomato/Seed producer knows that crossing Strain A and Strain B will produce a high-yielding, early, resistant tomato plant that we'll call Strain AB. So when Strain A and Strain B flower, they take pollen from Strain B and introduce it to Strain A. (tomatoes are generally self-pollinating so this must be done mechanically). Strain A produces fruit. The resulting fruit look identical to the fruit from the Strain A plant that produce it. But those seeds when grown will be Strain AB plants, resistant and with a heavy, early yield. So those seeds are processed and sold to you so that the next season you can have AB plants in your garden. (or to a commercial grower who will sell you the resulting fruit during season two).

season two Early that spring you buy a packet of AB seeds and raise the plants in your garden. Because tomatoes self pollinate and you haven't done anything special, you get fruit from the AB plant that also are Strain AB. They grow well, just as the company that created them intended. You save the seeds to plant next year.

season threeUnfortunately, you get random traits from Strain A and Strain B. Some of the plants don't yield early. Some of the plants don't yield very well. Some of them have all cracked fruit. Most of the fruit doesn't even physically resemble or taste like the AB fruit you got last year-- it looks more like strain A or strain B.

So that's why you can't save most commercial tomato seed. But if a tomato is "open pollinated" or "heirloom" then they will breed true and you can save the seeds and have multiple generations of the seeds that you raise. Which for some reason is wonderful to me. ("heirloom" is actually a debated term referring to how long the strain has been around and is a subset of "open pollinated." either term means that you can save the seed.)

Most garden centers have started offering seedlings of common open-pollinated strains. You might pick up a couple when you go looking for seedlings because it really can be rewarding to save seeds from a strain that you like. There is also nothing wrong with buying new hybrid seeds/plants every year. The yields tend to be better, but the best flavor comes from some open-pollinated seeds. My personal favorites are the "black" or "purple" tomatoes, which have a dusky color and the best (in my and many others' opinion) flavor. Cherokee Purple is a popular, forgiving strain that I grow myself.

Good luck! I hope that you find gardening as rewarding as I do!
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:16 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can, however, compost pretty lazily. Pick a spot, and pile on kitchen scraps, grass clippings and leaves. Give it a year. You can pick up some scrap wire fencing and make a container for the compost if you want it to be neater. You can turn the compost to speed it up. I ignore most of the rules about what to put in my compost, and it's always been fine. No meat scraps, banana peels or citrus peels. Meat scraps attract pests and take too long to compost, banana and citrus can stay stinky.
posted by theora55 at 4:39 AM on May 10, 2011

What everyone else said. Mr. Libraryhead is in charge of the tomatoes, and we always get a few volunteer plants, but they are never worth the effort to keep them alive. The plant sale suggestion above is a good one, or try a local nursery. Tomato seedlings from the big-box stores have been blamed with spreading blight the past few seasons.

I wouldn't bother with purchased seedlings for cukes, though. I've always had success direct-sowing cucumbers from packet seed, and it's not too late. Here in New England mine are going in next weekend.
posted by libraryhead at 6:42 AM on May 10, 2011

- wanders down to the supermarket and buys a punnet each of the varieties he likes
- gives them to his kids, who can eat most of them as long as they squish up a couple and push them into pots
- many, many seedlings spring forth, and he transplants the biggest few
- profit, because they tasted awesome.

Why would anyone smash up a perfectly good eating tomato, when you can slice it up for a salad and plant the seeds that inevitably end up on the cutting board? The tomatoes don't taste any more or less awesome because food has been wasted.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2011

Special note about tomatoes:

You can definitely cut stems from already established tomato plants, put them a few inches deep in seedling tubes or pots, keep them watered and they will root and grow into a new plant. This may only be a viable option in a place where you can grow mostly year-round, I did it in Hawaii.
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2011

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