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Why scallions are my quarantine houseplant of choice

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Reflecting on a good thing growing in my home, as I enter my fourth week of staying indoors

Scallion bulbs in a two glass jars on a round green tray. Jenny Xie

When I began staying home as much as possible a month ago, one of my first concerns was: Will I need to keep going to the grocery store to restock on green onions? It’s truly a minor question in the grand scheme of a devastating pandemic, but a very real one nonetheless, as someone who relies on Asian recipes that employ scallion as a key garnish.

After doing some simple googling, I was encouraged to find out that you can just chop ’em up and freeze them for later use. Easy peasy. But learning that hack was nowhere as magical as when I saw people on Instagram showing off scallions they’re regrowing in little jars of water. Yes, new scallion! From little white bulbs. Just add water and sunlight.

As it turns out, generating new growth from vegetable scraps—including lettuce, celery, bok choy—is a kitchen miracle that plenty of plant-savvy people were already aware of, but that more of us are are now hearing about for the first time, in an age when feeding ourselves often feels like the only real task on the daily agenda.

I started with just one scallion, but it quickly became three. My rule was: Use one, grow one. For the first couple, it was hard to even come up with a small enough container to stand them up. I looked all over my kitchen cabinets and finally settled on a random tall shot glass. This phase didn’t last long.

I kept using scallion for my meals and so I kept ramping up my scallion farm. The next wares tapped for this undertaking were some simple cylindrical glasses from CB2, which I used once before for serving sake, but shall now be minimalist scallion planters.

A trio of images depicting scallion bulbs growing in various sized glasses.
A month in scallion farming vessels: From an itty-bitty shot glass to a slightly bigger chaser glass to a vase that came with an Easter flower delivery.
Jenny Xie

As the weeks went on, this modular farm of sorts has expanded to three glasses full of scallions, all sitting on a small green Jasper Morrison for Vitra tray that I’d previously used to hold a neon pothos plant. I only have one empty CB2 glass left and expect to put it to use soon.

There are many things I love about this ever-evolving stay-at-home project. The first, of course, is the backup green onion supply (apparently they should be planted in soil eventually for best flavor).

But there is also major satisfaction in bringing out neglected vessels around my kitchen, plus the unexpected joy in displaying humble green onions like they’re a photogenic houseplant (I continue to delight in peeping how other people, like the fashion designer Phillip Lim, are growing theirs).

Like other quarantine micro trends that are bringing people together on social media right now—Sourdough bread! Dalgona coffee! Animal Crossing!—growing vegetable scraps offers handsome reward for a tiny bit of effort. Mix a few simple ingredients together and you get fresh bread, or an ultra-Instagrammable whipped coffee; keep catching critters or shaking trees and you can pay off your loans and build a dream home (in an escapist video game, anyway); plant a bulb in water near sunlight and it will grow food.

Moreover, the reward from growing scallions is a sense of vitality that’s extra valuable right now. Against a backdrop of unchanging routines in an unchanging setting during challenging times, my scallions growing several inches every week simply radiate life.