4 Kitchen Scraps to Use in the Garden—Even if You Don't Compost

May 21, 2015

Today: The food scraps that shouldn’t be scrapped.

eggshell seed starter pots


  • Use eggshells as seed-starter pots. (You'll want to plan ahead for this one and crack the eggshells close to one end to maximize "pot" size.) When your seedlings get big enough to plant, thin them as needed by keeping only one or two of the strongest-looking seedlings, gently crack the eggshell, and plant the whole thing (eggshell and all) in your garden.
  • Save your eggshells for the birds. Seed-eating birds need grit to help them digest their food; plus, eggshells give them an added benefit: Calcium. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends baking eggshells in the oven for 20 minutes at 250° F to sterilize the eggshells (if you’re using eggshells from hard-cooked eggs you can skip this part). Let the eggshells cool, crush them into small pieces, and then set them out for the birds on a dish or a platform feeder.
  • Use them as a pest deterrent. Some gardening sources recommend sprinkling crushed eggshells around plants to discourage slugs and snails. If you have a lot of eggshells on hand and don’t have a major slug infestation, this might be worth a try. In The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why, author Jeff Gillman recommends creating a ring around plants with crushed eggshells that is at least 1/4-inch thick and 2 inches wide. (But, if you have a serious slug issue, he also notes that you’ll have more success repelling slugs with diatomaceous earth.)
  • Use eggshells as fertilizer—they'll add calcium to your soil. Crushed eggshells can be added to holes when planting seedlings in your garden, or you can work eggshells into the soil around plants in an already planted garden—Gillman recommends using 4 or 5 eggshells per plant. And bonus: This same method is also suggested as a way to stave off blossom-end rot in tomato plants.

coffee grounds

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Coffee grounds 

  • Coffee grounds can be used to set up a slug-deterring barrier, just as the eggshells were above.
  • Used coffee grounds can be used as mulch in the garden to repel cats, rabbits, and squirrels. Although The New York Times One Thousand Gardening Questions and Answers book cautions that this treatment might repel you, too: “Few elements of vegetable garbage are as garbagy-smelling as week-old wet coffee grounds.”
  • For a less-aromatic option, work the grounds into the soil. The above-mentioned New York Times book says used coffee grounds are “especially welcome around onions, lettuce, corn, and other nitrogen lovers.”
  • If you don't want to put them directly in the soil, The Alternative Kitchen Garden suggests adding the grounds to water, and then water your plants with the nitrogen-rich water.

Banana peels 

  •  Organic Gardening Magazine (now relaunched as Rodale's Organic Life) uses banana peels to make a yellow jacket trap with other ingredients you likely already have on hand: water, sugar, and apple cider vinegar. 
  • Bury small pieces of banana peels around plants, only an inch or two deep, to repel aphids. The key words here are “small pieces”—don’t get lazy and bury whole peels, unless you want to start attracting larger pests.
  • You can bury small pieces of banana peels in your soil even if you don’t have a pest problem: Banana peels will add nutrients to the soil as they decay.
  • Ann Gibson, a.k.a. the Micro Gardener, feeds banana peels to staghorn ferns. Place a banana peel (or a piece of a peel) between the fern and the backboard the fern is mounted on, it will gradually release nutrients over time when it is watered. If you’re not keen on tucking banana peels into your houseplants, she also suggests soaking a fresh banana peel in water for a day or two and then using that water to water the staghorn fern and other plants.

orange peel

Orange peels 

  • Scatter small pieces of orange peels around garden plants, they will act as a cat deterrent.
  • Orange peels work as a pest deterrent, too: Either shallowly bury small pieces of peel around plants or sprinkle shredded or grated peels around plants to repel aphids and ants.
  • If you have a fire pit, you can use dried orange peels as an aromatic fire starter. Our friends at Apartment Therapy recommend spreading the peels out on a sheet pan or cooling rack and letting them air dry.
  • Orange peels work as a mosquito repellent, too. If you’re into citrusy fragrances, rub peels directly on your skin (the outside of the peel, as you’re trying to get the oil on your skin). Otherwise follow Apartment Therapy’s lead and use small pieces as refill strips for mosquito repelling devices

Tell us: What are your favorite multi-use kitchen scraps?

Eggshell photo by Anna Hezel, bananas by Bobbi Lin, coffee grounds by James Ransom, and orange peel by Jennifer Farley

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mani
  • Bobbi
  • Sandra Mitchell
    Sandra Mitchell
  • Lindsay-Jean Hard
    Lindsay-Jean Hard
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Mani July 5, 2020
Very useful!
Can tell how to protect Veggi saplings from rabbit and squirrel?
Bobbi March 7, 2020
Such a great article! Thank you Lindsay-Jean.
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 8, 2020
Thanks Bobbi!
Sandra M. March 22, 2019
Used coffee pods make good started "pots" for seeds. Leave a little coffee in pod, mix in some potting soil and place in empty egg carton until sprouts.