If you only grow one thing

I returned from holiday to a garden with few crops. I knew that builders and gardening do not mix well, so I had left plenty space for the builders to expand into, thus severely curtailing my planting. However, before I left I sowed a large container (a plastic fish box salvaged from the beach years ago) with salad leaves. And now I am reaping the rewards:

A mixed crop

A mixed crop

Since I arrived home on Sunday evening I have had four meals containing leaves harvested from this box and there are plenty more to come. I chose to plant red mizuna and a red-leaved lettuce, plus there are a few self-seeded Claytonia in there. I can harvest exactly the amount I want, so my salads are always fresh.

If you want to start growing and only have a limited space, or worry that your skills are not up to it, get yourself a container and plant some seeds for salad leaves (you can buy a mixed packet). Choose cut-and-come-again varieties and you will have weeks of fresh food at a fraction of the cost of those plastic bags of mixed leaves you can buy in the supermarket. Plus the only packaging will be a seed packet or two and you won’t have unused food going to waste in your refrigerator.

This is why I garden – pesticide-free food, freshly harvested, no plastic bags, cheap and easy.

Fruit vinegar

A report on the BBC today highlights the amount of food that is going to waste in the UK, with Tesco reporting that it threw away 30,000 tonnes of food in the first six months of this year:

Using its own data and industry-wide figures, it has also estimated that, across the UK food industry, 68% of salad to be sold in bags was wasted – 35% of it thrown out by customers.

And it estimated that 40% of apples and 47% of bakery items were wasted.

My bucket of 'food waste'!

My bucket of ‘food waste’!

These are shocking figures… but I’m not entirely surprised. Perhaps the fact that food is relatively cheap and, when bought from a supermarket, the customer has invested little effort in its production, means it has little ‘value’. I am reluctant to waste anything that I have taken time to create – whether a sock I have knitted or apples I have bottled – and I think this is true for many people. In our household no food goes to waste – if for some reason we can’t eat it, it is consumed by dogs, chickens or worms, with the compost heap being the ultimate destination if there are no other takers. In addition, we never buy a bag of salad leaves because I can almost always find some fresh in the garden or in a pot and then we only pick what we need… even if that’s just half a dozen for a sandwich.

However, this week I have embarked on an endeavour to make even better use of a ‘waste’ product. A few days ago, my friend Deano (supplier of my naked pumpkin seeds and all-round inspiring permaculture practitioner) posted a link to a blog describing how to make vinegar from fruit scraps.

Apple scraps, fermenting naturally as you can see from the bubbles on the surface

Apple scraps, fermenting naturally as you can see from the bubbles on the surface

As you may have noticed from recent posts, I’ve got lots of apples! Until now, the peel and cores have either been fed to the hens (they love them, but there is a limit to the amount they can eat) or put direct on the compost heap (creating a lovely cidery smell). However, I’ve now decided to get an extra yield and am making apple vinegar. It takes several weeks, so I’m currently only at the stage of apple scraps, water and a bit of sugar fermenting naturally in a bucket (food grade plastic) covered with muslin to keep the fruit flies off. I will add to this as I work my way through the rest of the apples that I am going to bottle or freeze, and then it will be more weeks until the vinegar will be ready for bottling itself, but fingers crossed that it works. Once strained off the vinegar, the scraps will still be going on the compost heap, but cannot be fed to the chickens as they will contain alcohol and I really can do without drunken hens reeling round my back yard!

So, in our house, we’re not contributing at all to food waste. Do you have any tips for using up scraps?

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