Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Waste not.....

Last Wednesday was World Environment Day... this year's theme was 'Think Eat Save'.  This is a mantra that's close to my heart and part of my philosophy that has lead to my interest in all things related to backyard food production.

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes to waste every year- the equivalent of the amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

Seems like a big problem with insurmountable  issues involved.. but starting small.... just imagine if everyone here in Australia grew a few pots of herbs for example.... how many acres  of productive land would no longer be dedicated to growing herbs destined to end up soggy and slimy at the bottom of the fridge  (if any one has EVER used a entire pack of herbs in a dish I would be surprised) not to mention the dubious jars of 'fresh garlic' and tubes of squeezable  'herbs'  sitting up the back with a best before date of 2008. 

Anyway I digress here's how we deal with food waste at our house:

Growing 'waste' into new plants  

Here are  four crops I have grown from what would have otherwise become waste 

'Royal Blue' potatoes - the origin of these is a couple of sprouted spuds from Jones Potatoes from Warragul in Gippsland
Garlic- in the early days I grew the dreaded 'Chinese' import stuff reasonably well (it was little strong and garlicy). I also tried some South American bulbs with no success. Lately I have found good sources of  local organic garlic for sale at local farmers markets - going cheap at the end of the season. I eat what I can and plant the rest.

Ginger  (with some lemon grass cuttings) - this is my first attempt at growing ginger! for some reason this year an unloved  piece sprouted on my bench rather than simply shriveling away. Hopefully it will survive the winter

Sweet potato- once again, not sure how this will go- it started growing so I put it in the soil. Its looking a little wilted after a chilly winters night.
Feeding waste to 'chooks'

Sadly less effective than expected.... we don't have kids... just 2 adults who have kind of figured out how to match a serving size with an appetite .. so the food the chooks like is fairly limited. Here's a list of what they do and don't like:

  •  bread crusts (we don't eat a lot of bread but they take what they can get)
  • dregs from the cereal pack (mixed with grain - a great mash)
  • rice or pasta stuck to the pan bottom- soaked off with hot water and added to the cereal dregs
  • porridge (they happily clean the pot)
  • hot chips (minimum chips is never minimum- much to their happiness)
  • capsicum seeds (chuck the cores out and they pick them clean)
  • ditto pumpkin seeds (if they are desperate)
  • apple cores and skin (chopped finely)- makes me feel less guilty about losing the goodness peeling apples for cooking when I know it will be recycled back in eggs and poo.
  • over ripe fruit (peaches, plums etc) - put into mash
  • any kind of green leaf/ peeling etc (you have to be joking! they only enjoy greens straight off the plant!)
Feeding 'waste' to worms

We have 2 small worm farms that process about 1-2 litres of kitchen peelings  and coffee grounds per week. The main thing with the worms is not to let them overheat in the summer. A few days heading towards 40 degrees plus and they end up in serious trouble (I learnt the hard way during the crazy heatwave prior to the black Saturday bush fires in 2009. I came home from work to a hideous stench in my front yard- a 1000 or so rotting worms in my backyard).  My remedy since then has been to put a frozen drink bottle in the worm farm on very hot days which seems to work (either that or evolution has worked exceptionally fast).  Other than that my worms are pretty tough. Contrary to popular wisdom and unlike the chooks they are NOT fussy  and happily live with food they are not supposed to like- onion and citrus.


  1. Absolutely agree with everything here (especially the what chooks like bit), except for not being able to use the whole pack of herbs - I find them too small if anything, particularly parsley and coriander. RE: the gardening - I find ginger usually survives over winter - just.... I generally lift mine and store a bit of rhizome but I do sometimes just leave it in the pot. The sweet potatoes might struggle, mine usually die back over winter, sometimes reappearing in late Spring/Summer and sometimes not. I'm experimenting with over wintering them in a cold frame this year. One thing I do find is that the shoots will last for ages if you leave them on the tuber in the back of a dark cupboard. Even though they've sprouted they stay in a kind of suspended animation for quite some time. I find it effective to leave them like that until August and then root them in a glass of water at that point.

    1. Thanks for the tips Liz- I will see what happens with the sweet potato- if it keeps living on- if not I will lift it and do as you say with an aim of putting them back in the Spring. I might just leave the ginger where it is as well see what happens- normally works ok for the tumeric.