Grow delicious organic food with garbage, Part II

or, Depression-era thinking in the garden

Back in May, I wrote a popular article about how to grow organic, delicious food from grocery scraps many just throw in the garbage. This is part two of a series taking it one step further – and showing you how to save hundreds on produce and home products, enrich your garden and help the environment all in one thrifty package. No Dumpster diving required!

Having a ‘poor’ mindset can be enriching

Growing up, I was perplexed by the way my mother, an immigrant from a small island in the Middle East – would get the most out of every penny despite my father’s healthy income. My mother – who grew up poor by this country’s standards – refused to throw away anything that might be useful.

And that, as I will explain in a minute, has been instructive.

From a young age, I watched as my mother saved the Styrofoam containers meat came in to use as pet food dishes and sponged out cookie tins to fill with baked goods and gift at Christmas. I observed her scrub the labels off empty pickle and olive jars and save them in the cabinet, sometimes using them, sometimes not. If I opened a drawer, there would inevitably be squares of tin foil washed and rewashed for further use, and the flexible shapes of bread bag twist ties and the small multicolored rubber bands that once held vegetables together.

Her thriftiness went even deeper, so much so that it was a way of life as much as a habit. It was Depression-era thinking, only in the 1980s and ’90s.

She would fill her purse with ketchup, mustard, taco sauce, sugar and paper napkins at any fast food restaurant we visited, and would store them in a Ziploc bag in the pantry. If we went to a hotel, into the suitcase would go all the waxen bars of unused soap, the spa-scented lotion, the diminutive shampoo and conditioner, the crinkly shower caps and the coffee – including decaf, which none of us drank.

As for our own shampoo, conditioner, dish soap, detergent and even tomato sauce — she would add water when the bottles and cans were nearly empty and shake, to get the very last bit out.

What does that have to do with gardening? Everything, if you consider that nature itself is a process of reusing, recycling and upcycling the basest trash. Nature uses every inch of soil and every scrap of matter that ever was, recombining and transforming the old into something new and useful that works within a system that rejuvenates through acquisition and disintegration of the old.

So, here are some tips that, if not learned from my mother, are at least inspired by her frugal mentality. I pass them on now to you.

Use absolutely everything – twice or more if possible

Make a stock from all that green ‘garbage’:

Save every unspoiled scrap from that washed and cleaned produce – carrot tops with the greens still attached, the butt end of beets, the garlic-scented wrapping from the cloves, tomato tops, potato peels, chicken and ham bones (if you eat meat). Put everything except for fruits or cucumbers into a big plastic bag in your freezer. If you have leftover basil, thyme or other fresh herbs, don’t pitch it. Dry it for use later or add it to the bag.

If you juice, absolutely save the pulp and put it in the bag.

When the bag is full and you need stock, make a delicious concoction by adding it to boiling water, adding salt and pepper and letting it reduce. Trust me, it doesn’t matter what proportion the vegetables are in. It will be absolutely delicious and it will elevate your recipe.

If it’s full and you don’t need stock yet, start another bag.

Compost everything

Once you are done making your stock, strain out all the peelings, let them cool, and then bury them in your garden. Now it’s worm food, and will become welcome compost for the veggies you can grow for free from the other scraps, such as potatoes, green onions, beet greens and more. (Article here)

But don’t confine your composting to just veggie scraps. Shred all uncolored paper – including paper grocery bags – and add them to the other stuff you are composing (the stuff with bright colors can leak toxic ink into the soil). Even better – put all your scraps in the paper bag and then bury the bag – one less plate to wash.

I call it lazy composting.

Note: Yes, you can compost even meat, cooking oil, butter, and animal products but only if you bury it deep and far enough away that it doesn’t smell bad. Many area fishermen also clean their fish and bury the heads and guts in the soil, swearing by the results. This might not work well if you have dogs, cats, or scavenging animals that might be attracted the smell.

Use plastic and paper grocery bags in the home and garden

In our area, some local grocery stores have been forward thinking enough to collect those plastic bags for recycling. Others have decided to charge for theirs, encouraging customers to bring reusable bags instead.

But for the purposes of thrift and a green lifestyle, I say don’t turn down the free bags. You can use them.

Use them as bags for diseased foliage and trash can liners.

The plastic bags in particular are extremely handy for collecting diseased vegetation that might shed harmful spores and microbes, especially if wet. Tether them into a plastic bag and throw them in the trash.

Inside the house, use them as trashcan liners. I haven’t bought small garbage bags for my bathroom and kitchen garbage cans for at least two decades because I use the store bags. This encourages me to take out the garbage more frequently and has saved me hundreds of dollars. What’s the point of turning your nose up at free bags in order to be green, only to turn around and pay Hefty or Glad to send their thicker, harder to break down and expensive bags to the landfill?

Don’t shoot me folks, but …

Plastic bags have lots of uses in the garden.

  • If you start plants from seeds indoors (as I frequently do), you can tie them around the bottom of the pots so that the pots don’t pee all over your floor when you water the seeds.
  • You can use them on top of cuttings to keep the plants moist as they sprout roots.
  • You can use them to help keep the soil warm around sensitive young plants you can’t bring inside during one of our sneak-attack Northeast Florida frosts.
  • You can also tear them apart and use them to cover your table as you work with dirt and pruning sheers to get your plants off to a good start.
  • You can protect your car by placing them on the floor when you bring new plants home.
  • You can also use them to carry around your tools and your ties as you trellis, espalier and train vining plants in your garden.
  • And, like my penny-pinching mother, you can even wash them out and reuse them all over again.

Paper bags are great, too

  • You can shred them up to enrich your soil when they break down.
  • You can cut out squares and fold your excess herbs in them to dry, free from dust and contamination.
  • You can lay down several of them and weight them down with something heavy to kill that patch of sod you’re going to dig out to create a new bed.
  • You can use it in ‘lasagna gardening,’ in which you alternate laying down paper bags and cardboard pizza boxes, grass clippings and compost so that the materials decay, kill weeds and grass and make a nice new fertile plot for more food plants.

These are just a few more ways you can use garbage to enrich your soil and feed yourself and your family. Stay tuned for part III of this series, coming soon.

Be sure to share this article with your friends, and if you have a tip, post it in the comments!

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