Waste in the Garden

Waste in the Garden
Garden waste is unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce it through better planning and understanding of both your consumption and the plants you grow. I am not a farmer. My yield in the garden does not determine whether my family eats or not–we don’t rely on growing our own food. I am a gardener, and that is different. As a gardener, I do not always carefully determine what we need¬†when I plant. I don’t stagger plantings of cauliflower and corn to get a steady yield over period of time–that’s more work in the beginning. The planning, the sowing, and the attention it requires are all too much when I have two little kids and a job and other hobbies. So when the beans are ripe, they are ALL ripe. When we want one cauliflower, we have six, which means we eat two or three and the others either get overripe or given away. I had over 50 ears of corn this year, and they ripened in the middle of a busy week. Ripe corn is a short-lived thing. Most ears went to friends, but some never even got picked.
Overripe Corn
Corn left on the stalk. This variety doesn’t make great dent (flour) corn, and it’s not heirloom, so I can’t even save the seeds.
Certain vegetables are wonderful in the way they grow, perfect for a gardener and not a farmer. Kale and Di Cicco Broccoli will keep growing and let you come back again and again for more before they go to seed. Many lettuces are like this, too. Peas and beans will keep flowering when you keep picking them, making for a prolonged, steady harvest. Even tomatoes tend to follow a steady stream like this. This year, I grew a new-to-me variety called Sungold. It was surprisingly prolific, and I had three plants when I really should have had one. They are beautiful little orange gems, but my husband and I only eat them in salads. So we’ve given baskets of them away, along with many of the “volunteer” Chadwick Cherry variety that is trying to take over my pumpkin patch. But keeping up with these is not easy. So, many rot on the vine, or fall to the ground. I’ll have many volunteers of both varieties next year, no doubt. Neither of these varieties are great for canning, either. Not that I have time for canning, either. I feel terrible about this waste of food. Because that’s what it is, Food Waste, just like when the strawberries in the bottom of the basket from the farmer’s market get moldy before we can get to them. It’s edible food, left to bake in the sun, in my yard.

What can we do about Garden Waste?

  1. Plan ahead for consumption. Try that staggering of planting I talked about, if you can, with vegetables like corn and cauliflowers. Make better decisions about foods your family will actually eat.
  2. Plant less. It’s natural to over do it, and plan for the worst by having 4 or 5 plants when the yield of 1 or 2 will do. If you know you can grow it in your climate, and know how to ensure it will survive, then plan for that. If you aren’t sure yet, then overplanting is naturally the way to go–you’re trying to see how this new plant grows for you. But when you get the hang of it, lay off the extra plants.
  3. Pick more. Check on your garden on a regular schedule, every day or every other day, with garden shears and a basket in hand. If it gets too hot during the day, plan for the morning or dusk. But keep to the schedule, and in this way you will find those tender green beans and tiny, crisp, baby zucchinis.
  4. Never plant more than one zucchini plant. No one household ever uses even half of a zucchini plant’s yield. And nobody like zoodles, so please stop pretending that’s going to somehow happen.
  5. Tackle it, head-on. When you find your tomatoes falling off the vines, pick them up and compost them. Find every. single. acceptable, ripe tomato and collect it, and find ways to either cook up a big batch of sauce to store in the freezer, or to give them away to friends and family. At the end of this, you’ll be back to a clean, productive, non-rotting garden, and you won’t fall into the depths of OGD (Overripe Garden Despair).
  6. Don’t force yourself to consume food you don’t want. Overripe food is gross, like huge, dry green beans with strings and unchewable skins–I used to not only eat those horrid things, but I would parboil and freeze them, as if I would ever actually see those and say “Yum, let’s have green cardboard with our dinner tonight!” Same thing with corn. You don’t have to suffer for your garden in this way. It will turn gardening into a chore.
  7. Accept that some waste will come, and that the natural world sees this all the time. Plants in the wild have the same problem, and they fruit decays to nourish the soil, their seeds grow more plants, and they go on. But ensure that your garden waste ends up in your compost bin or pile, so that it can returned to the earth.
An overripe Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato that no human will ever eat.

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