According to a 2018 study funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, consumers in the United States waste nearly one pound of food per person per day! Globally, the numbers are staggering, with an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food, roughly 30% of global production, lost or wasted annually. Food waste accounts for 19% of landfill waste and has a detrimental environmental impact, being a direct contributor to greenhouse gases.
One of the ways that many gardeners, and in some cases communities, are combating this waste is through composting. Composting is the method in which organic waste decomposes naturally under oxygen-rich conditions. The resulting compost product is rich in nutrients and can be used to amend poor soil, aid in water retention, and to help in the cultivation of plants. Compost is so beneficial in the garden that it is often referred to as ‘black gold’ because of its value in improving garden soil.
While composting is an excellent method of decreasing food waste, I was curious if there were any other methods that people could use to reduce waste. I discovered the concept of no-waste kitchen gardening, a technique that aims to get the most out of your food before heading to the compost bin. This approach incorporates such tasks as regrowing certain produce and creating new recipes from scraps such as vegetable broth, veggie peel chips, carrot top pesto, and pickling. I was so intrigued by this concept that I decided to give it a try!
First, I wanted to experiment with regrowing produce from scraps that would usually be heading to the compost bin. The idea is to use parts of vegetables or herbs that are typically thrown away as the starts for new plants. The fact that some vegetables can regrow was not a foreign concept to me, as I had been growing cut-and-come-again varieties of lettuce for several years in the vegetable garden. However, I was excited to experiment with other produce. Vegetables recommended for easy regrowing include scallions, leeks, celery, romaine lettuce, bok choy, and herbs such as mint, basil, and cilantro. The easiest method for regrowing herbs is by rooting herb cuttings in water. Rooted cuttings can then be planted in a pot or your garden for continual harvest.
Scallions and lettuce topped my list for this experiment. After using the scallion greens in a recipe, I planted the bottom with roots in the soil. For the best results, use at least one-inch segments. Alternatively, you can place the roots directly in a glass of water for a more straightforward approach. I was thrilled when, with a little sun and regular watering, they grew over the next few weeks! Within six weeks, the scallions were completely regrown and ready to be used in our favorite recipes.
While I had grown lettuce from seed in the past, I had never tried to grow lettuce from scraps. I placed the bottom of a lettuce head into a shallow bowl of water, and, to my amazement, new leaves were sprouting within a week! While lettuce bottoms will not regrow an entire head of lettuce, they will grow leaves from the crown. The leaves in my lettuce experiment grew vigorously for a few weeks and produced just enough for a small salad. While I was happy with both results, I found that the scallions produced a higher yield from the scraps. I enjoyed experimenting with regrowing produce, and I can see myself trying other varieties in the future. Using this method to regrow vegetables would also be a great way to garden indoors in the winter months.
Next, I ventured into the kitchen to try my hand at using scraps to make new recipes. For several weeks I placed my vegetable scraps, such as carrot peels, potato peels, celery ends, mushroom stems, onion tops and bottoms, garlic skins, and parsley stems, in the freezer. Once the container was full, I placed the contents in a pot and covered with water. After bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer for about 30 minutes, I strained the vegetable scraps out, leaving a delicious vegetable broth. The broth can be kept in the refrigerator and used within four days, or frozen for up to six months. When you’re ready to use the vegetable broth in your favorite recipes, add spices, and enjoy!
I also pickled vegetable scraps, including leftover cabbage, red onion, and carrot peels for use as a slaw on sandwiches. Pickling is a great way to use up vegetables in the fridge that might have otherwise gone into the compost pile. In the future, I look forward to trying many other recipes that will incorporate scraps, such as carrot top pesto, candied citrus peels, and vegetable peel chips, to name a few. Making food from scraps typically considered waste was a fun and delicious experiment!
Discovering that there are many ways to use our food scraps to help lessen our impact on the environment, was uplifting. I will continue to compost for my garden, but I will also enjoy employing other methods to cut down on food waste, using food scraps both in recipes and in kitchen gardening. Give it a try, and you might be surprised by the results!
Rubel, William. “The Garden of Rebirth.” Mother Earth News, April/May 2020, pp. 44-48