When you grow your own food, in a polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden, it makes you want to make the most of every last bit. So let’s take a look at what to do with vegetable scraps from the produce you grow.
It is very important to make sure that you do not waste food – whether or not you have grown it yourself. You should do what you can to value food, and prevent waste in all its forms. Like so many other things that are often just thrown away, vegetable scraps are very useful. They can help us in our homes and our gardens. They can help us give back to the natural world.
But vegetable scraps are often thrown away with general waste. They can end up in landfill, where they decompose anaerobically. This releases methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere, and contributes to global warming. Here are some suggestions for what to do with vegetable scraps to help make sure that does not happen:
Re-Grow Vegetable Scraps For Food
If you are not already aware of all the vegetables that can be regrown from scraps, check out our handy guide by following the link. You can regrow a wide range of different vegetables from parts of the plant that might otherwise have been thrown away. You can, of course, save seeds from many home-grown plants too. These can be sown in your garden next year. Stop before thinking about how you might be able to use those vegetable scraps in other useful ways. Consider how they might be used to grow more food.
Use Vegetable Scraps To Make Vegetable Stock
Those peelings and scraps from fresh produce that cannot be used to grow more food might be used instead to make a rich and healthy vegetable stock. Vegetable stock can be used in a wide range of recipes. By making it yourself, you can determine exactly what goes into it. You can avoid too much salt, for example. Homemade vegetable stock is a great alternative to shop-bought options. It can also have a better depth of flavour.
Onion, carrot and celery are generally great to use as a base for your stock. To these, you can also add scraps from these and other vegetables you have to hand. Collect the following scraps to use them to make your broth:
- onion skins
- carrot peel & carrot tops
- celery leaves
- onion stems/ green onions
- shallot skins
- parsnip peelings
- turnip/ Swede peelings
- herb stems and leaves
Avoid adding scraps from any members of the brassica family. But feel free to add a wide range of other ingredients and experiment with creating flavours that work for you. Add salt, pepper and other seasonings to taste. You can freeze your stock to use it later, or pop it in the fridge and use it up within a few days.
Boiling all of the ingredients together allows you to extract the goodness. You can then go on to add the discarded mush to your compost heap, or perhaps to use them in another way.
Make Natural Dyes From Vegetable Scraps
You might be intrigued to know that you can also use certain vegetable scraps to make natural dyes. Here’s how to get a range of colours from fruit and vegetable scraps from your polytunnel garden:
- For red/ pink dyes: use beetroots, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, avocado skins and pits.
- Orange dyes: use carrots, orange peels, yellow onion skins.
- Yellow dyes: use lemon peel, celery leaves
- For green dyes: use a range of leafy greens such as spinach, parsley, peppermint leaves, or artichokes.
- Brown dyes: use certain roots (ie dandelion roots) and tea and coffee (not vegetable scraps per say, but these also kitchen scraps that can be used).
- For grey/ black dyes: use blackberries (or walnut hulls).
Make Liquid Plant Feed
You can also use vegetable scraps to make a liquid plant feed. To do so: blend vegetable scraps into a puree with enough water. Bring the mix to a smooth consistency. Pour the blender full into a large bucket, and add ½ tsp of Epsom salts. Allow the mix to sit overnight and then add water to this mix at a ratio of around 4:1. Give the mix a good stir and then add it to the soil around the base of your plants.
Feed Vegetable Scraps to Your Chickens (Or Other Livestock)
If vegetable scraps are fine to eat still (not mouldy or rotten), but you don’t want to eat them, you could consider then as supplemental feed for chickens or other livestock. If you keep animals, they may well really appreciate these little additions to their diets. You may decide to feed these scraps directly, or add the scraps to an outdoors, open compost heap and allow the chickens or other animals access to that heap.
Feed Vegetable Scraps To Some Worms
The problem with adding vegetable scraps directly to an outside compost heap is that the materials can sometimes attract rodents and other pests – especially in winter when there is less wild food around. But composting vegetable scraps that you cannot use in any other way is still the best idea. It is one great way to live a more eco-friendly and sustainable way of life.
If you do not already compost food waste, now is the time to start. But you do not have to choose a typical compost heap or bin. You could consider enlisting the help of some special composting worms. Vermiculture is the process of keeping worms to help you in composting organic and compostable waste – including vegetable scraps. Set up a wormery and you can create a great compost to use in your garden. One of the great things about this technique is that the worms will enrich the mix with their ‘castings’. This ‘worm poo’ is a great soil enricher. Setting up a wormery will also allow you to drain off fluid from it to use as a liquid plant feed. So your vegetable scraps really will be turned to great use.
Interestingly, vermiculture can also give another yield – the worms themselves. Worms in a wormery will breed and the population will expand. The worms could potentially be considered as a supplemental feed for chickens etc.. or fed to fish in an aquaponics system.
Prepare a Runner Bean Trench For Next Year
Rather than composting vegetable scraps above ground, in a compost bin or wormery, you could also consider composting them under the ground. Making a runner bean trench is one traditional way to prepare a growing area for next year. This process involves simply making a trench and filling it with vegetable scraps and other nutrient-rich organic matter. You then just cover this material back over with soil, and allow it all to rot down ready for the transplantation or sowing of your runner beans next year. The vegetable scraps help to meet the runner beans’ high nutrient requirements.
Make a New ‘Lasagna’ Raised Bed
If you want to make new growing areas in your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden, lasagna style raised beds are a great idea. A lasagna raised bed is a growing area built up with layers of brown (carbon rich) and green (nitrogen rich) organic matter, then topped with compost. Vegetable scraps can come in handy in this process too. They can be added to the ‘green’, nitrogen rich layers of the bed. As in the above example, the materials are not composted in a separate area, but composted in place.
Make a Hugelkultur Mound
Another option for composting in place is the hugelkultur method. This is another option when it comes to creating new growing areas. Hugelkultur mounds are raised mounds of partially rotted wood and other organic material, topped with soil/ compost. The benefit of these mounds is that they are great at retaining moisture and filled with nutrients. They also enable you to create a range of habitats in a smaller amount of space. You can use this method to make new growing areas of a range of different sizes and shapes. For example, you can make long, curving or straight beds, or a circular mound. (A circular hugelkultur mound could form the basis of a new herb spiral.)
These are just some of the ways to use fruit and vegetable scraps from your polytunnel or garden. There are also a number of other unique ways to use specific things. For example – did you know that citrus peels can be dried and used to make natural firelighters?
What do you do with your vegetable scraps? Do you just compost them in the ordinary way, or have you found other ways to use them? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.