I am always scouring the internet for tips and tricks on how to keep leftover foods fresh, reduce our family’s footprint on this Earth, and make our lives one step closer to sustainability. There is A LOT of good information out there! However, it can get a little overwhelming and sometimes even extreme…making it difficult to sort through what is realistic to actually do, and what may be too much (or not worth the effort) for your family. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for 100% sustainability! But it can be a difficult thing to start out doing, which tends turns some people off from even trying. So I have compiled a list of small things we do on a daily basis that had proven to be easy and efficient for our family! Also, they are great starting points for working towards a higher level of sustainability.
Ok, so composting can be as simple OR as complicated as you make it. Most sites will give you so much information is gets overwhelming really quick. The first thing to think about it: Will you use it? The whole point of composting is to produce a nutrient rich product to be used for growing new crops, to sell, or to dispose of in the natural environment. If you cannot do any of those thing (like if you live in a very urban area) maybe consider planning your meals more efficiently to produce less waste, instead of composting. One big pro to composting is that your trash won’t smell near as bad since there will be no rotting fruits and veggies! You don’t have to compost in large quantities either! For instance, we started with a small bucket under our sink and expanded from there. The most important things to know about composting are what items you can compost, what size container you need, and where you will store it.
Pick your container…
Start small with a metal bucket with a lid and drill a couple air holes in it (this is the tutorial we used and had no issues with smell or bugs). If that fills up you can move it outside to a large flower pot with no lid. Since we use a large compost pot outside (the container is what they transport trees in – your garden store may have them), we use two small coffee containers inside to store food scraps until we make a trip to the compost…as long as its airtight it will work! Outside you do not want airtight.
TIP: chop up scraps smaller (even smaller the shown in the picture) for them to compost more efficiently…I just got a little lazy with our watermelon this morning…
What you can…
Any fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, cardboard & newspaper (not glossy), coffee grounds, leaves & grass clippings, etc…Here is a longer list.
What you can’t…
Meats, synthetic materials (plastics), fatty/sugary foods, etc. The biggest thing with what you cannot include is making sure you do not contaminate the compost, as it can then kill the plants that are planted in it later! Check out this list.
Keep a balance wet and dry…
As a rule of thumb, if it’s really stinky or buggy (outside) add some dry things like leaves and paper. Kitchen scraps are most likely going to be your main compost so you will probably have to add dry materials regularly.
Stirring is optional…
We literally let our compost sit untouched for weeks without stirring it and it was fine! Again, just keep an eye out for a bad odor, then you may need to stir in some dry stuff.
Let it sit!
This is not a daily thing you have to think about, that’s the beauty of its simplicity. So don’t over complicate it and you’ll have a nice blend of dark rich soil for you’re next garden!
Photo Credit: Mother Earth News Magazine
Make your own vegetable stock.
Another alternative to compost is to save your vegetable scraps in the freezer until you have about a gallon bag full (but no longer then 6 months), stick them all in a crock pot, fill it up with water and let it simmer all day (here is an easy recipe). Voila! Vegetable stock full of flavor and essentially free (because stock can be expensive). Freeze your stock to use for soups and stews later!
Freeze unused essentials.
If you are anything like me you buy something for a recipe and end up not using it all… then 3 weeks later you clean out the fridge and waste whatever was left! Here are a couple things you may not think about saving & freezing but it’s worth doing!
- Buttermilk – freeze in ice cube trays (I recommend a larger ice cube tray like these) and thaw as needed.
- Zest – freeze lemon, lime, or orange zest in small glass containers.
- Applesauce – Freeze in 1/2 cup portions in small freezer bags and use as an alternative to oil in baking.
- Bread – Every bread freezes, but some don’t thaw very well. Heartier breads like rye and whole grain will freeze and thaw better then white bread and hamburger buns. However, if you aren’t super picky it’s worth freezing hamburger buns because we never use the whole pack!
- Spinach – Unless you are big on making fresh salads, freezing spinach is a wonderful way to make it last months longer then in the fridge. Granted you can buy frozen spinach, I personally like it fresh and sometimes it’s a better deal.
- Herbs – chop up and freeze herbs in olive oil or butter in ice cube trays. Use later in recipes like pasta and chicken!
- Meat (cooked &raw) – it’s great to store meat in the freezer, we all know that makes it last longer. But you can also spend the extra time cooking it, then freezing it, and you will thank yourself later when you don’t feel like thawing and cooking meat!
- Bananas/berries – I do not like brown bananas. Not one bit. So once they get spotted I peel them, break them into fourths, and stick them in the freezer to be used later for smoothies and banana bread! Berries are also a great fruit to freeze for smoothies and desert recipes.
- Nuts – freezing nuts makes them last longer. Lets face it, they’re expensive…make them last!
Save glass containers.
I used to go through Tupperware containers like it was a job. I would send food to work with my fiance and then the containers would sit in his truck for 3 weeks and by the time he brought them back in there was no way I was washing them…so in the trash they went! As plastic containers are convenient, glass is where it’s at. I save all of them! Baby food jars, spaghetti jars, salsa jars, etc. Wide mouth jars are the best but you can find a use for each and every one!
- Small glass jars – loose teas, herbs and spices, freezing zest, displaying tea lights, q-tip holders, store stud earrings, store random odds and ends like paperclips and pins.
- Medium or large containers – food storage, plant plants in them or do a water garden, spray paint and fill with flowers, or store/display your baking ingredients like flour and sugar.
Plant a Garden.
This was the first year we actually planted a garden so I am a little bit of a bandwagoner on this one…but it was worth the effort! Granted our crop has been small and it’s been more of a learning process. To not have to buy vegetables once or twice a week is a great start for us! Here’s some tips I found useful during our first gardening escapade:
- Use the farmers almanac. This we actually did not do. I basically just followed the directions on the seed packets, which mostly worked OK. But we actually do have some plants that are thriving and others that we realized we planted a little off schedule. I guess I always thought the farmers almanac was a inaccurate wives tale, but turns out a lot of people still use it. See how much I knew about gardening!
- Start from seeds. Save an old cardboard egg carton or a couple tin cans (don’t spend money on expensive seed starting kits) and start your seeds in them! The only plants we did not starts from seeds in our garden were peppers because we could not get the seeds to grow.
- Mix in compost if you have it.
- Plant what you will eat! Unless you intend to sell. We have cucumber plants that are doing awesome but I rarely eat cucumbers…so guess I will be googling some new recipes here shortly…
- Plant the expensive food. I made it a point to plant peppers because they tend to be expensive (especially organic). Other things like, kale, spinach and melons are pricier…we even have an avocado tree that’s still alive!
- Don’t be discouraged. In one of the pictures you can even see some plants are struggling. Make this a fun learning activity for the family and try something different next year if it doesn’t work this year. Now you know!
There are so many things you can do to save money and work towards more sustainability. Someday we hope to have a large garden and some livestock, baby steps though. With a growing family we can only do so much and there is no need to add extra stress to your life! I hope these tips are good starting points for someone else as they were for us!