Growing your own food is hard work—don’t let all that work go to waste. Here are 10 strategies to help you avoid food waste in your garden.
Choose plants appropriate to place
If you’re planning to harvest food in your garden, then it is of utmost importance to choose the right plants for the right places. You’re much more likely to create waste if you grow plants that aren’t suited to your climate, microclimate, soil, and growing conditions. Now more than ever, you’ll have to strategize how to create systems that won’t just serve you today but can adapt to our drastically changing climate. If you make careful choices, then you’ll likely harvest a higher yield and experience fewer losses.
Cooperate and share
When we work together, we can save much more, especially in a community of small gardens. Oftentimes, people have more seeds than they can sow, and since seeds are only viable for a certain length of time, swapping and sharing seeds can minimize plant waste.
If you find that you’ve germinated more seeds than you have space for, don’t discard the seedlings, but try to give them away or swap plants with others.
Also, whenever you have a surplus of crops, look to your community to share the bounty.
Take an organic, holistic approach to plant care
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and you may lose food-producing plants to pests, disease, or environmental factors. This is another form of waste that you may have a better chance of avoiding if you take an organic, holistic approach to gardening.
Take care of the soil properly, use effective water management, and practice companion planting. Trying to attract wildlife that will support your crops and practicing crop rotation are a couple more strategies that you can implement to minimize your chances of losing food-producing plants.
Okay, so you’ve successfully grown and harvested your own produce. Now you must make sure that all that food gets eaten. Succession sowing crops means staggering the plantings so that you can spread out your harvest and avoid having an unmanageable amount of food all at once. This is particularly useful for quick-growing produce like lettuces and radishes.
Another way of avoiding excess produce is staggering harvest periods. For instance, grow soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries in different locations so that they produce their yield over a longer period. You can also grow some crops under a polytunnel or inside a greenhouse while you let others grow outside. Those grown under the cover are often ready to harvest a bit earlier than the outdoor crops. You can also stagger harvests by growing different varieties that mature at different rates.
Make the most of secondary crop yields
When it comes to harvesting and consuming crops, most people inadvertently waste food by letting the other parts of typical crops go to waste. Don’t chuck out your carrot tops, beet leaves, radish pods, or flowers. Here’s an article we wrote for ideas on how you can use the whole plant.
Recognize wild or non-typical food sources
Gardeners are often proud of the plants they’ve cultivated, but many overlook the common “weeds” that spring up around the produce. Yes, even nettles, dandelions, and chickweed can be sources of food.
There are also plenty of plants that are often grown for ornamental reasons that are actually potential food sources. Hostas, for example, are attractive and delicious.
Plan and prepare for preservation
The next step after harvest is to preserve what needs to be preserved. There are many ways to do this, ranging from freezing, dehydrating, pickling, or canning your garden produce. Just make sure you educate yourself on the proper techniques and have the tools and equipment you need.
Make use of leftovers and vegetable scraps
Before throwing your cooked leftovers and vegetable scraps into the compost, make sure that you try to incorporate them into other meals to prevent food waste. You can also use vegetable scraps to grow more veggies, make stock, or make natural dyes.
Compost what’s left—return the surplus to the system
If you’ve exhausted all other ways of using and re-using your crops, take what’s leftover and place them in your composting system. Effectively composting can help you maintain fertility in your garden and keep food waste from ending up in a landfill.