The Waste Less Havensteader

I hate waste. Unfortunately, I’ve been known to find moldy veggies in the bottom of my refrigerator. I used to basically say “ugh” and then ditch it. “Oh well, I’ll do better next time” was my motto. Then I got to thinking. What if every time I threw food away, I marked down the cost of that food I had wasted? Would I then be so blasé about it only being a bunch of cilantro? Even if it wasn’t a lot, the point is I could have just been taking dollar bills and throwing them in the trash. So I made it my mission to stop the waste. Things that can go bad quickly are my focus and hopefully, you’ll find a tip or two that can help you.
Obviously the first step is “don’t buy what you won’t eat or use right away”. Ever think of a recipe, buy the ingredients and then get busy with life and don’t think about making it until days later? By then, things may be past use. In Europe, refrigerators are small if used at all and people take daily trips to the market. While I’m not saying you need to make time to head to your local market every day, consider buying only what keeps or you will use within two to three days if you are going to get perishables. Of course, it’s even better if you’ve got your garden going to take a simple trip outside for that “just enough” amount of salad or stir fry fixings!

PUT FOOD ON DISPLAY. Keep a bit of fruit on counters for a quick grab of a healthy on-the-go snack. Baskets or open air containers for onions, garlic, potatoes. In many refrigerators, the crisper to hold veggies are at the bottom or lower levels. Either move those up or put things that keep in those areas. Keep perishables at your eye level in clear containers.
Side note: Containers are so important. In an effort to get rid of waste with containers, I like to re-use containers. Is there a particular type of food you enjoy that has a great container? I used to buy a Whole Foods salad dressing. Now I make my own dressings but I still use the jars. I also like to buy containers I can use multiple times and thus, save money by not buying plastic bags.

STORE FOOD PROPERLY. Some foods (apples, lettuces, etc.) prefer cool temps so put them in your fridge. Some foods are okay in room temps such as tomatoes, potatoes, certain squashes, etc. The more you “see” the food the more you’ll not forget you have it. Produce Bags are one way to keep food organized.Some foods tend to sweat and the moisture is what causes items to begin rotting. When you bring home items, if you have put them in plastic bags at the store (try to break that habit) take them out and wrap them in paper towels or put in a produce bag. The paper or cloth will help wick the moisture away from the produce. I do this even in glass containers. Also, keep things together so you’re not hunting for items such as lunchmeat and cheeses, salad items, etc.

LIST IT. Next to your fridge or on your fridge add a list of perishable items (you can even create a perishable list you take to the grocery store.) As you or others take something out of the fridge, mark it off or change the amount. You can do this for your freezer too. This may take you some time to set up but once you’ve got a system going this can save you time and money.

USE THE EDGES. This is a permaculture principle but it can help you save money too. Everything can be used. Sometimes it’s the little bit “left” that ends up being discarded. But those little bits add up to big bits. Do you have some fruit pieces left, for instance, a banana going brown? Pulse them into a smoothie or make fruit leather. Banana peel is great for roses and other flowering bushes who love the potassium. Egg shells can be crushed and used on plants and even taken for extra calcium. Peelings can be simmered to make a nice vegetable stock in water that you had used for making pasta. Hard cheese can be grated to use over veggies, rice or pasta. Herb stems and leaves can go into a jar filled with olive oil or vinegar to make your own personal vinaigrette.

WATER RIDS WASTE. Your refrigerator door is a great place to keep a container of water where you can store cut celery, carrots, cut apples, etc. These are great for quick snacks. This keeps them crunchy and cold. You can even add a bit of lemon if you put apples in the water. Celery and carrots keep longer than apples. Sticking limp lettuce or greens into a bowl of ice water will often revive lettuces. Have you seen where you can grow lettuce you got from the store in a small bit of water? Well, I tried it and it works! Come home and cut your lettuce off the core and then put the core in water. Depending on where the lettuce came from it will start growing within a day or two. It’s the best “Buy One—Get One Free you can get! You can also do this with celery (I’ve yet to try that one yet). In addition, you can have a large open mouth jug or Mason jar with water in the fridge. Add pieces of lemon or lime, berries or fruit, cucumber peels, carrots, mint or other herbs. You’ve made your own refreshing “vitamin” water.

SAVE WITH THE SUN. I have a sun oven as well as a set of screens I got from Horizon Herbs. I also have an inexpensive dehydrator. Whatever you decide to use, it’s great when you have your own sun-dried tomatoes in the middle of winter. You can also dry garlic. Once it’s dried you can make your own garlic powder which is much better than anything you get in the store. You can pack a bunch of dehydrated food into a small space—great for an apartment or smaller home. It may open up new worlds to you. Ever had dehydrated okra? Add some salt and it’s like a healthy snack similar to a cross between popcorn and soy nuts. Yum. Ready to make a stew and need a thickener? Pop some dehydrated okra in the pot. Hanging herbs from your garden to dry imbues your home with fragrance and you’ll have great herbs to use in cooking or for medicinal usage.

SEED TO SEED. You know the old saying of ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Well, it’s true of all life. Life begets life. When you have used the plant or product, it can go back into the earth to create new life. Composting attracts worms, it feeds microbes, it benefits the soil, and it’s useful instead of wasteful. I think in many ways we have not realized the inherent value in all things. What may look like garbage is a farmer’s gold. Think of how you can re-use (grow again, come again), upcycle (fruit smoothies, leathers, green drinks), repurpose (home, garden and personal use—milk baths, etc.) and recycle (livestock feed, pet treats, compost). And even ashes from your fireplace can be added to soil to make it more alkaline, used to make lye for soap or provide your chickens with a great dust bath.

Creating a havenstead means that you need less and you use more thus saving you much! Pick one thing to use more and waste less.

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