Making the most of this seasons produce

This week, I am going to look at making the most of every last bit of produce. As a frugal gardener, it seems criminal to be growing an excess of produce that you are unable to use.
According to WRAP, 70% of UK food waste is from households, so we certainly don’t want to be adding our home-grown produce to that pile.

Somewhat stressed out by the glut of cucumbers, I decided to have my first stab at making fermented sour pickles. Fermenting foods is not something I have tried before but meaning to get into. The basic principle is submerging the produce in a salt solution (3 – 5% is advised) which kills all the bad bacteria and moulds that spoil food but allows the fermenting anaerobic bacteria to thrive. So I packed the sterilised jars with chunks of cucumber and added garlic, dill, coriander and bay leaves and topped up with my salt solution. We had to pack the jars very tightly with cucumber pieces, to make sure that none float, as anything not submerged will quickly spoil and risks ruining the whole jar. In hindsight, this was quite tricky to do, so in the future, I will use a weighted object to keep stop and stray floaters. You can either use a large stone if you can get it completely clean, or there are various glass fermentation weights you can buy. They are certainly very pleasing to look at, at the moment (see picture), and if it works out, I think we will be progressing onto experimenting with other vegetables. Saurkraut and Kimchi city, here we come!

If you are not into pickles, then, perhaps it is time to move your cooking outside your comfort zone to use up produce. Just because convention dictates that cucumbers are chopped up and put in a salad, there is no reason to try out other things. I tried chopped cucumber in a soup with potato, tomato and dill and not only did I use up several cucumbers, but it tasted delicious. The cucumbers retained their zingy fresh flavour but soaked up the taste of the herbs and tomatoes.

And then there are the extra treats that are growing around the garden, that are easy to miss. One of my favourites is the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) or pheasant berry (see picture). Commonly grown as an ornamental shrub, it also produces abundant berries which you need to eat when they are almost too soft to handle. Then they taste like dark chocolate caramels with an intense burnt sugar taste. Don’t try eating them when they are anything less than very ripe, or the experience will resemble eating a spoon full of budget instant coffee.

I am pleased to say that I harvested my first smallish sized karela yesterday (see picture). Karela has an important part in the diets of many Asian communities and is alleged to have many health properties. On its own, it is very bitter, but this bitterness worked well when cooked with mustard seeds, garlic, ginger and mushrooms. And I heard that the man down the road also managed to get some produce from the plants I gave him, so that is some achievement producing something difficult to grow in this country.

So reflecting on the season, I think we have managed to achieve a lot from spending only modest amounts. We bought some seeds but also used home-saved tomato, pepper and bean seeds. We bought some peat-free compost for germinating seedlings, but anything grown in a larger pot was bulked out with leaf mould and home-made compost. All our plant feeds were made from comfrey liquid or were of the ‘self-generated’ type. In the modest space we have, there is no way we would be self-sufficient, but we have focused on growing fresh produce that is expensive or unobtainable in the shops. More importantly, having the garden has provided a focus that has helped to maintain a modicum of sanity during a period when many other activities were curtailed. And the value of maintaining a healthy mind will always far exceed the value of any produce we get from the plots.

More about Anton...
Anton is a Knowledge Officer at Garden Organic, where he has worked for 16 years. He is looking forward to writing a series of blogs on how to garden using little resources.

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