7 Ways to Use Food Scraps in the Garden
Reducing waste and maximising resources is becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives. One simple yet effective way to achieve this is by using kitchen scraps in our gardens for various benefits. Not only does this practice help to recycle waste, but it also provides valuable nutrients and materials for our plants.
There are numerous ways to use kitchen scraps in the garden, from creating a nutrient-rich compost to acting as organic pest deterrents. Burying vegetable scraps directly in the garden, using eggshells for calcium supplementation, and repurposing used coffee grounds are just a few examples of how we can save resources and improve our garden’s productivity through mindful practices.
Types of Kitchen Scraps
Kitchen scraps are essential to home gardening, as they can be easily recycled and used to nourish the soil. Two primary categories of kitchen scraps are suitable for composting or as direct soil amendments – green scraps and brown scraps. Understanding their characteristics helps to use them for healthier plants and soil.
Green scraps are rich in nitrogen and provide the necessary nutrients and moisture for microorganisms in the compost. These types of kitchen waste tend to break down quickly and generate heat when decomposing. Some examples of green scraps are:
Old fruit and vegetable peels
Lettuce leaves and other leafy greens
Out-of-date fruit & vegetables
Maintaining a proper ratio of green scraps in the compost is vital, as excess nitrogen can lead to a foul smell, while too little can slow down the decomposition process.
Brown scraps, on the other hand, are high in carbon and help balance the compost by providing aeration and structure. These materials decompose more slowly, promoting air circulation within the compost pile. Some common brown scraps include:
Cardboard or newspaper
Wooden chips or sawdust
Striking a good balance of brown scraps is crucial to facilitating aerobic decomposition and preventing excessive moisture that can cause a sludgy, anaerobic pile.
Benefits of Using Kitchen Scraps
Using kitchen scraps in your garden helps to improve the soil’s texture and structure. The decomposing organic matter adds essential nutrients and minerals to the soil, promoting healthy root growth and plant development.
Reusing kitchen scraps in the garden helps to reduce household waste, which is an important step towards sustainable living.
Food waste is surprisingly harmful environmentally. You would think it would just rot away and not be an issue. But when chucked into a landfill, they release methane – a potent greenhouse gas – incorporating them into your garden creates an environmentally-friendly way of managing waste.
Composting kitchen scraps creates nutrient-rich compost, offering numerous benefits to your plants. Compost is a natural fertiliser, providing essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are vital for plant growth.
Additionally, compost helps suppress plant diseases and pests, encouraging the growth of beneficial organisms in the soil. Utilising kitchen scraps in composting can also save money, reducing the need for chemical fertiliser purchases.
Burying Kitchen Scraps
Burying your scraps directly into the garden is one common way to use them. This can be in a targeted area, such as a runner beans trench or into the planting hole of hungry plants.
Or it could be more sporadic, as a method to increase the fertility of an entire bed rather than one targeted area.
Some people will use food scraps as a targeted way of preventing issues in certain plants. The one common thing that comes to mind here is eggshells and tomatoes.
Tomatoes suffer from a problem called blossom end rot caused by a lack of calcium in the plant. (note that it is usually caused by inadequate watering rather than insufficient calcium in the soil, but some people like to make sure!)
Eggshells contain a lot of compost, so gardeners will crush them up (this helps to speed up decomposition) and put them in the bottom of their planting hole.
There are several effective methods for composting kitchen scraps, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. This section will focus on four popular techniques: cold composting, hot composting, vermicomposting, and Bokashi composting.
Cold composting is a simple, low-effort method for transforming kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich compost.
It is the form of composting most of us use, whether we mean to or not. Often also referred to as lazy composting, it is the process that happens when you pile all of your garden waste and kitchen scraps into a heap and leave it.
The slow decomposition process allows for the eventual breakdown of the waste, providing nutrients for your plants. This method may take several months to even years for the compost to be ready for use.
Hot composting involves creating an environment in which microorganisms can rapidly break down kitchen scraps into compost.
Start by assembling a large pile of food waste and alternating layers of brown materials (e.g. leaves, straw, and cardboard) and green materials (e.g. kitchen scraps and grass clippings). Proper moisture and aeration are important; turn the pile every week or two to facilitate decomposition.
Hot composting can produce useable compost in a few weeks to a few months, depending on factors such as temperature and pile size.
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, uses earthworms to decompose kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich humus. This method requires a worm bin, which can be purchased or made at home.
Add bedding (e.g. shredded newspaper), worms, and kitchen scraps gradually. Turning the bin occasionally helps maintain a healthy environment for the worms. The process typically takes a few months before the resulting vermicompost is ready for use.
Bokashi composting is an anaerobic fermentation process that uses microorganisms to break down kitchen scraps. A Bokashi bucket is filled with alternating layers of food waste and Bokashi bran, which contains the necessary microorganisms, and then sealed tightly.
The fermentation process produces a nutrient-dense liquid, which can be diluted and used as a liquid fertiliser or drained off to accelerate the process. After 2-4 weeks, the remaining solid matter can be buried in the soil to continue decomposing.
Preparing Kitchen Scraps
Utilising kitchen scraps in your garden can serve as a beneficial way to enhance soil quality and support plant growth. To use these scraps effectively, you must prepare them correctly for composting or direct application in the garden. This section will discuss the key steps to follow for optimal results.
Chop or Break Down Scraps
Chopping or breaking down your kitchen scraps into smaller pieces helps them break down quicker but is not essential. Smaller particles decompose more quickly and evenly, which in turn provides valuable nutrients for your plants in a timely manner.
You can use a knife or scissors to cut fruit and vegetable peels, cores, and other scraps into smaller bits. For tougher materials, like corn cobs or woody stems, it may be helpful to use a shredder. The smaller size of the scraps also allows for better aeration, which is beneficial for microbial activity within the compost pile or garden bed.
Remove Non-Compostable Items
Not all kitchen scraps are suitable for use in the garden. Thus, removing non-compostable items is important before incorporating the rest of the materials into your compost heap or garden soil. Common non-compostable items include:
Meat and dairy products
Fats and oils
By ensuring that you remove these materials, the composting process will be more efficient and your garden soil will remain free of any harmful contaminants.
Common Composting Mistakes to Avoid
When using kitchen scraps in your garden, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes that can hinder the overall process. By being mindful of these pitfalls, you can maximise the benefits of recycling your organic waste.
Overly wet compost piles can be problematic, as they often reduce aeration, hinder decomposition, and encourage the growth of anaerobic bacteria. Here are some tips to avoid excess moisture when using kitchen scraps:
Always bury wet kitchen scraps under a layer of dry materials, such as leaves or straw.
Avoid adding too much water to your compost pile. If it becomes too wet, add more dry materials to help balance the moisture content.
Ensure your compost bin has proper drainage to prevent standing water.
Using the Wrong Materials
Adding the wrong materials to your compost pile can lead to contamination and unwanted pests. To ensure a healthy compost mix, avoid adding the following items:
Meat, dairy, and bones can attract rodents and create foul odours.
Fats, oils, and grease can coat organic materials and slow composting.
Treated or painted wood can release harmful chemicals into your compost.
Foul smells often indicate something is wrong with your compost pile. By addressing odour issues, you can improve the quality of your compost and ensure a pleasant gardening experience. Here are some tips to prevent odour problems:
Turn the pile regularly to aerate the compost and promote proper decomposition.
Ensure a proper balance of carbon-rich (brown) and nitrogen-rich (green) materials in your compost pile.
Take care not to compact your compost pile, as this can restrict airflow and lead to odour issues.
In summary, using kitchen scraps in your garden can be both beneficial and eco-friendly. By incorporating various types of waste, such as vegetable and fruit peelings, crushed eggshells, and coffee grounds, into your gardening routine, you can improve soil quality and reduce waste.
It’s important to be mindful when selecting which scraps to use, as not all waste materials are suitable for garden use.
By following a few simple guidelines and understanding the benefits of different scraps, you can successfully enhance the health of your garden while contributing to a more sustainable lifestyle. So, next time you’re in the kitchen, remember to save those valuable scraps for your garden, and watch your plants thrive.