Close up of leaves

The Imposter Composter

March 16, 2020

I have a confession to make. I am not currently composting. We redid the front garden last summer and there wasn’t really room for it in the new design. And the gardener we were working with kind of dismissed it as being messy and smelly. I deferred to his superior knowledge and gave our large compost bin away.  I have regretted it ever since.

 So when I first started composting I actually read a book on it, geek that I am. I enjoyed knowing that I should turn it occasionally and layer the waste food with torn cardboard. I liked crushing up my eggshells so that the worms didn’t get stuck in the semi-spherical cocoons. I knew not to put bread or too much citrus in there (some people disagree with this but it’s what my book said so I stuck with it). I liked the fact that my fruit and veg were organic so I wasn’t putting pesticides back into my own garden, these were expensive, high quality peelings I was posting with love into my wide mouthed bin. And then I no longer had it, and my peelings went away on a lorry every Tuesday and I was GIVING THEM AWAY!

 So here is a list of things you can do to be an imposter composter is to be as creative with your food waste as you possibly can before it goes in that green kerbside bin and off to make biofuel, yes that’s good, but it still takes energy.

 I’m referring of course to the stuff you would normally chuck in the green bin as food waste. I’m not talking about using up the food in your fridge and cupboards before it gets past it’s sell by date and you have to get rid of it. That’s important, obvs, but it’s a different article for a different national celebration day, today we’re about composting.

So according to WRAP we waste 900,000 tonnes of bread every year, that’s about 24 million slices or 1 million loaves EVERY day. In fact 44% of the bread in the UK is thrown away. I have always made bread crumbs and stored them in the freezer, it’s a trick I got from my mum, but the truth is I don’t need bread crumbs very often. But I recently started making my own bread and came upon a recipe from James Morton (the Scottish doctor from Bake Off  series 3). He calls it Revival bread but some people call it Frugal bread and it’s even called, yes you guessed it, Compost bread! You can use any bread for this and it uses up more than a few breadcrumbs, just put anything you don’t want to use in the freezer for when you want to make it. There are loads of recipes online for using up crusts and bits of bread but this is my fave. Sadly if the bits are mouldy it’s too late for revival and the birds should benefit, but not the ducks.

The recipe book of the summer was Ottolenghi’s Simple, in it he recommends sprinkling the peelings from your sweet potatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a spice you like, put them in the oven and hey presto you have a practically free snack. You can also do this with squash seeds. But I tend to bung all my vegetable scraps in an old bread bag and put it in the freezer until I want to make stock. This is good for two reasons, firstly you’re getting something from your scraps and secondly you're not using the standard onion, celery and carrot that you can now use elsewhere.

And if we’re talking stock… these days we eat far less meat than we did even last year but when we do I buy it from the butcher where I know it’s from the UK (food miles) and the animal has had a good life. This is good for them and good for me, there’s more goodness in those bones so a good stock can stretch a meaty meal even further.

 My youngest child decided her new year’s resolution was to be vegetarian for January, I decided this was not only a great idea but much easier if we all did it.  I have to say the food waste was nearly entirely compostable and made me wince as I put it in the caddy. Soggy chicken bones are indeed messy and smelly.

We have a dog, I know, she increases our family of five carbon footprint even further, so, slightly controversially, leftovers that can’t be composted and that are made up of mostly meat and veggies are given to her. She’s a lab and believe you me I have seen her eat way worse on the streets of West London than my home cooked meals.

Coffee grounds
I love reusing my coffee grounds. In fact we inherited a Nespresso machine from a job my husband once did. We bought some pods but I just didn’t like the waste and really I resented giving my grounds away. I enjoy washing the grounds down the drain as they are an excellent drain cleaner. In the summer I enjoy sprinkling them over my mini veg patch to stop the slugs (they don’t like the way they feel!) and you can even use them as a body scrub instead of a product in a plastic bottle full of microbeads.

Ok so I know you don’t put egg boxes in your green waste bin but I used to put them in my composter so I kind of resent putting them in my recycling. Of course, it’s good to recycle but ideally you want to exhaust your options before you get there. Find someone with chickens, they love getting egg boxes. When I go and see my parents in Kent I take them some of my egg boxes as their next-door neighbours take them with pleasure.

I wasn’t very good at this until recently, the inspirational Jack Monroe posted her salad bag pesto and she simply chops it finely with oil, S&P and garlic but you can add the more usual parmesan, pine nuts or other nuts and use your carrot tops or leftover herbs too. It really is delicious and great on tortelloni, in salad dressing and as a dip.

 I recently learnt about Aquafaba, I’d read the name in several places but had no idea what it was. It turns out that someone has cleverly discovered that you can use the glutinous liquid you normally get rid of from a tin of chickpeas to make meringues. Vegan and practically free!

Do you remember trying to regrow an avocado from an avocado when you were little (depending on when you were born, I’m a 70’s kid). But growing veg from veg is a thing. You can grow pineapples from their tops, spring onions from their bottoms. And if it doesn’t work, eventually you’ll have compost. See what I did there?  And I’m seriously going to get back into composting but I’m trying not to buy new things to reduce my carbon footprint so I’ve become a gumtree stalker, the right second hand composter is out there I just know it.

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