The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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camping at home- and living without

I was brought up in India, a hot tropical country. We did not have many ‘modern amenities’ for most of my life- things that would be considered almost impossible to live without, for example- the fridge, telephone and the TV.  Now I live in London, a country of temperate climate.  In 2011, I decided on an experiment to switch off my fridge and freezer.  Initially I used an old fashioned ‘food safe’- a Victorian metal cabinet which I left out in my balcony- to store perishables.  As I was away on and off for eight months of that year doing research for a book, it was a particular challenge to manage food and food waste.  However, needless to say, my fridge and freezer had been usually empty as I cook with fresh ingredients and do not usually buy frozen or chilled foods anyway.

Initially I made mistakes, mostly with rice.  I usually eat rice as I am on gluten free diet.  Gone off rice is dangerous because it harbours spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning.  If the rice is left standing at room temperature, the spores can grow into bacteria. These bacteria will multiply and may produce toxins (poisons) that cause vomiting or diarrhoea.  In order to save time, I cooked more rice than needed but it was more than I could eat. I was sick.  So l learnt not to cook more than I needed.  I learnt to give away extra food to people when I was going away.

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Of course, my two children did not like that their eccentric mummy did not use a fridge (‘all our friends have fridges and their mums don’t sing while they cook!’ were the complaints I heard).  Amongst all other things, apparently cold milk is a necessity, I realised for children who have been brought up in the city and do not realise that fresh milk from the cow is actually warm.  When we wanted ice cream or ice, we bought it and used it straightaway.  I did not use my fridge for two years!  After much complaints about the milk temperature and my singing, I decided to switch on the fridge and freezer only for the summer.  This year I found someone had left a good quality insulated picnic box outside our place. I got it and washed it; and have been using this- again left out on the balcony.  Delicate herbs like coriander keep quite well outside in a small cup of water and hardy mint actually grows roots (and I have planted some of it). The coriander you see in the photo is a week old (from the supermarket)- in the fridge it would have rotted by now.  The mint is several weeks old!

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Thanks to climate change, as the weather is still cold enough, I am not using the fridge at the moment (even the milk is cold enough for my children).  So what are the advantages of not using the fridge or freezer?

1. I buy only what I need (my food bill has gone down immensely)

2. Food is cooked fresh, using fresh ingredients.

3. Zero or nil food waste.

4. Although not enough to be huge difference, my electricity bill has gone down slightly.

5. Due to being forced to have fresh food, we buy local and thereby save on food airmiles.

6. We’ve had to cut down on several high calorie foods such as butter, cream, etc as all these foods need the fridge- this is actually good.

7. Best of all, I don’t have to clean the fridge or freezer- I am using them for storage at present.

Wacky or canny- you decide!!!  I am still singing though!


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Freezer tricks

My last post was about summer abundance and how to cook with unripe or extra produce from your garden.  Well, if you don’t want to cook it, you can also freeze it.  In the UK, about 800,000 tonnes of food valued at £2 billion is thrown away annually- 30% of the food thrown away is perfectly usable but we buy too much and throw it.  Six steps to reducing food waste are-

  1. Plan ahead for the week, on a daily basis.  Use coupons and reduced price food wisely- don’t buy reduced price food just because it is reduced and give away coupons you won’t use.
  2. Buy what you need or what you will definitely eat (do try a new food once in awhile!).  Do not be tempted by BOGOFs and money off coupons unless they are about what you would buy anyway.
  3. Store food correctly at the right temperature and place- many food such as bananas and avocados do not need to be stored in the refrigerators.
  4. Cook the right amount. I use things like yoghurt and fruit to supplement if one person says they are hungrier that particular day rather than making more food.
  5. Store leftovers for later use.
  6. If you really must throw, then see if you can compost it.  Many food items such as meat can’t be composted.  Some food can be eaten by pets and animals such as pigs but again check before giving it to them.

About £860 million worth of food is stored in freezers.  We could do more.  Saving food not only saves the planet by keeping down the greenhouse gases but also saves us money.  Freeze food before it goes off and bought food can be frozen on the day of purchase.  Some tips-

  • Check your freezer is below 5C- your chicken and greens will last three days longer.
  • Bread gets stale in the fridge six times faster, so divide your bread and store excess in the freezer.  You can easily defrost it by leaving it out or using the microwave.
  • You can also divide other food into smaller portions for freezing.  Ice cube trays are handy for freezing juices, milk, tomato sauce, herbs into small portions that can used as needed.
  • Cut vegetables into pieces and freeze- these are very handy for quick stir fries.
  • You can also freeze eggs, cheese, chopped bananas, summer fruits and cakes.