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Fight Food Waste: How to Make Refrigerator Pickles

I’m heading overseas in less than a week, and in a moment of memory loss I forgot to cancel this week’s veg box. Needless to say I now have a fridge packed full of fresh organic vegetables, when really I need to be using stuff up, not buying more.

Whilst I don’t really have the time to be food prepping, I do have the time to make refrigerator pickles. It’s a simple way to preserve things like cucumbers, chillies and cabbage in just a few minutes and store them in the fridge until they are ready to be eaten.

Pickling (and preserving in general) is not just for homesteaders, or people with gardens full of fresh produce. It’s for anyone who appreciates the value of good food and doesn’t want to chuck stuff in the bin.

If you’ve ever been faced with more food in your fridge than you can actually eat fresh, you might find this useful.

Refrigerator Pickles versus Canning

Refrigerator pickles is a quick and easy way to preserve vegetables, but it is not the same as canning. Canning involves more processing, much more care, boiling the jars to ensure sterilization – and it means that the resulting cans can be stored at room temperature.

Refrigerator pickles need to be kept in the fridge. It’s a way of prolonging the life of fresh veggies using salt, sugar and vinegar to deter bacterial growth and spoilage, but also relying on the cool temperature of the refrigerator to slow it down rather than using heat and sterile techniques (which is canning).

Refrigerator pickles are easier, quicker and more forgiving. People choose to can when they don’t have the fridge space, and are storing big quantities. Most of us have the fridge space for a few jars of pickled cucumbers.

Refrigerator Pickles – Preparation

Unlike canning, it’s not necessary to sterilize your equipment, but it is good practice. Refrigeration slows down spoilage but doesn’t kill bacteria, so doing all we can to keep things clean will increase the shelf life.

Wash glass jars with hot, soapy water, then place on a baking tray and heat in the oven at 160°C for 10-15 minutes. Place the lids (and any spoons) in a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes.

Salt, sugar and vinegar are all preservatives so avoid reducing these. There’s no hard and fast rules about spices used, or quantities, so feel free to adjust according to what you have and taste preferences.

Fresh dill is great with cucumbers, if you have it.

If you run out of brine after filling the jars, simple heat a little extra vinegar and pour on top.

I usually decide what size jars I need by packing the sliced produce into jars before making the brine. Then I clean and sterilize the jars before refilling.

Cucumber Pickles (Bread and Butter Pickles)

Ingredients:

600g cucumber (3 Lebanese cucumbers), sliced into thin rounds
1 white onion, thinly sliced
250ml (1 cup) white vinegar / apple cider vinegar
250ml (1 cup) water
60g (1/4 cup) sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
Pinch of turmeric

Method:

Place the sliced cucumber and sliced onion in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Leave for a couple of hours to draw out the water, then drain well in a colander.

Pour the water and vinegar into a saucepan, and add the sugar and spices. Bring to the boil, ensuring the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the cucumber and onion, and turn off the heat.

Place the cucumber and onion into the glass jars using tongs, then pour the liquid over the top until completely submersed and with a 1cm gap at the top of the jar. Ensure there are no air bubbles (banging the jar gently on the counter, or stirring with a spoon handles will remove them).

Secure the lids, then pop in the fridge and store for up to 6 months. Can be eaten straightaway.

Jalapeno Pickles

Ingredients:

20 – 30 jalapeno (or other) chillies, sliced into rounds
185ml (3/4 cup) white vinegar
185ml (3/4 cup) water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
Optional: 1 tbsp fresh or 1 pinch dried oregano

Method:

Slice the chillies into rounds.

Pour the water and vinegar into a saucepan, and add the sugar, salt, garlic and oregano. Bring to the boil, ensuring the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the chilli, and turn off the heat. Leave to sit for 10 minutes.

Place the chillies into glass jars using tongs, then pour the liquid over the top until completely submersed and with a 1cm gap at the top of the jar. Ensure there are no air bubbles (banging the jar gently on the counter, or stirring with a spoon handles will remove them).

Secure the lids, then pop in the fridge and store for up to 6 months. Can be eaten straightaway.

TIP: Once in the fridge, the garlic may turn blue. This may seem like cause for concern but actually it’s completely safe. There’s a number of reasons why the garlic might turn blue: soil conditions, garlic type, metal traces in the water and enzyme content. It might look odd but it’s fine to eat.

Pickles are a great way to preserve food when it’s abundant (such as cucumbers and chillies in the summer) and store them for when they are out of season. Sure, they don’t taste exactly the same as the fresh versions, but it’s a great way of bringing a little sunshine into winter meals.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you make your own pickles? What flavour combinations do you like? What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever pickled? If you’ve never pickled anything before, are you game to give it a try? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Reducing Food Waste with Worm Farms: Trialing the Hungry Bin

Zero waste is all about circular living. It’s often talked about in terms of the circular economy (which is the ideal and the one we want to work towards) as opposed to the linear economy (which is the one we have now).

The idea is that materials and resources should cycle, being reused or repurposed or reshaped again and again.

Circular living supports local solutions, which means less packaging, distribution costs and transport emissions; and more connection and resilience within our local communities.

Anything we can do at home, or within our street, or within our suburb, the better.

With this in mind, let’s talk about food waste.

In Australia almost 40% of everything we throw in our landfill bins in food waste. Even more scary, I think, is that 25% of what the average household throws away is food that could have been eaten.

Even if we are super diligent, there’s always going to be food waste that can’t be eaten. Onion peels, lemon skins, cores, seeds, pips, stalks, outer leaves, and general bad bits.

If we want to reduce our environmental impact, processing our food scraps at home is a great solution.

I love it when a problem has multiple solutions, and food waste is exactly that. There’s so many ways we can deal with food scraps at home. No “one size fits all solution” – different methods that work for different locations, spaces and households.

There’s composting (yes, regardless whether or not you have space for your own compost bin), there’s bokashi, and there’s worm farms.

Worm farms were the first thing I tried when I went zero waste, and over the years I’ve successfully used a number of different worm farms: from polystyrene box worm farms that you can DIY yourself, and degassed fridge worm farms (which work like polystyrene box worm farms, but on a bigger scale) to the black plastic worm cafes that can be purchased from hardware stores (or even better, found on the verge).

Over the last three months I’ve been trialing a new design of worm farm: the Hungry Bin, and it’s my favourite so far.

I came across the Hungry Bin worm farm because of my friend Josie (who came across them first). She was so impressed with it as a way to effectively process food scraps for her family of five, that she decided to distribute the Hungry Bins here in Western Australia. She set up her business Pearthworms selling the worms farms last year (in 2017).

Pearthworms were kind enough to loan me a Hungry Bin worm farm to test drive. I’m always keen to learn more about ways for households to reduce their own waste, and love innovative products that make it easier. Wins all round!

Here’s the lowdown.

The Hungry Bin Worm Farm: Composting Food Scraps at Home

At first glance the Hungry Bin might look like a regular flip-top waste bin, but there’s actually a fair bit of thought and engineering that’s gone into the design. It is designed and made in New Zealand.

Firstly, it actually packs down pretty small. The bin is actually made of two parts that lock together, and one fits inside the other, making it a fairly small package. The bin itself is made from UV resistant plastic with recycled content, and is expected to last for 25 years. The packaging is minimal, with a cardboard outer, and none of the parts come packaged in additional plastic.

Once clipped together, the bin is filled with bedding, then food scraps and worms are added to the top. Worms remain near the top, gobbling up the food scraps and creating worm castings, a nutrient-rich medium. More food waste gets added on top, the worms move up to find them, and the castings naturally accumulate underneath.

The tapered design enhances the efficiency of the system. Composting worms are surface feeders, and food scraps are added at the top, so keeping the worms near the surface increases the efficiency. The top is the widest point of the whole bin, and the bin can hold 16,000 worms and process 2kg of food scraps per day.

Because the bin tapers, the worm castings naturally compress at the bottom. This encourages the worms to move to the surface and also ensures that when the bottom is removed, the entire contents don’t fall out.

The reason you’d want to remove the bottom is to get your hands on the worm castings. They can be used to grow seedlings, added to pots or to existing plants or dug into the garden. You simply unclip the tray, scoop out the worm castings and reattach.

The bin has a tray that sits underneath, that collects the worm juice. This can be used like a fertiliser.

I trialled mine indoors, but they are intended as much for outdoor use.

Pearthworms and the Hungry Bin

As I mentioned before, I’m a fan of local solutions. Pearthworms is a local, Perth-based business, and they intend to stay that way. They only supply Hungry Bins to people in Perth and Western Australia. With 1.3 million people living in Perth, and probably that same number of cafes and takeaway food outlets (okay, I’m kidding, but there’s a lot), there’s huge potential to make a massive difference without needing to look further afield.

Pearthworms are keen to focus not just on individual households, but also commercial venues: restaurants, cafes (the picture above is Josie with the two bins she has installed at Stackwood Cafe in Fremantle), businesses, community gardens – anywhere that is creating food waste.

Pearthworms also supply happy, healthy worms with the Hungry Bin (Eisenia fetida worms, and 2000 of them, to be exact). It’s easy to imagine these worms would just come in a plastic bag, but no – they come in a natural hessian pouch sewn from an old coffee sack.

Even better, once the worms are added to the Hungry Bin, the sack can be cut in half along the seam to make a cover that perfectly fits the inside of the Hungry Bin. (The cover is important as worms don’t like light.)

My experience with the Hungry Bin in the three months that I’ve had it has been great. It’s dealt with far more food scraps than my other worm farms can manage; it doesn’t smell; it’s so easy to use; it’s much less sensitive to extremes of temperature than other commercial worm farms; and once I get my first tray of castings, my garden is going to love me.

(Plus, this worm farm is going to churn out worm castings for 25 years. That’s an epic deal in the long run, if you think about how many trips to and from the hardware store that would be saving, buying plastic bags of seed raising mix and compost.)

It is a more expensive option (especially when compared to the DIY polystyrene box worm farm approach) but then again, DIY isn’t everyone’s thing. Different systems suit different households, different lifestyles, and different budgets.

The important thing is that we stop sending our food scraps to landfill. How we do it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of solutions, we just need to find the one that works for us.

If you’d like to chat to Josie in person to find out more or see a Hungry Bin worm farm in action, Pearthworms currently have a stall every Saturday morning at the Subiaco Farmers Markets. Alternatively, their website is pearthworms.com.au.

How to Compost for Zero Waste Living Without a Compost Bin

When I gave up plastic, I quickly noticed that the only thing going into my rubbish bin was food scraps. Take out the plastic, and food waste is pretty much all that’s left. Glass, paper, cardboard and metal are commonly recycled, so these would go in the recycling bin.

It’s not that I was throwing perfectly good food away. You wouldn’t catch me doing that! Food waste includes spoiled fruit and vegetables, the peels, the skins, the outer leaves, the cores, the husks, the seeds. The inedible bits.

Food waste makes up almost 40% of the average domestic rubbish bin. Without the plastic, it was nearly 100% of mine! I realised that if I could set up a system for dealing with food waste, my bin would be empty.

The thing was, when I began living zero waste, I lived in an upstairs flat without a garden. The good news is, we managed. There is always a way! There are actually plenty of ways to deal with food waste without having a garden or even a compost bin.

A Zero Waste Guide to Composting (No Garden? No Problem!)

1. Regular Composting

Zero Waste Plastic Free Gardening Homemade Compost Treading My Own Path

A standard compost bin requires a patch of soil or dirt about 1m² where it can be dug in. That isn’t a huge amount of space. Even if you don’t have your own garden, there might be a shared area where you can put one.

And if the reason you’re not composting is simply because you haven’t yet got yourself a compost bin yet… Well, get yourself on the local classifieds sites or Freecycle immediately! There is no time to lose ;)

Suitable for: anyone with a small patch of dirt.

Not suitable for: apartment dwellers, those with no outdoor green space.

2. A Rotary Composter

rotary-compost

A rotary composter is a compost bin suspended on a frame, making it useful for small spaces and paved surfaces. They are also called barrel composters and spinning composters. They are often more expensive than regular compost bins, and it is worth paying extra for one that is well designed and sturdy. They can be difficult to turn when full, particularly the larger ones, so bear that in mind before choosing the XL model. Read reviews to find a model that suits your needs.

Suitable for: anyone with a balcony, yard or space outdoors.

Not suitable for: people with back or strength issues (who may find turning it hard).

3. Neighbours with Compost Bins (or a Garden)

You might not have a garden, but what about your neighbours? Would they mind if you put a compost bin on their land? How about family and friends living locally? It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it’s a great way to build good relations with your neighbours.

Alternatively, check out this great site Sharewaste.com, which lets you either find places to take your compost, or offer your compost bin to others. I’ve registered my bins!

Suitable for: anyone with friendly neighbours or friends/family with a garden.

4. Council collections

When I lived in Bristol (UK) I was lucky enough that the council would collect food scraps from my door once a week for composting. If you live in an area with this service, make use of it! If you don’t live somewhere where this happens, contact your council and find out if there are any plans to launch it in the near future.

(If your friends or family have this service but you don’t, maybe you can make use of theirs!)

Suitable for: anyone with a council composting collection service.

5. Collected Compost

This is similar to the council composting scheme, except they are run privately. Food waste is collected from your door and taken away for composting. Unlike the council services, there may be a small charge for these services.

Sometimes Farmers Markets offer this service, so you can take your compost waste to the Farmers Market.

Suitable for: anyone living in the catchment of a private compost collecting company.

Not suitable for: anyone on a tight budget who doesn’t want to commit to weekly collection fees.

6. Community Garden Composting

If you don’t have space to compost at home, and you don’t have neighbours, friends or family who are able (or willing) to help you out, community gardens are a great place to take your compost. Many are willing to take food scraps without the need for you to be a member (although being a member is a great way to support a local organisation doing good in the community). Find out where the nearest community garden is to your home or your place of work, and get in touch to find out how you can connect your waste with their bins.

Suitable for: anyone living or working near a community garden with compost bins.

7. Worm Farm (Vermicomposting)

Build a DIY Worm Farm

A worm farm is typically a box with air holes, drainage and a lid, and worms. Worm farms (also called vermicomposting) uses composting worms, which are fast growing and fast eating, rather than earthworms that you might dig up from your garden. They eat food waste and turn it into rich worm castings that is a great soil additive.

They are available for purchase (often in the second-hand ads) or you can make your own using waste materials.

Worm farms can be kept indoors or outdoors dependent on climate (worms don’t like the cold). If looked after properly they do not smell.

Suitable for: everyone, but especially apartment dwellers and those without a garden.

8. Bokashi

Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bins ferment waste rather than breaking it down. They are an indoor home composting system and can deal with all types of waste, including cooked food and meat/fish products. Inoculated bran is added to the bin to kickstart the fermentation process. The bokashi bin is sealed and does not smell.

Once filled the contents need to be dug into a garden or added to a compost bin, so access to outside space is necessary.

Find out more about bokashi composting.

Suitable for: meat eaters who have waste unsuitable for composting.

Not suitable for: anyone without access to outdoor space.

When we began our zero waste lifestyle, we started out with a single worm farm. That grew to two worm farms, and we added a bokashi bin to the mix too. Now we have a garden we still have the worm farms and the bokashi bin (although this is not currently in use) and have established not one but four compost bins! This means we have space not only to compost our own food scraps, but other people’s too :)

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you deal with your food waste? Do you compost, or have a worm farm, or a bokashi? Do you have all three?! Or none of them, and you do something completely different? Have you tried any of these and not got on with them? Do you need help or troubleshooting? Which one is your favourite? Any that you’d like to get started with? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!