Right now my Twitter feed is full of messages along the lines of ‘What can I do with this 20 kg of courgettes/runner beans?’ These two are the usual offenders. There are plenty of good recipes for preserves, courgette cake and so on, but what you don’t hear is ‘sling them on the compost heap and go to the beach’. While the country as a whole bins a third of the food that it buys, and far more than that is wasted before it even hits the supermarket shelf, us grow-your-owners beat ourselves up over a few wasted vegetables (if you consider composting a waste, which I don’t – compost bins need to eat too!).
It might be a ‘middle class problem’, and the peach glut that I occasionally get must be the ultimate middle class problem, but it is a real problem nonetheless. If you have even one productive apple tree, particularly like the ‘Katie’ that I have, which ripens in August and doesn’t keep for more than a week or so, or a modest row of runner beans, you can end up enslaving yourself to a quest to preserve it all in a race against time and it can get quite stressful.
By all means make preserves, as long as you enjoy doing it and are going to eat them. Chutney keeps pretty much forever anyway and courgettes make great chutney. Personally, I have never found a means of preserving runner beans that is not a delayed way of composting them – salted, pickled or frozen, they have always lingered for a year or more, then been thrown out in a clear-out. Courgettes I like to freeze, fried in discs. Defrosted and warmed in a frying pan then mixed with pasta and cheese, they make a great mid winter lunch. But when the freezer is full, I don’t mind composting a few. Yes, it’s great to have food preserved for the winter and not to have to go out in the cold for supper, but it’s not like we have feet of snow in the UK, and the garden can carry on producing fresh veg all winter, up until the hungry gap.
When you’ve made as many preserves as you are likely to eat, and frozen as many as you need, when your friends act like they are doing you a favour taking them (or worse, avoid you!), don’t stay up all night finding inventive ways to preserve the crop, or beat yourself up about the waste. Compost them, and plant fewer next year. If you can’t find someone who would like your windfall apples, then leave them, they will feed a multitude of wildlife. Growing veg takes a lot of energy, and growing much more than we need is not the best use of that energy and time, probably the most precious and limited resource we have. In order to be sure of having enough, I always aim to grow a slight surplus, but I bear in mind that, growing my own, I waste far, far less than if I was using the commercial food chain in any form and I don’t worry about composting some.
Don’t be tyrannized by your courgettes – sling them in the compost and go out and have fun in the sun while it lasts (she writes on a drizzly day)!