Thursday, 13 July 2017

B is for Broad Beans

Broad beans in pod
The broad bean season is largely over now (unless you invest in the new autumn-cropping variety, Luz de Otono), but every time I pod my beans I ponder how much waste is going straight onto the compost heap. Broad beans have to be some of the best packaged seeds in the plant world, with a thick pod filled with fluffy wadding. There are various ways to make more of the broad bean harvest:
  1. Pinch out the leafy tops and eat them as spinach. This is recommended as a way of discouraging black fly, and apparently the greens are nice raw when they're very young; I prefer mine lightly fried. Remove any excess stem, it's a bit too fibrous to be pleasant.
  2. Eat some of the flowers. This will cut down on your bean harvest, but they make a pretty addition to salads in the spring. I prefer to leave them for the bees, though, they're a good source of nectar. Have you taken a sniff? They're fragrant, although you have to get in close.
  3. You can eat the whole pods young, the bean equivalent of mangetout, although they have a softer texture rather than a crunch.
  4. Eat the pods. Once you've shelled beans, you can eat the pods, and there are various recipes on the internet to show you how (some are listed below).
  5. If you miss any pods and end up with overly mature beans, then dry them and use them for sprouting - you can eat broad bean shoots in the same way you'd use pea shoots.
  6. Broad beans fix nitrogen. You can dig the remains of the plants into the soil as a green manure, rather than removing them to the compost heap.
Broad bean pod recipes

There are some recipes that involve cooking broad beans (also known as fava beans) in their pods, and then shelling them once they're cooked (a bit like edamame), but these are recipes for eating the pods themselves:

Have you tried eating broad bean pods? How do you cook yours?

Monday, 12 June 2017

A is for Avocado


Here in the UK we haven't experienced 'avocado mania' in quite the same way as the US, but the fruit is becoming more and more popular. Imports of fresh avocados to the European market have increased from 186,000 tonnes in 2011 to 343,000 tonnes in 2015,according to the CBI, with the upward trend driven by demand for convenience and health food. There's plenty of information available on the health benefits of eating avocados; there's also some about the environmental damaged caused by avocado cultivation.

In 2009 the UK imported 39.1kt of avocado (Persea americana) [WRAP], mainly from Spain, South Africa, Peru and Chile. Smaller quantities arrived from Israel, Kenya, Mexico and the USA.

The problem with avocados is their tendency to go from unripe to overripe in the blink of an eye, which means they contribute to about approximately 54,000 tonnes of stone fruit food waste a year, of which 32,000 tonnes is avoidable [Guardian]. Whilst we love compost, we'd rather not feed edible food to our heaps, so let's look at how to reduce avocado waste!

Stuffed avocado
Storing avocados

Generally left on the side to ripen up at room temperature, storage doesn't become an issue until you've got half an avocado to deal with, or ripe fruit you're not going to use. There are various discussions about the best way to store half an avocado, which are (quite frankly) contradictory. So you'll have to do your own experiments! Start by reading Say No To Food Waste, Zero Waste Week and Love Food Hate Waste NZ for their suggestions.

If you've got ripe fruit you can't use before they go over, you can freeze them. Again, opinions vary, but try the Huffington Post and the Greedy Vegan for ideas.

Using overripe avocados

Any parts of the fruit that have turned brown aren't nice to eat, but green flesh is still good even when it's gone mushy. In fact, some people think an overripe fruit is better for making guacamole. You can also use avocados in smoothies, and I've turned an overripe one into soup, which I quite enjoyed!

Other suggestions include:

Plus, if you think beyond food to beauty products and cosmetics, avocado is apparently very good for your skin. You can use it to make a variety of natural beauty products, from face masks and scalp conditioners to shaving cream.

Stone me!

You can even eat the stone, although it needs to be ground first, or you'll break your teeth! One Green Planet has information on why you should eat that avocado seed and how to make it tasty, as well as instructions on growing avocados from seed for those of you who don't fancy that. (Avocado seeds being notoriously long lived on the compost heap. Note that your avocado tree won't ever fruit, and will eventually grow quite large. They don't survive outside (except in very sheltered London gardens).)

How appealing?

There aren't many recorded uses for a scooped out avocado peel. You can try applying it to your face as a face mask. And some researchers have investigated turning it into tea, which did surprisingly well in their taste tests.... Perhaps it's one part we'll feed to the compost heap, for now.


And you may be interested to know that the avocado is considered to be an evolutionary anachronism, a fruit that has survived the death of its 'megafaunal dispersal partner'. In other words, it evolved for its seeds to be spread by a large animal that is now extinct.

Over to you!

Have you got a good tip for working out when your avocado reaches perfect ripeness? A perfected method for storing avocados, or a lovely recipe for using them up? Or even a fascinating fact about avocados? Don't be shy! Leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Free Food Waste Caddy Liners

At the Master Composter training day last Saturday, Eiles gave us a heads-up about something that's happening across most of Oxfordshire in the next few weeks. In a bid to increase the amount of food waste that is put out for food waste collections - rather than in the landfill bins - councils are sending free food waste caddy liners to residents.

There's a little bit about it on the OCC food waste website, complete with glaring typo ;)

What the web page doesn't say, but Eiles explained, is that these free food waste caddy liners are going to be non-compostable plastic. There is a reason for this. The food waste collections are sent off to the anaerobic composting plant (which some of us have visited, I believe!), and compostable bags tend to gum up the works and cause problems. Normal plastic bags can be separated from the waste on arrival.

This is despite the fact that the council websites I've looked at this morning (and I haven't looked at them all!) tell you not to put plastic in the food waste bin, and actively encourage us to use compostable caddy bags!

Apparently, paper bags and/or newspaper also cause an issue, in that they take longer to decompose than the food waste, but it's not as much of an issue as the compostable bags.

I'm sure that's as clear as mud now, but the takeaway for us is that the free caddy liners are plastic, and shouldn't be used for waste that's going on the compost heap. In the event that our compost 'customers' ask us about this, Eiles has supplied us with the explanation!