There are several main challenges to living a zero waste lifestyle. One is transportation, another is housing along with its related energy usage and a third is eating. It is hard to eat zero waste. There are so many emissions related to growing the food we eat – and even if it’s local and even if you go to a farmer’s market to buy it, you still have to avoid packaging and you’re still having a reasonable carbon footprint because farm equipment uses gasoline.
It occurred to me this summer after watching my mom garden over the years with completely different motives (that didn’t resonate with me because I’m practical to a fault), that gardening is the ultimate in zero waste eating. It’s a closed loop – you grow the food, you compost the waste, harvest the seeds, and use the compost to grow more food. There’s nothing bad for the environment necessarily involved.
But I didn’t think about that until I got hooked with the first lettuce harvest. Picking lettuce, cucumbers and peppers to eat for dinner was my gateway drug to gardening. It was sort of like giving birth but less painful.
So when some cucurbits and tomato plants volunteered themselves out of the compost pile I carefully transplanted them, assuming they were all cucumbers because I am completely uneducated in all things gardening.
You can imagine my surprise when this started growing. We didn’t know what it was until it started getting crackled.
You should know that cantelope is one of my favorite things in the world and so I was psyched to discover that this was not a cucumber plant, especially after I bought six cantelope plants and added an 8×4 foot bed with the express purpose of growing them.
And I almost cried when I discovered that this plant got a really super bad case of mildew. I told my chemist husband to high tail it to Home Depot and buy something non-organic to spray it with. It’s still in critical condition. In future years I’ll be more prepared. I didn’t realize anything was seriously wrong until it was (almost) too late.
We’re really really hoping it will hang on long enough so we can harvest just one cantelope, or maybe three.
Other volunteer plants cropped up at the bottom of our relocated compost, which at the time I also through were cucumbers. You can see here that I’m very qualified to be writing this post. But then some cantelope started growing. Then I realized they were actually pumpkins.
And I’m still not sure at all what this is.
Honeydew? If so, I wish the mildew had attacked this plant instead.
We did end up somehow with one cucumber plant, which also got powdery mildew and dropped some cucumbers, but is currently in stable condition.
This is the culprit – cucumber beetles which transmit the bacteria that cause mildew.
On the other hand, the peppers have been fantastic. We’ve harvested at least 7 or 8 so far, with a lot more on the way and no pepper drama whatsoever (fingers crossed).
The lettuce has also been sort of well behaved. After collecting armfuls of lettuce we let the first set go to seed and collected enough seeds for the rest of our lives. The second batch I planted in those little trays and then spilled them, got frustrated, and just planted seeds all over the place. Then when they didn’t all germinate I did it again. So I’m not really sure exactly where what is, but we do have a lot of spinach and some other kind of lettuce I can’t remember the names of (again, my qualifications).
Right after the mildew fiasco in one garden, some aphids attacked the cucurbits in the other garden.
In the mean time, we do have a few around eating our aphids. A big shout out to ladybugs everywhere.
My main take away here is that I know nothing and have more to learn than I ever imagined, but also that even if you don’t know anything you can still grow a reasonable amount of food. So here’s to gardening, and many more summers of caring way too much about weather conditions, leaf health and ladybug populations. Oh, and zero waste.