There are so many reasons to use what you already have to grow your food security. It saves items from ending up in a landfill. It is also much easier on your budget. Many people believe you have to spend a lot of money to start a garden or preserve food but it is very possible to do very cheap or even for free!
Eat What You Have
Eat what you already have. This may seem like a no-brainer to some but the average family has somewhere between $250 and $400 worth of groceries in their home at one time. That is a lot of food!
If times are tough or the pickings are slim at the store, try a pantry challenge. Never heard of a pantry challenge? There are numerous ways to do one, but the general idea is to use up what you already have, especially things that aren’t staples or you do not eat often. Find ways to use up that couscous that has been sitting in the back of your pantry for a year (or 5!), or that cocoa butter that you bought to try in a particular recipe but now cannot find the recipe (nope, I’ve never done that).
Have kitchen sink soup for dinner and use those random cans of veggies and odds and ends of pasta. Clean out your freezer and use up those berries you find buried in the back in a smoothie. You have access to all this food already, so take advantage of it!
Grow Food Security by Preserving With What You Have
Use what you have to preserve your food. If you don’t have a fancy dehydrator or proper canning supplies then look into other methods of preserving.
We built a solar dehydrator out of scrap lumber and an old window. The only thing we bought was a piece of plexiglass for the lid. The wheels were repurposed training wheels. My husband is a hoarder of hardware so the handles and hooks were something we had on hand. I have used it to dry herbs as well as some fruit and vegetables if they’re sliced thinly.
If your oven can get below 140 degrees or has a warm setting, then you can use it to dehydrate too! 140 is perfect for beef jerky or fruit leather. If you want to dehydrate fruits and vegetables in the oven, be sure to check on them frequently so that they don’t cook. Herbs don’t even require a dehydrator. Simply gather them in small bundles, wrap a rubber band around the stems and hang them somewhere with good airflow but out of direct sunlight.
Another method of preservation that requires little to no equipment to get started is freezing. For short term storage all you need are zip-top bags or freezer-safe containers to put your food in.
If you only have the frost-free freezer that is part of your refrigerator, plan on only short-term shortage. Frost-free freezers tend to accelerate freezer burn. If you have a larger stand-alone freezer and want to freeze things for long-term storage, get as much air as possible out of the bags before freezing. I like to lay my items to freeze on a cookie sheet and then transfer to a bag once they’re frozen so they don’t all freeze together.
Often blanching (briefly cook and then immersing in ice water to stop the cooking process) is recommended for most vegetables, but honestly I rarely do it as I find things like green beans and asparagus come out soggy and limp when I blanch before freezing.
Look into traditional methods of preserving such as Biltong, pickling, fermenting, confit, smoking, and salting. Often many of these, especially fermenting, can be done with little to no special equipment.
Grow Food Security by Gardening With What You Have
First up, containers. You can use almost anything for a garden pot, as long as you can put drainage holes in it. Use milk cartons, yogurt tubs, or other containers that you would otherwise throw away or recycle. We’ve drilled holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket and transplanted a pepper plant from our garden so we could move it inside when it was going to freeze. We were able to harvest peppers through December that way. Use stock tanks, buckets, an old wheelbarrow, or whatever else you have lying around.
While potting soil is best, sometimes you do what you have to. Find an area to discretely remove soil from a garden bed or corner of the yard, or sacrifice a houseplant. Ask a neighbor if you can have a few shovels full from their garden. There are ways to find soil but depending on where it came from, you may need to amend it. However, you should never blindly add amendments to the soil without knowing what your soil lacks. Ideally, this would entail a thorough soil test, but you probably don’t have a soil test kit or the equipment on hand to do one yourself, so it is important to know the signs of deficiencies. A resource like HortSense can help you identify and diagnose plant issues so that you can appropriately amend your soil.
Many common household items can be used as soil amendments if needed. While these are not considered appropriate in many formal gardening and horticulture programs, this is about using what you have, right? You can use Epsom salts, wood ashes, and similar things to amend what soil you do have access to, just go easy on them. Wood ashes contain calcium carbonate and potassium. Calcium carbonate raises soil pH; handy if you have acidic soil like we do. Potassium regulates a plant’s water balance. Plants with insufficient potassium are prone to drought and disease. Epsom salts, aka magnesium sulfate, improve a plant’s ability to take up minerals when diluted 1 tbsp per gallon of water. Borax is another common household item that can be used in the garden in a pinch to improve boron in the soil. It should be diluted ½ tsp per gallon of water. There can be too much of a good thing. Be sure to monitor your plants for deficiencies and only apply when indicated. You can kill your plants with too much of any of these additives.
A pantry challenge, preserving with dehydrating or freezing, and gardening are 3 key skills to improve your food security and they can be done using what you already have on hand. What projects have you done, using what you have?