Wintertime means an abundance and diversity of citrus fruit on our farm: mandarins, lemonades, Valencia oranges, Meyer lemons, and straggling native finger limes. I grew up in a Floridian suburb, with the understanding that food came from soup tin or a plastic packet. Needless to say, I’ve had and continue to have, much to learn about the process of growing closer to my food.
While that delicious citrus provides us with medicinal shots of vitamin C, fibre, potassium, calcium, folate, and a variety of phytochemicals – it also leaves a profusion of citrus peels that can overwhelm the compost heap.
If you’re new to the concept of composting, it’s a simple way to keep precious nutrients in the soil and reduce our waste. Composting has the personal benefit of creating rich, organic (and free) fertiliser for home gardens. Keeping waste out of municipal rubbish facilities means lowering our output of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, which is released when natural materials decompose in an unnatural way. Throwing food scraps and garden clippings in the bin means their life-giving potential is literally wasted. Composting is an easy way to contribute to keeping our families and our planet healthier.
Part of composting effectively means making sure the compost pile gets turned semi-regularly and that everything is breaking down efficiently. Citrus peels raise the acidity of a compost pile, which can be balanced by adding more grass clippings to the heap. Other ingredients that can overload the compost system in excess include onions, eggshells and too much garden waste.
While microbes and worms should easily break down the occasional lemon rind or mandarin peel in most compost piles, if you’re really heavy on the citrus, like we are in winter, then it can be fruitful to harvest those peels for other uses.
Citrus peels house some of the most readily accessible essential oils that offer up so much aromatic goodness for repurposing. One of my favourite ways is to make a natural, citrus-infused all-purpose cleaner. Many cleaning products contain questionable ingredients or harsh detergents that really aren’t necessary for everyday cleaning and can contribute to the toxic indoor air quality so common in modern homes – where many of us spend the vast majority of our time.
My sister-in-love Toni Rastovich, who is an OG recycling, repurposing queen, taught me this simple recipe for transforming waste into a sunshine-hued bottle of citrusy cleaning goodness.
Here’s how we do it: