Winter Wellness: Plant a Soup Garden

Chilly weather is on the way.... get ready by growing winter food

For the gardener each season has highlights, and winter is no different. In Auckland the winter is so mild that we can fortunately grow a lot of vegetables, and don't have to spend the autumn pickling and preserving. One year of Siberian winter was enough for me, that's for sure!

Here are some steps written for the beginner gardener, which include how to build a low cost, no dig garden bed (it's May 2020, and many businesses are trading under restrictions regarding contactless service - it makes it a bit tricky to shop as normal)

We'll work backwards: start with the recipe ideas, then create a planting list, discuss the spacing of your plants a little, and then wrap up with the practical side of creating a garden from scratch. One of the most popular edible garden coaching projects is the 'lawn to garden' transformation. Would you ever get rid of your lawn, and just grow food?

Soup ideas - make your own rotating recipe list

I have a few favourite soup recipes, but in the middle of winter, when it's cold, wet and dark, I often forget the variety and fall back on just a few, and quickly get bored. When I'm bored by my food, I lose the incentive to cook, and it becomes a downwards spiral towards my form of fast food - frozen fish, hash browns, and green smoothies for nutrients. That is NOT my ideal diet, so this year I'm embracing the soup garden instead.

Want to join me? Let's all create our own soup recipe books, and ensure we never get bored.  

Types of soup - the Blue Borage favourites (with what vegetables to grow)

Russian borschch
This brings back such fond memories of time in Russia, it's almost good enough to eat every day. The secret is good quality stock, and using lots of liquid, to get the red soup for next day leftovers. 

  • Beetroot
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Dill
  • Carrot
  • Cabbage
  • Potato
  • Sorrel (great as a substitute for the final touch of a squeeze of lemon juice)

Leek and Potato
Research for this blog post included a Facebook poll - almost everyone listed leek & potato soup. That and pumpkin soup - what's your go-to? Instead of the standard leek and potato, I've got a recipe from Gina at Rampant Cafe in New Lynn a little further down - it's mouthwatering!

  • Leek

Chicken noodle 
This is a common go-to for anyone who is sick or feeling under the weather. Loads of parsley, and a hearty chicken stock using the leftover from a roast chicken. 

  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Carrot
  • Leek

This is a super way to introduce kids to slightly adventurous flavours: the combination of tomato and coconut milk with just a touch of chilli are so very warming, don't you think? 

  • Leek
  • Onion
  • Carrot
  • Coriander

Anyone who's spent time in Japan or loves washoku is probably a fan of miso soup - you can use miso in a few dishes, so it's well worth searching through recipe sites to find other yummy food apart from miso soup. My favourite is tonjiru - just add a little bit of sake, mirin, soy sauce and finally miso to a soup. We used to cook special soups called 'nabe' right on the dining table, on a portable gas stove, and big heavy ceramic pot. 

  • Leek
  • Carrot
  • Bok choy
  • Pak Choi
  • Spring onion
  • Daikon
  • Gobo (burdock root)  

I could go on and on... but want to save some space for very special recipes from a two local foodies: Gina and Maryma. 

First up is Gina Thomas from Rampant Coffee in New Lynn. 

"We have many simply, easy, healthy meal favourites but one that is a standout is A Mexican Style Leek Soup, it packs a punch and you can always accelerate that kick some more. The original recipe requires a can of Pinto beans, but you can substitute those for kidney beans or white/black beans if you wish. Pinto beans are creamier and softer than black beans and have a nuttier, earthier, more rounded flavour. They can take on the aromatics and flavours of the ingredients they are paired with. 

This recipe is finished with a sprinkle of bacon but can easily be vegetarian without that addition, some even finish with a poached egg of top, which I think is rather tasty sprinkled with a little chipotle or a splash of Sriracha. Whatever soup is your favourite see if you can add a little more homegrown yum, it is worth it and so satisfying"

Gina's Mexican Leek Soup

This soup is so satisfying and yum! You can substitute other beans, kale or add leftover corn. This will make about 3-4 small bowls so, it is easy to add more stock, more cream to bulk it up. The addition of corn and even a second can of beans will do the trick!

I can Pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium leeks chopped, white portion only.
½ cup water
2 cups Vegetable Stock
¾ cup freshly chopped spinach
1 cup grated cheese
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cracked pepper (I add a little more!)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper/Cajun spice
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Sprinkle of salt
300ml liquid cream
¼ cup fried onions
2 bacon strips, cooked and lightly crumbed (optional addition to finish)
Chopped herbs to garnish (Italian Parsley, Coriander)

Place the beans and leeks into ½ cup water and add 2 cups vegetable stock. Heat through until tender. This can be done in the microwave, but I like being able to see what is happening from start to finish.

In a blender, process the bean mix with the spinach until smooth. Return to the heat, add cheese, garlic and seasonings, whisk in cream, heat through until steaming stirring occasionally to avoid burning. 4-5 minutes approx.

Fry off some onion in a little butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Cook off bacon in a light egg bread crumb mix until crispy, roughly chop. Sprinkle both over soup with more cracked pepper, a little more salt and fresh parsley and coriander. The bacon adds a real depth to the dish, but it is just as good without for a vegetarian option.

Next recipe: Maryma's Off the Cuff Pumpkin Soup

Maryma is a local foodie teaching vegan and raw food preparation, yoga and meditation. You'll find her on social media at Innourish.

Maryma's Off The Cuff Pumpkin Soup


Yellow Onion
Olive or coconut oil
Spices: black mustard seed, cumin, coriander, hing (asafateda), cayenne, sea salt
Red capsicum
Carrot (optional)
Garnish: toasted sesame seed oil, cashew cream, chopped parsley, concasse

• Steam half a pumpkin: move seeds with big spoon and save to replant next season.
You may also add a carrot if you like that taste. 
 • Chop one whole yellow onion and crush four garlic cloves. Sauté in 1T olive or coconut oil with a Tablespoon of Tamari a squeeze of lemon until soft (add garlic at the end so it doesn’t burn and use medium heat.) You can also grate ginger and add it toward the end of the sauté. As with the garlic you don’t eat it to go on right away or it might burn. 
• In a separate pan sauté spices of your choice.
The Ayurvedic way: 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seed, 1/4 teaspoon each cumin & coriander seeds. (I like the mortar pistol method of crushing cumin and coriander seeds) - you could add a little bit of fennel seed if you like.  You add these at the end of the alum (onions & garlic) sauté so that whole seeds pop which takes about 2 minutes and then add powders such as cumin with a touch of cayenne for heat. Until they sisal but don’t burn. 
• Take a red capsicum and sauté. When it’s soft, use a bit of vegetable stock (make it thick) and puree to add as a decoration for the finish : swirl on top with a chop stick. You can also make a cashew yoghurt or cream with fresh herbs. The possibilities are endless!
• Garnish ideas or “Concasse” ( French term like making a fresh tomato basil type salsa)  and dropping it in the middle of the bowl after the swirls of capsicum or cream. I also love to add drops of toasted sesame oil! Tastes so fine! 
•  A note: lemon balances out too much salt….I always add a bit of salt but not too much but salt to taste at the end. I love flake Maldon salt (New World) at the end with the garnishes. Lemon is always good at the end of your process. Not too much. 
• Use stock of your choice (more on that later.) I use vegetable cubes or powder. 

Once the pumpkin is steamed add it to the vegetable stock that simmers with the spices (add spices to stock right after sauté) and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes at low heat so there is a little small bubbles coming up on. Don’t hard boil! Be gentle.this encourages the melding of the spices and enriches the flavours. 

Put the whole soup into a blender and mix until it is creamy. Pour into serving bowls and add your capsicum swirls and drops of toasted sesame oil. Door the Concasse in to the centre of the bowl and garnish with chopped parsley. Finally drop a pinch of Maldon slat flakes on top and you have a beautiful Fall Winter soup!

Vegetables for Winter Soups: Planting List

BeetrootDaikonSorrelSpring Onion
Bok choyPak choyCabbage
Gobo (Burdock Root)
Onion weedGarlic chivesSociety GarlicChives

This is just my list - yours will look quite different. 

A suggestion - make a special folder with your gardening records, and plan each year's garden based on what worked last year. or what you wished you had planted. I go into depth with theory of this method in my online course on foodscaping

Starting a new garden from scratch: the low cost, no dig method.

I don't have time for double digging. But more than time efficiency, I don't like disturbing the soil - there's so much life under our feet, that if you want a beautiful clean surface, why not create it on top of a garden bed? 

Hugelkultur is a great method for this. It's a garden bed built with old rotting logs in the middle - every time it rains, the logs soak up a little moisture, which helps the plants thrive in dry periods. A hugelkultur bed can absorb a lot of storm water, so that you get less puddles in your garden after heavy rain. 

Lasagne gardening is similar, but without the logs - you just build a garden bed by layering useful materials. People usually start with cardboard at the bottom, then a good amount of animal manure, some seaweed, mulch, weeds, grass clippings, then repeat the manure, seaweed, use some garden soil, and finish up with some good finished compost. 

I usually wait 3-5 days before planting, but if you need an instant garden, I recommend you get a good amount of potting mix, and just ensure each plant you put in has a nice big bucket of potting mix around its roots. 

When your soil is ready (try to get at least 15cm high, you can start planting. 

Here's a lasagne garden I recently built: 

  1. A circle of logs to act as the retaining wall, or edges of the garden. (This was once a biodynamic compost pile)
  2. Some sticks to lay in the bottom. 
  3. Chicken manure, mixed with all that the chickens have been scratching in in the chicken run - it was summery, so this was quite dry. 
  4. Nikau palm fronds were put in the bottom. 

All these layered into the bottom of this garden bed - all free, all 'waste' and all valuable. 

Below: The bed now planted up, one month later: these lettuce plants are the biggest, healthiest and most delicious I've ever grown. The kale is tale, crunchy and sweet, and the zinnias are a delight to all who pass - both humans, bees and butterflies. The next step is to eat the lettuce, and plant some winter vegetables in here, but it's so hard to take the zinnias out, so it might not be continuously productive this year. I'm lucky that there is an awful lot of space, and no need to rush the flowers.

See some tips below for a method of planting where you can fit much more into a small space than we often see in gardening manuals... it's sometimes called the bio-intensive method. 

Let's talk about spacing: bio intensive planting technique

When you look at a seed packet, it will often have spacing recommendations, e.g. for cabbages it's 50cm. Say you have a garden bed that is 1m x 1m. You will have space for four cabbages. It doesn't seem like much!! 

This might be how commercial growers are planting cabbages, but there's a new trend in edible gardening, called biointensive farming - it's a very clever way of maximising the space available, and planting many more crops than you would expect. You have to be mindful of a few things: 

1) You need fabulous soil, and you want to feed it frequently. I use the biodynamic cow pat pit preparation called CPP about once a month, and use the biodynamic horn manure preparation once or twice a year.

2) You need good depth for the roots to spread down, not out. 15cm is pretty good, but 50cm would be amazing - if you have raised beds you are very, very fortunate.

3) You need to understand the growing behaviour of each vegetable, ie when they need space, when they need light, and how long it takes till they typically mature. 

4) You need to be a bit of a scientist, ready to observe, experiment, and play. My recommendation: take photos regularly, and keep track of what you notice in your foodscaping journal. I have a course on this if you want to explore more: online foodscaping course.

Where to get plants?

Can you grow from seed? That's the ultimate goal for most home gardeners, but failing that ask around and see if you have neighbours with excess to share or sell. 

Garden centres have an amazing array these days, but it's worth asking how the plants are grown - the gardening sector is much like the rest of our food system, with companies forced into maximising efficiency by compromising on quality. Your commercial seedlings have probably been given synthetic fertilisers, watered with a timer, and grown in a very sheltered indoor environment - this can make them extra susceptible to the reality of a winter home garden, and also be less resilient to pests like slugs and snails. 

I would personally pick good strong seedlings from a small grower if possible. If you'd like to get into growing your own plants from seed and don't know where to start, there are two Blue Borage courses that might appeal - grow your first microgreens, and grow from seed.

I'd love to see your gardening progress, and hear how much of your soup vegetables you were able to grow at home - my students often share photos in the online Facebook group Blue Borage Gardening, otherwise you can send by email to me at katrina@blueborage.co.nz

Good luck!  

Ideas for innovative edible gardening solutions using biodynamic methods to make exquisite compost is what the world needs right now. To see the full range of online courses go to blueborage.teachable.com or get in touch by email at katrina@blueborage.co.nz


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