After the record-breaking Government Shutdown earlier this year, I decided to take a very intentional and different approach to 2019 Garden Planning. This year, I am planting a “Soup Garden,” and in this post, I am going to provide the following:

  • Background
  • Definition of the “Soup Garden”
  • Identify which vegetable and herbs are in a Soup Garden
  • What am I growing?
  • Provide an update on how the vegetables and herbs are growing

Cycle of Typical Garden Planning….

Seed catalogs of Top Seed Companies
Seed Catalogs are a sure sign for us to start Garden Planning!

How many gardeners have a plan before starting seedlings and planting their gardens in the Spring? I have a feeling that many people plant without a grand design or overall plan. As I discussed in a Small Scale Life Podcast, most people grow things they like to eat. They will plant tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and zucchini. On a whim, they might grow some plants like eggplant or kohlrabi that are interesting, cool or pretty but might not get eaten and head to the compost pile when they rot on the counter or in the pantry.

How do I know this?

Because I was one of those gardeners. For a gardener, the a new gardening season always starts with so much promise and excitement. In the north country, gardeners get their seed catalogs in the depths of the icy hellscape in January or February, and we immediately begin to obsess and drool over the pictures and descriptions of each plant variety displayed inside.

The arrivals of the seed porn is a sure sign for us to start Garden Planning, and we begin to plot and plan whole saving up some pennies for making a “seed buy” later in the spring. Once we have enough shiny pennies, we trade them in for shiny packages of seeds and potting soil.

This year was no different. I was really excited to get my copies of the Big Four Seed Companies: Baker Creek Seeds, Seed Saver Exchange, Johnny’s Seeds and Burpee Seeds. I poured over the pages and scribbled down a list of tomatoes, beans, salad greens, basil, cucumbers and onions that I wanted to plant in 2019. I was picking pretty typical fair for a backyard gardener.

Of course, real life events would drastically change my approach to Garden Planning.

2019 Government Shutdown

At midnight on December 21, 2018, the Federal Government started a record-breaking 35-day Shutdown. I had just returned from an inspection trip in Northern Minnesota, and while I thought some good things might come from the negotiations and deal-making, I was disappointed in what happened and the overall outcome of the Government Shutdown. It was a big waste of time and energy, and the Government Shutdown ultimately accomplished little positive for the American citizens.

Politics aside, the Government Shutdown opened Julie’s and my eyes. We had validation of the importance of emergency funds: money in the bank and food in the pantry and freezer. This event was a major tipping point that changed our thinking and approach to life: finances, gardening, canning, and even the direction of Small Scale Life. In 35 days, everything completely changed. We discussed this in detail on the Small Scale Life Podcast in a show titled “Renew You in Q2: Introduction to Financial Freedom.” The Government Shutdown started chain reaction and is one of the key reasons why Small Scale Gardening is alive again, which I touched on briefly in the “Small Scale Gardening is Open for Business” post.

As I discussed with Nicole Sauce from Living Free in Tennessee Podcast, Julie and I learned a lot about our food preparation during the 35-day Government Shutdown. We had a bunch of food in the pantry and freezer, and we started to eat down our food supplies in an effort to conserve our emergency funds. It became somewhat of a game to use what we had in the freezer and on the shelf.

Definition of the Soup Garden

Vegetable soup is the inspiration for the Soup Garden
Rich, higher calorie vegetable soup is the inspiration for the Soup Garden

One lesson that we learned was that my current canning and food preservation efforts had a significant flaw. I have dwindling cans of homegrown and homemade salsa, jam, dilly beans, pickles, corn relish and some stewed tomatoes on our shelves, but we did not have the right canned goods to last in emergency situations for long. We are changing our mindset by going from making and canning boutique items like appetizers, relishes and jams (which are delicious and fun) to making and canning ingredients for meals or soups. While those items are delicious, they will not sustain a couple people or a family for long.

Based on lessons learned during the 35-day Government Shutdown, my Inner Circle got together and had a very good offline discussion about how to maximize production from our garden spaces. Through this brainstorming session, my friend Michael Bell from Dallas Half Acre Farms came up with a garden concept called a “Soup Garden.” Michael and I discussed this concept in a podcast titled “Soup Gardening with Michael Bell.”

Essentially, the Soup Garden concept is this:

  • Grow higher-calorie vegetables – Develop a planting plan to maximize these higher-calorie vegetables in limited garden beds and container gardens.
  • Harvest and use the vegetables and herbs – Do not let vegetables and herbs rot or go to waste!
  • Make and can soup from the vegetables – Once these vegetables are harvested this late summer and fall, make pots of soup that can be pressure canned and stored on a shelf.
  • Can vegetables on their own – If I don’t make soup out of it, I will take Nicole Sauce’s (from Living Free in Tennessee Podcast) advice and can just that ingredient (i.e., just can diced tomatoes or stewed tomatoes). These items can be combined to make dishes later in the year.
  • Store extra root vegetables – Store potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes and onions for later in the winter season. This implies setting up some kind of root cellar in my small basement to keep these from rotting.
  • Dehydrate and store herbs – Once harvested, store herbs in containers or use them in dishes. Do not let these go to waste (see above)!

Based on some of the hard lessons learned during the record-breaking Government Shutdown, I re-examined my garden plan and decided to try something new.

Vegetable and Herbs in a Soup Garden

My Soup Garden Plan from February 2019
I developed my Soup Garden Plan in February 2019.

When you think of higher-calorie vegetables, think of items that typically are in vegetable or vegetable beef soup. Can you picture a hot, steaming bowl of homemade vegetable soup? This year, I am going to grow higher-calorie items that can be used in vegetable or vegetable beef soup. Not surprisingly, these are items that tend show up on homesteader, prepper or survivalist lists as must-have vegetables and herbs to grow. Higher calories items that can be grown in Soup Gardens include the following:

Vegetables
* Green beans (beans in general)
* Potatoes
* Sweet potatoes
* Carrots
* Onions
* Tomatoes
* Broccoli
* Squashes
* Berries
* Sugar Snap Peas

Herbs
* Basil
* Thyme
* Oregano
* Peppermint (mint)
* Lavender
* Chamomile
* Plantain (yes a weed…with healing properties)

Some of these items store really well in a pantry or root cellar without needing additional processing like drying or canning (potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots are on that list).

So What’s Actually Growing in my Soup Garden?

Growing in Self-Watering Systems and Wicking Beds
Lots of Soup Garden vegetables are growing in the Self-Watering Systems/Wicking Beds – June 2019

Using the list and concept above, I developed the following list of vegetables and herbs for my small scale gardens:

Vegetables – Self Watering Systems
* Pole Beans
* Potatoes
* Carrots
* Onions
* Green Onions
* Tomatoes
* Sugar Snap Peas
* Cucumbers (not on the Soup Garden list, but I wanted pickles!)

Herbs – Patio Herb Garden
* Basil
* Thyme
* Oregano
* Celery
* Lavender
* Dill
* Chives
* Lemon Grass
* Stevia

My new garden systems are in place and operational as of June 9, 2019, and I will be writing detailed posts and provide videos about how I built my new self-watering systems and Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow Systems in future posts. Most of these gardens are planted, and vegetables and herbs are already growing!

Garden Update – 6/8/19

I am sure many of you are wondering how the garden is growing so far. This weekend, I took some time and recorded a video of the garden. I was very pleased to see the potatoes poking through the soil this weekend, and the Sugar Snap Peas are looking great! I did not take a video of the whole Patio Herb Garden, but based on the success of the Self-Watering Systems so far, my wife Julie has asked for one for the 2020 Patio Herb Garden. I will be happy to make another one for us!

Check out the video below, and make sure to subscribe to the Small Scale Gardening YouTube Channel!

Click on the button to watch the video!

How About You?

I am really excited about this Soup Gardening concept. It makes a lot of sense to me, and it reminds me of how our grandparents and ancestors used to approach gardening. It wasn’t about making cool cans of Dilly Beans and Sweet and Spicy Pickles, it was about surviving in the depths of a harsh winter. At the same time, they were maximizing their gardens and exercising a ton of skills: planting, cooking, canning and/or dehydrating vegetables and herbs.

This is a new strategy, and it makes sense to me.

How about you? Are you starting or growing a garden this year? What is your strategy for planting your garden this year?

If you need help working through a garden plan, reach out to me in the comments below or at smallscalegardening [at] gmail [dot] com. I can help you design a garden plan and answer your questions.

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