Plant a Soup Garden
Image courtesy of Julie Martens
A soup garden should feature favorite ingredients, such as potatoes, tomatoes, Tuscan kale, oregano, Brussels sprouts and onions.
Stock your garden—and pantry—with homegrown vegetables and herbs raised in your own backyard. Tending a soup garden means your family can savor delicious, healthy flavors, and you can trim a few dollars from your grocery budget. Savory soups chase the chill on cool autumn evenings and infuse gray winter days with colorful, nutrient-packed produce.
Plan a soup garden by deciding what crops you need to fill out your favorite recipes. For tomato soup, invest in several tomato varieties, including meaty romas and petite Juliet grape tomatoes, to ensure an ample harvest for fueling stockpots of soup. If your gang loves chicken noodle, grow carrots, onions and parsnips to toss into the pot, along with thyme and Italian parsley for seasoning.
Potato soup requires a little spudly research. Yukon Gold or russets are great choices for when you’re counting on potato starch to thicken a soup. If your palate favors chowders or soups with firm potato cubes, grow a waxy, low-starch profile spud, like Kennebec, Red Norland or other red- or white-skinned varieties. For onion soup, avoid sweet onions, like Vidalia or Walla Walla, and grow traditional yellow types.
Other great additions for a soup garden include root crops, like garlic, rutabaga, turnip and sweet potato. Beans, okra and kale also make terrific soup ingredients. To give homemade soups snap, tuck herbs into your garden, including sage, oregano, basil and tarragon.
If you already have an edible garden, designing a soup garden merely involves finessing crop mix. If you’re new to gardening, you’ll need to tackle a few basics. The main components in any soup garden are vegetable and herb crops—plants that crave sun. For top yields, position your growing area so it receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily.
Make sure a water source is easily accessible. While many herbs don’t require consistently moist soil, most vegetables yield best with a steady water supply. Plan to use mulch—it really helps reduce weeds and water needs. Above all, start with good soil. Working lots of organic matter into soil is the secret to an overflowing harvest basket.
How large a garden you want really depends on how you plan to use the produce. If you simply want fresh soups while the garden is in season, a small garden should deliver. Take notes of what you plant and how well the results meet your needs. That way, you can adjust next year’s plantings accordingly.
To enjoy garden-fresh flavors well into winter soup season, you’ll need to plant a larger garden and plan to freeze or can portions of your harvest, like tomatoes, peppers or green beans. Crops like potatoes, onions, garlic and winter squash are easily stored for long periods (even months) in cool, humid conditions.
Tuck edible crops into existing planting beds to make the most of growing areas. Or you might consider building raised beds dedicated to a soup garden. Study planting methods that maximize space use, like square foot gardening or wide-row planting. Many vegetables and herbs also adapt well to containers, giving you the option of tending a soup garden on your deck or patio.