Chilled Sorrel and Borage Gazpacho – In-Season Recipes (W/ Vegan Option)


Been hot enough for you? 

Wait, wait – before you claw out your own eyeballs, either from the heat, or the obligatory small-talk that accomapnies it, have some soup. It makes you feel better. Refreshing, chilled soup. You’ll want those eyeballs to be able to appreciate the crazy green color of this sorrel and borage gazpacho. 
“What and who gaz-what-oh?” 
Gazpacho is basically a chilled Spanish soup that’s more-or-less salsa that you eat with a spoon. Traditionally, it’s made with many of the same ingredients that are found in salsa, then thickened with bread. And here is my local, in-season recipe for a great gazpacho, accompanied by random “garden porn” shot earlier today. 

(Garlic-scapes-over-lavender porn)

The brilliant thing about gazpacho, in the heat of the Spanish summer, is that it’s a refreshing cold soup that requires no cooking. Cold meal, cold kitchen. Which works great if you’re living in Spain, where all those ingredients are ready right in time for the start of the hot season. Basically, it’s common sense to throw a bunch of ripe garden veggies in the blender and chill them when it’s too hot to cook. Which is why there are a variety of non-traditional “gazpachos” like green gazpacho featuring cucumbers and white gazpacho featuring garlic and almonds, etc.  

(Lillie House Porn)

But, if you live in Michigan, gazpacho just doesn’t come together right. Here we are in late June with weeks of muggy weather hovering around 90 degrees, and has anybody seen a ripe tomato in their gardens yet? Nada. Even if you do manage to have a few early tomatoes and peppers in mid July, you really want to waste them on tomato soup? 

(Forest garden porn)

So, I’ve been experimenting with cold soups from ingredients that are actually in-season when the heat arrives in Michigan, and this is one of my favorites. We’ve made variations on it for a few years in a row now, and this recipe is the one that has survived the trial-and-error. 
Borage is a self-sowing annual that’s famed as a companion plant for, well, just about everything, which is why it’s a common sight in Permaculture gardens and food forests. The peeled stalks have a great cucumber texture and flavor and the flowers are edible, too. 

(Borage-flower porn)

Sorrel is a perennial spinach relative with a zingy lemon taste, which is why some farmers and sources used to call it “lemon spinach.” Because it’s perennial and as helpful as the famed companion plant comfrey in the garden, it too is a common site in Permaculture gardens. Together these two “Permaculture essential” plants form a refreshing lemon-cucumber base for a chilled soup. 

(Sorrel porn – uh no, wait… “Lemon spinach” is probably the least salacious sounding of all vegetables.) 

For eco-minded homesteaders this soup is great because you don’t have to cook it, and the best part is that a “pitcher” of soup can be “refreshed” by adding more ingredients, and can last in the fridge all week. You can add other vegetables for a “chunky” texture and variety. All the accompanying ingredients are typically in-season at the same time in the Great Lakes region. They’re all common features in Permaculture and forest gardens. 
5-6 borage stalks, soaked in cold water and peeled (or add more for a stronger “cucumber” flavor)
1 lbs (typically one “box”) sorrel. Spinach can be substituted by adding lemon to taste 
1 bunch green onions, like Egyptian walking onions
1 bunch garlic scapes 
1 bunch cilantro (possibly substitute parsley or other herbs)
1 cup vegetable broth (optional)
1 cup+ of water
1 carton plain greek yogurt (1 avocado for a vegan option)
1 slice white bread or 1 pita to thicken
Garnish: Pico de gallo, salsa and/or hot sauce to taste
Accompaniment: Pita, or crusty bread or tortilla chips.

(Wood betony, now that’s a garden “porn name” if I’ve ever heard one. Meow!)

Harvest and peel your borage. To get the most out of your borage, water it a few hours in advance, or water at night and harvest in morning. To peel borage, peel back leaves, which should take the prickly “peel” with them. This should remove most of the skin, but the rest can be scraped off with a knife. If you’re not going to use them right away, soak them in cold water. 

(Bumble bee on milkweed)

Add sorrel and borage to a blender and add 1 Cup of vegetable broth or water. Do not substitute meat broths as they will overpower the subtle, refreshing veggie flavors. Liquify the the veggies. Add water if necessary. They should reduce down to a fairly thick, smooth sauce.
At this point, the flavors should be very strong, so add water to taste, about a cup, possibly more, depending on taste and the flavor concentrations in your produce. 

Now, add herbs, green onions and garlic scapes 1 or two at a time, to taste. More garlic than onion.  We’re going for a soup that sings of cucumber, to an accompaniment of cilantro, garlic and onions, with a nice lemony zing riding on top. If you’re using spinach instead of sorrel, add about 1/4 lemon. Basically, a cucumber-flavored salsa mellow enough to eat with a spoon. 


At this point, the texture should be pretty liquid, so now is the time to add bread and liquify. Some people like a fairly “chunky” texture, while others prefer a silky smooth one. I’ve made this soup both ways and prefer the smooth texture. For some reason, pita seems to deliver the smoothest texture, and pita chips make an excellent “dipper” for the finished soup. 

Finally, add about a cup of greek yogurt (or an avocado for a vegan option) or more, to taste and texture. I go for a soup that’s just barely thick enough to float a dollop of salsa on. 
Chill overnight in the refrigerator and pop in the freezer for 10-30 minutes before serving. Better yet, if it’s really hot out, chill the bowls in the freezer, too, for a nice frosty bowl of soup.
Garnish with a spoonful of pico de gallo or a few drops of hot sauce, or both and serve with pita chips, crusty bread, or tortilla chips for a light, refreshing hot-weather meal. 

Stay cool, my friends. 


Forest Garden Life and May Harvest Totals

Life in a forest garden puts you in direct contact with sanity grounded in the earth, in the soil. The mysteries of life, death, and food become the backbone of everyday wisdom in a way that rewrites your whole understanding of life, nature, and our place in it.

While other gardeners, like farmers, are in a battle against nature to fend off “pests” and “weeds,” in the struggle to get “our slice of the pie, the forest gardener works with nature, revving up the entire chain of life to grow the size of the pie! 
While the conventional farmer removes the ecosystem in order to convert ecosystems into people, the forest gardener creates beautiful, healthy, FUNCTIONAL ecosystems, and lives sustainably off the surplus produced by ecosystem function. It is an entirely different paradigm of production. 

This month I am most struck by this “revving up” of the whole system. The garden has come to life with birds, insects and other wildlife contributing their share to the ecosystem. And the soil itself has truly come to life! In the oldest parts of our garden, once-dead soil has become as rich, black, and beautiful as any natural forest soil I’ve seen!

“Beautiful.” Yes, soil can be beautiful. I’m quite convinced that we humans have a built-in, ancient, hard-wired appreciation for soil that is rich and fertile, in the same way as we recognize the beauty of healthful produce. And we feel “just right”  in rich natural ecosystems that can provide for all our needs! How much more beautiful is a healthy, diverse ecosystem than a dying field of corn and dusty soil?

Unlike the warzone of conventional agriculture, the Permaculture garden is as beautiful as it is productive, a place that speaks to the soul: “here you are secure, here you are home!” 

May Report: 

The month of may brought many pleasures, including some of our favorite vegetables and flowers. But it also brought our biggest work load, with rampant growth to convert to productivity, lest it be let to convert into chaos, as unusable energy will necessarily do. The “hunger gap began to present itself, and although we had plenty of salad crops and vegetables, calorie crops became scarce, and will remain so to mid-June, when the season’s first potatoes will appear. Figuring out a good source of plant-based carbohydrates for this season should be a priority project. 

Failure strikes!
This month, we also had a few minor setbacks. Our entire first planting of peas was eaten by wildlife, which was fairly predictable. In our first year, we had a very good crop of peas in that location, which is completely unprotected, but since then wildlife have taken an increasing toll. We had planned to move the peas to the front yard where they would be better protected, but simply didn’t purcahse appropriate trellises. A small second succession is just beginning to produce in our front yard. 

For some reason, this year we had 0 germination with our pepper seed, which were from last year and possibly became over dry in storage. 

Aronia berries have been heavily pruned by both deer and rabbits, who seem to favor this plant over all others in our zone 3 “wild-life friendly” food forest. Meanwhile goumi, currants, gooseberries, elder, blackberries, black raspberries, and Romance cherries have had little to no browse damage. 

Work Summary:

May and June are the months of most increasing rampancy in our garden in Michigan. After the solstice, our garden tends to start naturally thinning with the hot and dry weather of summer. This means that May is typically the busiest month in the garden, with the exception of harvest season. 
Week 1: Work – 3 hours, weeding, grass, thistle.
Week 2: 13 hours mowing, nursery work, watering, mowing grass and doing “chop and drop.” 
Week 3: 14 hours chop and drop, mowing, pruning, selecting canes for blackberries and raspberries, weedwacking and “edging” garden beds. 
Week 4: 2 hours, watering seedlings, planting. 
Total: 8 hours/week average

Overall, May was lower-yielding than other months, providing a huge amount and diversity of fresh vegetables for us, but little in the way of extra for sales. Best-case-scenario, our May yields likely provided $1,000 worth of potential value in plants, materials and food. At high market rates, perhaps as much as $1,500 worth of potential. 
(almost) daily asparagus for 3 weeks (Approximately 4 lbs)
4 boxes arugula
10 bundles scalions
1 dozen allium unifolium shoots (vegetable) 
6 boxes sorrel (priced as spinach)
24 bundles “rocketini” (priced as baby broccoli) 
12 packages salad mix
7 bundles mixed fresh herbs
7 heads butter lettuce
5 heads oak leaf lettuce
1 pint strawberries
1 package baby radishes
2 pints radish “rat tails” 
1 lbs winecap mushrooms
3 dozen green garlic
Equivilent 1 dozen fennel bulbs (actually 15+ small bulbs, 5 medium bulbs.)
Dried herbs for teas.
Minimum value: $350.
Harvested 72+ plants $400+ 
Mulch materials, compost, rabbit food, etc. 
Actual value of Total May yields: $850

Approximate hourly rate: $26.5/hour for garden work. 

As a final word, that is not a bad ROI. This is much better than the $3/hour many farmers bring home for their long hours. Again, the key to that profitability and to Permaculture, is lower work and input investment, letting ecosystems do the work for us. 
(Note: photos from late May-June.)

I’ll Never Dig Compost into a Garden Again! The Worst Soil in Our Garden Has Had the Most Time, Effort and Compost!

Ugh. Just finished prepping and digging this teensy garden bed again this year, and I’ll never do it again! In fact, I actually gave up about half way through and left it like that!
What a waste of time, energy and resources. A quick estimate “Return on Investment” analysis of the time I spend on this bed vs. the veggies we’ve gotten out of it, reveals that at best, we get a few dollars an hour worth of yield out of this bed.  
We decided to keep these two small “biointensive” garden beds in our Permaculture Zone 1 area both as test plots and to grow a few things that seemed harder to grow in our heavy mulch gardens with living ground covers. 
So, we double dug, burried tons of organic matter and dressed with a few inches of compost every year for 4 years, regularly watered and weeded, and treated with tons of time and love. And while the soil is much improved over where it started, it’s still pretty pathetic! 
Freshly dug, it’s hard as rocks, difficult to dig or weed, grey, dead-looking, dry and lifeless. I only found a few worms as I dug this bed. These dry clods reduce to fine dust when crushed between the fingers, with none of the  “crumby” soil texture that you’d find in a natural ecosystem. It would have take a lot of additional work to break that down into a fine “tillith” to plant seeds into. 
And this has had TONS of compost added to it, usually a few times a year! Far more than any other bed in our garden, probably by 10 times!
Of course, it still has a ways to go, since the Biointensive technique takes 10 years to create its ideal soil. 

Meanwhile, that picture above shows some Permaculture soil! That’s a small perennial onion easily pulled from a nearby bed that’s only half the age as the biointensive bed. Ha ha, we don’t have to “dig” root veggies from our garden, because they almost always just pull right up! See that beautiful, crumby, moist, black soil? That’s how easily weeds pull out of our Perma-soils, too. No weeder tool necessary. See that rich, black, moist, mulchy earth in the background? My gord, ain’t that beautiful stuff? And it’s had very little compost added, if any.

Here’s a bit of heavily-mulched garden that was prepped at around the same time as the biointensive bed, with a bunch of waste organic matter from on site, and NO compost. Since then, the only care it’s received is a quick “spot mulch” of organic matter, usually from nearby plants, and an occasional bit of grass clippings as a top dressing. But underneath, it’s wonderous!
8 inches down, we’re still in thick, rich, moist mulchy soil, filled with worms and mycelia. 3 worms just in that one picture, with probably over a dozen just in this little spot as I dug. And you can easily dig your arm down another 10 inches or more into light, rich, black, crumby soil. This soil has never been  dug. This soil has received NO compost or organic matter from off site. And yet it’s light, moist, easy to work, and RIDDLED with life! 
And while “putting in the garden” in our biointensive bed requires hard work every year, weeding, digging, and carting around heavy compost, planting in our Permaculture beds simply requires harvesting some great perennial vegetables or plants, and plopping in a few new plugs in their place, right into the deep mulch. In this case, we pulled up a sorrel plant, harvested the leaves and potted up the plant to sell, then plunked in a purple broccoli in its place. 
Or for sowing seed in site, many seeds can just be sown right into the mulch surface! The squash bellow germinated with no problems in that deep mulch. 
Or at worst, a few fiddly veggies require us to harvest a section of perennials, which naturally leaves behind a beautiful rich seed bed with amazing tillith, without any extra work! Here, we harvested a bunch of perennial alliums and planted in a succession of radishes. Look at the soil that was waiting for us under the perennials. This was a one-year-old bed started on the WORST soil in our yard, that has been managed with Permaculture techniques. 

Here, the city had removed the top soil and left an eyesore of pure, dead, clay subsoil, then forgot to ever bring back the topsoil they promised! 

Did we have to buy in a load of expensive top soil, unsustainably mined from another location to fix the problem? Or add massive amounts of compost? Nope! Nothing that sheet mulching, perennial plants, and a little Permaculture can’t repair. Look at that area now:

And all of that was only ever dug once, and only then, just to contour the beds to catch water because we’re on a slope! 


In a way, I’m kind of glad that digging and composting that bed is such a pain in the butt. It’s a nice reminder of how easy and effective Permaculture gardening is. And if I didn’t see the difference myself, I’d hardly believe it. 

(Tomato plugs planted into deep mulch no-dig garden.)

(A potato in a no-dig garden.)

No-dig Permaculture garden!