What’s in the garden – winter?

From SAGE member Stephanie Williams

As the metamorphosis from autumn and winter begins, and the soil temperature slowly drops, there are many things going on beneath the surface. This underground activity is every bit as important nutritionally as what appears above the ground during spring and summer.


Among the most useful vegetables still to be harvested at this time of year is the lovely firm and creamy head of the cauliflower. While not quite as successful as pumpkin and other root vegetables for roasting, the good old “colly” makes the perfect base for a warming curry with the addition of some alliums, and roast, ground spices like cumin, turmeric, ginger, coriander and chilli. Coconut cream and a handful of green peas finish off the dish, and if you serve it with nutritious brown rice, it makes an easy and valuable addition to your winter diet while being relatively cheap to produce. Add some of the chopped up green outer leaves and stalks to the curry base, use the remainder for stock, and if there is anything left, into the compost it goes.

Everything is connected

If our garden soils are healthy and we repeatedly eat what they produce, we are sharing in the excellent range of bacteria that contributes to the growth of those plants. Healthy soil bacteria below the surface encourages the growth of strong plants that possess built in resistance to their own predators, pests and diseases. This built in resistance is in turn transferred to our gut as we digest the food.

The human microbiome — that is the diverse family of bacteria that inhabit the lining of the long and winding gastro intestinal tract we call our gut — is a perfect metaphor that links us to our gardens and what we encourage to grow there. In natural medicine, it is known as the “ground”.

Having said this, one should not dismiss lightly the scratch or bite from an animal that had been digging or rolling in the earth, as the bacteria that thrives on the animal’s claws and teeth can be dangerous to human health and even life, depending on the person’s own level of immunity.

This immunity, which refers to the body’s ability to resist certain disease processes, can be significantly improved when we consistently ingest a wide variety of different coloured plants from healthy soils — hopefully soils that have escaped repeated artificial “enrichment” from synthetic fertilisers. All that these synthetics do is to force soil to keep on producing when it should be left to rest during cooler months while multiplying its own wide variety of bacteria.

When we eat the food produced in healthy soils — with as few “manufacturing processes” as possible happening between paddock and plate, we can be sure that we are improving our own “ground” or microbiome, where trillions of individually beneficial bacteria are busily multiply rapidly and forming ever bigger “colonies” to fight off infections. The more good bacteria living in our gut, the greater our ability to resist disease and to recover more rapidly from illness. Fermenting some vegetables and fruits adds to their natural ability to produce varieties of beneficial bacteria.

Find your soul in the soil

When we prepare our meals using fresh produce, there are bound to be bits and pieces left over. These are a valuable resource and should never be thrown in the bin. Collecting them, along with other kitchen wastes like tea and coffee grounds (removing all tags and staples from bags if you use them), egg shells etc. (not dairy or flesh foods) and placing them regularly into a properly prepared and placed composting system, one can leave it to “cook” and then use that well rotted material to dig back into the soil before planting the next crop. If you are looking for inspiration or help to get started, I recommend you read a small paperback called “Resurrection in a Bucket – the rich and fertile story of compost” by Margaret Simons (Allen & Unwin Sydney Australia 2004). It is about alchemy — the magic that happens when you decide to give something back to your soil   and your soul.

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