I offer a detoxifying container garden plan for green smoothies and juices you can grow and blend yourself
Dry January, New Year diets, extreme detox. After the Christmas excess, it can be easy to look for quick fixes for our overindulgence. While a New Year cleanse can do wonders for mind and body, what happens when January is over? Time to turn over a new leaf with a smoothie garden.
Green juices and smoothies are packed with nutrients and fibre that can flush out toxins and help you feel fuller for longer. Plus they’re a great way to shake up bog standard bowl-breakfasts.
Whether you have a small balcony or a sprawling patio, setting aside a patch specifically for roots, leaves and fruits for homemade blends is a fun project to plan in the depths of winter – and can encourage you to eat better all-year. Invest in some raised beds, window boxes, or half-a-dozen pots (placed close to the kitchen door, so they can avert that craving for something unhealthy), then grab some soil, seeds and a blender – and you’re good to go!
Bed 1: Shoots & Leaves
Grow: Pea shoots and greens such as Swiss chard, kale and spinach are among the easiest veg to grow for DIY smoothies. Pea shoots can be grown now by scattering on the surface of moist soil and covering lightly. Snip the shoots once they form two or three leaves.
Leafy greens are best sown from March, thinly on the surface of moist, peat-free compost in pots or raised beds, and covered with 2cm of soil. You can also grow them as cut-and-come-again micro-veg in a cool room, coldframe or greenhouse in January.
Goodness: Packed with iron and immune boosting Vitamin C, these veg are ultra nutritious but less is more when it comes to fiberous kale and earthy chard. It’s best to cut the central rib out of these veg, particularly if the leaves are large, and avoid using too much as they can bring a bitter flavour to your drink.
Pea shoots by comparison add a crisp pea flavour, and mild and buttery spinach partners with a myriad of fruits and veg. Cooking the spinach first will help release more antioxidants and iron, and you’ll also fit larger servings into your smoothies. Freeze ahead and you’re good to go for the rest of the year!
Gulp: Add 1 handful of pea shoots to 1 chopped, cored and peeled green apple, 1 handful wilted spinach, a generous squeeze of lemon juice and ½ a cucumber, and blend with water to your taste.
Bed 2: Rainbow Roots
Grow: Carrots and beetroot do well in deep pots, around 20cm deep and 25cm in diameter. Sow carrots from February under fleece or cloches and beetroot later in March, scattering the seed thinly on the surface of the compost and covering with around 1cm soil. Thin seedlings to 5cm apart so the roots have room to swell. (You can use the thinnings in your smoothies too!) Keep well watered and harvest when the beetroot is golf-ball sized and the carrots are marker pen thickness. If you harvest alternate plants, the others can be left to grow and you can harvest again.
Goodness: Vitamin-rich carrots and beetroot add a beautiful sweetness to smoothies and juices, as well plenty of eye-popping colour. Beetroot in particular is known for its ability to detoxify the liver and you can grate them in raw. However, if you’re not a fan of chunky textures, it’s best to peel and par cook the carrots and peel and roast beetroot to bring out their sweet flavour and ensure a smoother smoothie.
Gulp: Whizz up two roasted beetroots with a handful of wilted spinach, 2 small peeled and chopped apples, 1 banana, ½ peeled orange, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of cinnamon. Add water to taste.
Bed 3: Fragrant foliage
Grow: A surprisingly overlooked ingredient in smoothies, herbs bring feisty flavours and nutrients to blends. Mint, lemon balm and rosemary are particularly tasty and easy to grow from cuttings rooted in water. Simply snip off a healthy looking top section from a neighbour or friend’s plant and strip off the bottom few leaves. Pop in water and pot up into soil once a nice root ball is formed. You can keep them indoors until the weather warms up, and plant out into separate pots. Rosemary will like warm, dry conditions, and lemon balm and mint can tolerate partial shade but like moist soil.
Goodness: All herbs are rich in essential oils and antioxidants, with rosemary in particular offering antibacterial properties. Mint and lemon balm are excellent digestives and reduce inflammation and bloating.
Gulp: Blend 250ml almond milk with 1 handful wilted spinach, 1 banana, 4 mint leaves, and 4 lemon balm leaves.
Bed 4: Summer Stunners
Grow: Once you get the blending bug, you can plan ahead and get growing for summer. Water-rich fruits such as tomatoes, cucumber and courgette add a savoury tang to smoothies and if you have a glut, this is a great way to use up older or damaged fruit. Add three cane wigwams to your raised bed, or to separate pots, and sow or plant direct – tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes like the same conditions: fertile soil and lots of water.
You can start your tomatoes off this month indoors, somewhere warm and bright, sowing one or two seeds to a modular tray filled with compost. Cover with 1cm soil and keep watered. Use a lightbox and propagator to get them off to a flying start, and once the plants have two true leaves you can pot them up. Gradually acclimatize the teenage tomatoes to outdoor conditions in April, and transplant. You can also grow courgettes and cucumbers indoors from April, but they do better when sown direct. Sow two seeds at the base of each cane.
Goodness: Hydrating cucumbers and courgettes are oozing with blood pressure lowering potassium, and peeled and chopped they act as a thickener in smoothies. Virtually tasteless, they are a great foil for stronger spices and citrus. Tomatoes make a superbly savoury smoothie mixed with celery and basil, and plenty of pepper. Think healthy Bloody Mary. Cook them a little first before adding to your blender, as this helps to release more of the antioxidant lycopene, which helps mop up free radicals that can harm our cells.
Gulp: Go for a gazpacho-style juice by blending 4 tomatoes with 2 peeled oranges, 2 chopped celery sticks and 2 par cooked carrots. Add water for a smoother consistency.
First published in Vegetarian Living
Fancy another challenge? How about growing your own spuds?