It is a valid question and after all, if you’re going to plant vegetables, why not choose the best, healthiest, most nutrient-rich veggies? Grow the Most Nutrition You Can!
When it comes to growing our own food, we often think in terms of yields, you know, such as how much, how big, how often. Fair enough, but putting the nutritional value of homegrown fruit and vegetables at the fore of a planting plan makes good sense; after all, healthful foods are one of the top gardening goals.
A garden rich in nutrients is chock-full of “powerhouse” (the latest buzzword) fruit and vegetables, with watercress, cabbage, and beet greens topping the list. Ideally, such a garden includes one-third leafy greens; one-third colored vegetables, such as multicolored carrots and purple sweet potatoes; and one-third sulfur-rich vegetables, like brassicas and alliums.
A Sample Garden of Nutrient-Rich Veggies
A sample garden might consist of two parallel raised beds, divided into eight sections (numbered below) to accommodate the following planting plan.
1. Early spinach, followed by cauliflower (after spinach has been harvested)
2. Leeks planted with carrots
3. Endive planted with cabbage
4. Onions, followed by turnips (after the onions have been harvested)
5. Broccoli planted with kale
6. Bok choy planted with Swiss chard
7. Beets followed by butternut squash (after the beets have been harvested)
8. Watercress followed by a second crop of spinach
Bear in mind that there is variation in the vitamin and mineral content of produce, depending on the conditions under which it has been grown. Healthy soil is essential for the production of the most wholesome foods. Nutrients work in concert with soil life; poor soil fertility means less nutritionally valuable crops. This is why eliminating pesticides and herbicides is important—if the soil contains contaminants, then microorganisms, plants, and ultimately humans will absorb these toxins. Conversely, mineral-rich soil is full of active microbes that support healthful yields. This is why I recommend you have a home compost pile or at least add good quality compost (I love mushroom compost) to your garden every growing season.
When planning a nutritionally focused garden, begin by sending a soil sample off to be analyzed, your local cooperative extension office or a friendly Master Gardener can assist you in this. The test will determine the type of soil that you have and make recommendations for any amendments that may be needed. Choose at least 10 space-efficient, calorie-rich staple crops that return high yields and keep well. Find alternatives to toxic applications and practices - you want to protect (and hopefully enhance) beneficial microbial activity. Adding compost is pretty much the best first step you can take. Good compost is garden magic! It makes bad soil better, good soil great and great soil even more capable of producing high quality vegetables. Do you have sandy soil that does not hold water? Add Compost as it will help promote water retention. Do you have heavy clay soil that just won’t drain? Add compost as it will help promote better drainage. Are you fortunate enough to already have good soil? Add compost as it will add more nutrients for the microbes in the soil that will help your plants fight off disease, insects, and drought or heavy rains!
Once your garden has been planted, spend time observing it to identify any stressors. Keep an eye out for things like wilting foliage; diseases, such as rust or powdery mildew; insect damage, in the form of chewed leaves; or signs of visiting critters rooting around your crops. By monitoring your garden daily, you will discover any issues early on - when remedying the problem is usually easier and most effective.
Soon it will be the time to start planning your spring garden. As you begin perusing seed catalogs, think about not only the plants that you will harvest but also the nutritional value that they will add to the meals you make. And if you really want my opinion you need to think purple when you think about a really nutritionally rich garden.
According Consumer’s Report, 2013 was the year of purple produce, because these edibles are packed with potent phytonutrients many of which are very powerful antioxidants. Well, 2013 is long gone but the benefits of ‘eating purple’ continue.
Blueberries, blackberries and purple grapes are bursting with these powerful compounds that can actually add many healthy years to your life. The purple pigments boost immune systems, thwart inflammation of the arteries and organs and prevent many cancers and other diseases. Why stop with fruit? Purchase and/or grow vegetables full of the same antioxidants.
The same with purple carrots; their skins add a citrusy, nutty taste to sweet orange cores. Both vegetables, by the way, began life purple. Potatoes first grew at high altitudes in Peru in shallow, rocky soil. The purple pigment developed as a defense against the strong sunlight, preventing green spots which are full of toxic solanine. Carrots sprang from the craggy mountains of Afghanistan, where light was also a problem.
Europeans bred the purple colors out of these vegetables, opting for blander colors that people would eat.
Plant breeders have developed a number of purple-hued vegetables in the last three decades. And, they’re still working on incorporating purple into vegetables like sugar snap and snow peas. You can find purple cauliflower, sweet potatoes, bush beans, artichokes and radishes in many specialty grocery stores and in seed catalogs.
Plant catalogs are wonderful things – they set my mind to dreaming of all the possibilities the next garden presents!
Purple carrots, potatoes, radishes, cauliflower and beets are just the beginning, you can find seeds for anything from colored ‘greens’ such as Lola Rosa or Cimmeron Lettuce or red (actually purple) cabbage to berries and even corn!
This is an excellent time to order seed catalogs and to start to dream of purple vegetables and how you might incorporate them into your garden!