Today’s post is for whomever wants to cook delicious food with their own homegrown vegetables. As Beth will show us, planting our own garden does not have to be as intimidating as we think. Whether you are the carefree cooking type who just wants to throw stir frys together or the perfectionist cooking type who wants to make a perfectly layered vegetable trifle, we can all benefit from healthy vegetables. Enjoy Beth’s guest post on how to grow them!
Grow Color for Health
A garden of colorful flowers can feed your soul but a garden of colorful fruits and vegetables will nourish your mind and body. One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re eating healthy is to consume a rainbow of deep-hued super foods. And the good news is that a lot of these plants are easy to grow yourself, in a variety of situations–even in containers. Here are some of our favorites:
Seeing Red, try Tomatoes
There’s a good reason tomatoes are one of the most popular crops to grow in a home garden–nothing beats the taste, they’re low in calories and packed with nutritional value. Tomatoes are full of the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to lower rates of cancers. They’re also are a great source of beta-carotene, vitamins C and K, and potassium.
Tomatoes grow best in warm climates where temperatures are at least in the high 50°’s F at night and 80°s F during the day. Give them at least 6 hours of full sunshine a day in the most exposed spot of your garden. They need all that heat to grow, but also to set fruit and ripen.
Besides heat and sunshine, the other key thing to know about tomatoes is that they need fertile soil with lots of organic matter and deep watering. You don’t want soggy soil but it also shouldn’t dry out more than three inches deep.
While most tomatoes are fairly big plants that need space (both above and below soil), if you have a deep pot (18” – 24”) with good drainage you can grow them in containers too (just one per pot, please!) That means you don’t even need a garden to grow them. We recommend choosing a smaller “determinate” variety that’s well-suited to containers.
Feeling Blue, think Blueberries
Blueberries are a triple win–the plants have beautiful foliage and flowers, the fruit is delicious and the health benefits are outstanding. Research shows that the phytochemicals in blueberries may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. They’re also loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C, and potassium.
While some areas are especially known for producing outstanding blueberries, there are different varieties suited to every climate from New York or New Orleans. The first step is choosing the variety that’s right for you–lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) are super-hardy smaller (one to two foot) plants with small sweet berries that are a great choice for places with very cold winters (Maine, Minnesota etc.); northern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are large (six to eight feet) bushes with large dark berries. They grow in similar but slightly warmer climates (like the midwest of the U.S.); Southern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium pallidium) are similar to the northern type except that they don’t require cool temperatures to thrive. They produce well in temperate to warmer climates (like California, the South and Southwest).
Once you’ve selected the right variety for your location, there are two main things you need to keep in mind to grow blueberries successfully–(1) Soil. Blueberries need moist, well draining, very acidic soil–between 4 and 5 pH. This is easy to test for (and correct if necessary). If you need to acidify your soil you can add sulfur (available in most garden centers) into the top six inches of the soil and (2) Pollination. Some varieties of blueberries are not “self-fertile”, which just means you need to get more than one variety for cross pollination (oh darn, more delicious berries to eat!). Check with your nursery to make sure which type you are getting. Tip: it’s nice to get varieties that fruit at different times so you have a longer harvest.
Because blueberries are shallow rooted, they also grow well in containers–an additional benefit for those with space or other growing limitations.
Go Green, try Spinach
We all know dark green, leafy greens are good for us, and spinach is no exception. It’s high in beta-carotene (a powerful health-promoting antioxidant) and also a good source of vitamin K and folic acid.
Besides its health benefits spinach is also a very versatile plant to grow. It doesn’t need as much heat as other vegetables (in fact it likes the cooler “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall), can get by with less sunshine (4-6 hours a day is fine) and it has a high tolerance for salt, which is handy if you live near a coast. Spinach also grows well in smaller containers (6”-10” deep) so even apartment dwellers can grow it on a porch or balcony.
Spinach is a fast growing plant you can grow from seed and keep re-seeding every three weeks for a steady supply. The most important thing to know when growing spinach is that it needs good soil with organic material (notice a trend here? It’s always important!), plenty of water and a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Another nice thing about spinach is that you can eat as you go–harvesting young baby leaves for salad greens or pulling and eating larger plants. Since seeds are inexpensive, you can try different methods and experiment as you go.
There are so many great fruits and veggies to enjoy, but no matter which ones they are they’ll taste better (and be better for you) if you grow them yourself. If you need a little help getting started on the basics of edible gardening, it’s not too late to sign up for Garden Tribe’s Food Growing Boot Camp. And if you don’t have a garden but still want to grow your own food, check out our video class on Growing Edibles in Containers.