What are the healthiest vegetables to grow? After all, if you’re going to plant vegetables, why not choose the best nutrient-rich veggies?
When it comes to growing our own food, we often think in terms of yields—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 the goal.
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 carrots and sweet potatoes; and one-third sulfur-rich vegetables, like brassicas and alliums.
Sometimes referred to as a “superfoods garden,” this is one in which you will find produce that provides the ultimate combination of nutrients. There are 17 critical nutrients for optimal health; potassium, calcium folate, and vitamins B12, A, and D are tops among them.
Sample Garden of Nutrient-Rich Vegetables
A sample garden might consist of two parallel raised beds, divided into eight sections (numbered below) to accommodate the following planting plan. See our Almanac Garden Planner to select these plants and space correctly based on planting dates.
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 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.
Remember, too, that bigger carrots aren’t always better carrots. Relying too heavily on fertilizers—which can deplete the soil of major elements, trace minerals, and organic matter—can result in produce that is impressive in size but lacking in nutrients.
When planning a nutritionally focused garden, begin by sending a soil sample to your local cooperative extension office. They 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 a good first step.
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.
Now is the time to plan your 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.
Cheers to this season’s healthy gardens and healthy gardeners!