Health from the garden

Even a small garden can put out plenty of vegetables. But the real point of growing your own vegetables and herbs is to ensure that you get the most nutritious food possible.

There is nothing as tasty and healthful as vegetables harvested fresh from the garden. And it’s one of my favorite things to do.

There are a few ways to harvest health from the garden:

  • Growing a wide variety of vegetables, from different families
  • Growing many different herbs
  • Learning to eat the whole vegetable

But first you need to make sure that the vegetables you are growing are getting everything they need. A vegetables is only as healthy as the soil it is growing in.

Compost & soil health

A healthy compost is a diverse compost. And healthy compost will feed your soil what it needs to support healthy crops. That’s why it’s essential that you add a variety of ingredients to your compost – to help ensure that it is loaded with minerals, nutrients, fungi, and microbes.

You can also add amendments directly to your soil; just be sure that they are natural and organic. Rock dust, seaweed, etc. will add a multitude of micro nutrients and minerals.

Adding a layer of healthy compost to your garden soil every year will help ensure that your soil is not only able to sustain life, but will increase year after year.

healthy compost
Adding a variety of ingredients to your compost pile will help ensure that is has lots of nutrients.

Vegetables for vitality

Choose a variety of veggies, to cover all the nutrients and vitamins our bodies need.

If you fill your garden with broccoli, cabbage, mustard, and other brassicas, you won’t be covering all the nutrients and vitamins that you could, as they are all in the same family, and have similar nutrient profiles.

You want to get all the different families in there. Now, I have to admit, we have a lot of brassicas in our garden. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, mustard, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, and rapini are all brassicas; and they’re all in our garden at some point during the year. But! I plant them at different times of the year.

We also have carrots, tomatoes, peppers, onions (leeks, green onions, bulb onions) beans, peas, zucchini, lettuce, potatoes, and beets, along with all the herbs. So we have a nice assortment of vegetables, and they should cover the spectrum of nutrients our bodies need.

There are plenty of other veggies you can add to the list: spinach, squash, corn, asparagus, celery, cucumber, and egg plant. Just be sure to eat at least five different vegetables each day, and you’ll be doing good things for your body.

health from the garden
Tomatoes, onions and kale in the garden: a healthy mix of veggies.

Herbs for health

Getting a good variety of herbs growing can really add to the nutritional value of your garden. Many herbs are not only nutritious but medicinal. And cooking with fresh herbs is an amazing experience. You’ll love it!

This is a list of the herbs we have growing here. I try to add at least a few of them into each dish I’m making. And when putting together a fresh salad, I’ll throw in parsley, chervil, dill, cilantro and basil. Tasty.

  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Chervil
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Sage
  • Cilantro
  • Peppermint
health from the garden
Oregano, lovage, thyme and bee balm in the herb garden.

Utilizing the whole vegetable

I wrote an article earlier about how to use your garden to its full advantage. There is a lot of nutrition in the garden that often just gets tossed into the compost pile.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s great to have lots of greens to add to the compost pile; but it’s also great to get those nutrients into your body. Here are a few things that you might not know you can eat:

  • carrot tops
  • squash and zucchini leaves
  • pea leaves
  • radish tops
  • turnips tops
  • broccoli leaves

Most of these are rather strong on their own; but all of them can be added to soups, stews and stir-fries, for flavor as well as nutrition.

Radish, squash, and turnip tops are rather prickly, so if you want to add them to a salad, slice them thinly. And, although carrot tops can sometimes be bitter, they go well in salads if chopped small.

All of these vegetables can also be added into fermented vegetable mixes for added nutrients.

health from the garden
Turnips tops are tasty and nutritious. Add them to salads, stir-fries, soups and stews.

Eating flowers and saving seed

As the season progresses, many plants in the garden will start to bolt. This means that they are getting ready to flower, and will then set seed. And that’s not a bad thing.

First of all, saving seed is a big part of growing a resilient garden. Second, as the plant changes to this new mode of growth, it often puts out another tasty and nutritious crop.

When our kale and mustard start to go to seed, we love to nibble on the buds and flowers. They are very tasty. The buds taste like broccoli, but with a bit stronger flavor. I really like them, and use them in my stir-fries and salads. Or just graze on them as I stroll through the garden.

Be sure to let some plants go to seed without eating any of them. After they have set seed, you can save that seed for next year. Some will probably fall to the ground and self-seed. Awesome – one less thing to plant next year!

In the case of some plants, such as mustard, dill, and cilantro, we can use that seed as a spice. When the cilantro goes to seed, the seeds are called coriander. You can save the seeds for either planting or spicing up your dinner. The same goes for dill; dill seed is used in pickling spice, for example.

And mustard seed is used to make mustard, so the seeds can be used to spice up your food, or try them in your fermented vegetables mix.

health from the garden
This is a patch of mustard greens that bolted in the heat, and are now setting seed.

Save the vegetables!

All fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutritional value as soon as they’re picked. This is just a fact of life: once they are removed from their source of energy, they begin to slowly die. Sad, really.

That is the biggest and best reason for growing our own vegetables. But once we’ve grown them, what next? We can only eat so many fresh vegetables during the growing season. So what do we do with the rest?

In my opinion, the three best methods of vegetable preservation are fermenting, dehydrating, and canning; in that order. There is a lot of information online about all the nutrients in fresh vegetables, and how best to preserve them; and I have gathered my inferences from that.

I think, from all that I have read, that fermenting vegetables is the best preservation method to use for retaining the most nutrients. In fact, it can actually increase the amount of nutrients that are available for our bodies, as it makes it easier for our bodies to absorb them. So, my first choice is to ferment.

Another reason I love fermenting is that you can do it just a few jars at a time, throughout the growing season. Usually, as with canning tomatoes, we do them all at the same time. One big tomato canning fiesta! But with fermenting, you can just use whatever is ready to harvest at the time.

Right now, we have a bunch of mustard greens that will be ready to harvest shortly. I’m going to ferment them.
There are a few other things ready to harvest in the garden which I’ll add – chard, beet tops, summer celery, kale, and some herbs. It’s too early for carrots and cabbage, so I’ll buy those, plus some onion and hot peppers.

We’ll also be doing some canning this year. We’re growing a lot of tomatoes, so we will can up plenty of tomato sauce and canned tomatoes. I’d also like to can some salsa, and some hot sauce from the cayenne peppers we’re growing.

We’re also going to do some dehydrating, such as sun dried tomatoes. There will be plenty of dried herbs; and I’m hoping to have enough zucchini to dry. I do love my zucchini!

fermented vegetables
Two gallons of fermented vegetables. This is a really tasty mix with red cabbage and carrots; and it looks beautiful too.

Fruit and berries

We don’t have any fruit trees here; but we do have blackberries. We live in the Pacific Northwest, of course we have blackberries!

Blackberries are super nutritious. Last year we picked quite a few; and I hope to get more this year. I want to try fermenting them; but I think the best way to preserve them is to freeze them. But I would also like to try drying them into fruit leather. That would be cool.

I would like to find some good patches of huckleberries and salmonberries to mix in with them. A variety of anything is better than a single type.

As for fruit, we’ll just have to keep getting it from the store. Someday I’ll have a food forest, and will be able to grow all my own fruit. Some day…

Health from the garden
Blackberries grow everywhere here. So cool. And so tasty and nutritious!

Gardening for health

Growing your own vegetables is the best way to provide a healthy diet for you and your family. You want to not only have a wide variety of vegetables and herbs in your garden, but you want to learn to utilize the whole vegetable, tops and all.

Every day, you want to try to incorporate five different fruits and five different veggies into your diet. Growing a garden will make this so much easier – especially the veggies.

I hope you learned a little about how you can increase your nutrient intake just by learning to eat the whole vegetable, tops and all; and by increasing your intake of fresh herbs. Once you get in the habit of harvesting, getting health from the garden is easy and fun.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, I’d love it if you’d drop them in box below. I’ll get back to you quick as a bunny.

Health, Hope & Happiness

Tracy

 

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