The weather has been startlingly spring-like lately and seed catalogs have been arriving to the Williams Street Farmhouse in droves. I planted my first seeds last week (onions, leeks, celery and some herbs) and we can officially say, let the gardening season begin! This is one of my favorite parts of the gardening season, the dreaming stage.
This year my dreams are fueled by an excellent book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. The premise of the book is that many of the nutritious aspects of fruits and vegetables have been bred out in our quest to make our food sweeter, less bitter, store better, etc. The more wild a plant is, generally, the more nutrients it has. The book is loaded with information on how to buy, grow, and store the most nutritious foods.
As gardeners we are lucky because we can grow a greater variety of vegetables than what is available in the supermarket. Instead of choosing between “baby” and regular carrots, we can grow 50 or more different types. Did you know that carrots were originally red, purple, yellow or white? It wasn’t until some Dutch plant breeders wanted to pay tribute to their royalty, the House of Orange, and crossed a red carrot with a yellow one that we got orange carrots. In the process they lost all kinds of nutrients.
Without going into the stories or the science behind it, here is what to look for in the seed catalogs so you can grow the most nutritious garden:
Artichokes: One of the most nutritious vegetables out there. Every year I get a few plants to grow enough to give me baby artichokes. Choose a annual variety like Imperial Star.
Asparagus: Also top on the nutritious list, especially the purple varieties. Maybe this year my patch will be mature enough to give me a few spears?
Beets: Beets have more antioxidants than most other common vegetables in the store, but their greens are even more healthy. Choose the darkest red varieties for the most anti-cancer properties. Valentines Day bonus: beets are an aphrodisiac.
Cabbage Family: Everything in this family is highly nutritious, with kale (especially Redbor and Tuscan) and Brussels sprouts being the best. Broccoli is also great with purple broccoli being even better than green. Red cabbage is better than green cabbage. Romanesca and other colored cauliflower have more antioxidants than white. The vegetables in this family loose their antioxidants quickly after they are harvested, so as gardeners we have a real advantage. Just be sure to leave them in the garden until you are ready to eat them!
Carrots: Red and purple types are the most nutritious.
Greens: Bitter greens (arugula, endive, radicchio) are more nutritious than sweet varieties. Red leaves are better than green, and leaf lettuce is better than head lettuce.
Onion Family: These are all very healthful. Garlic is especially nutritious, but you must chop it up at least 10 minutes before you cook it to activate the goodness. Sweet onions are less nutritious than hot onions (the kind that make you cry.) But leeks and chives are better than onions, and shallots and scallions are the best of all. Chives and scallions are super easy to grow here, and there is room for them in any garden. I met one woman who chops up chives and freezes them in one cup measurements as an onion replacement.
Peas and Beans: Edible pod peas are more nutritious than shelling peas. Purple, red or blue beans are better than green ones.
Potatoes: Look for the purple varieties like Magic Molly. French Fingerling are also quite good. Be sure to buy your seed potatoes locally to avoid introducing potato diseases to Alaska.
Tomatoes: Choose dark red tomatoes. Smaller is better, especially the currant variety which is actually a different species and a nutrition superstar.
Apples: What are you waiting for? The sooner you plant a tree the sooner you will have your own apples. Costco sells apple trees in the spring that work well here. Also, don’t overlook the multitudes of crabapples in this city. If you wait until after the first frost to harvest they are sweeter and make the best sauce.
Berries: You can never have too many strawberries, especially with a toddler around the garden. They are super high in antioxidants, especially when picked at the height of their ripeness, and you can rest assured that they are pesticide-free when you grow them yourself. Dark red raspberries are more nutritious than yellow ones, but black raspberries are even better.
Aronia, juneberry (saskatoon) honeyberry (hascaps) and seaberry (sea buckthorn) are lesser-known berries that do well up here and are super nutritious. Seaberry is considered a superfood.
This year’s garden will be the most nutritious ever, and it won’t even be more work!