Imagine having a juicy tomato, a sweet carrot, a fresh spinach direct from your kitchen garden. Growing your own vegetables is one of those activities that balances practicality and indulgence. In addition to the convenience of having the fixings for a salad or light supper right outside your door, when you grow your own vegetables, you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck as well. Vegetables start losing nutrients as soon as they’re harvested, and quality diminishes as sugars are turned into starches. For the tastiest veggies with the best nutrition, try growing a few of these nutrient-dense foods in your own garden. And don’t let the lack of a yard stop you — all of them can be grown in containers as well.
Freshly harvested carrots are crunchiest, sweetest. These icons of healthy eating deserve their “good-for-you” rep — they’re very high in fiber, manganese, niacin, potassium, and vitamins A, B6 and C.
Grow carrots in containers in your kitchen garden: Sow carrot seeds two to three inches apart in a pot that is at least twelve inches deep. What to watch out for: Harvesting at the perfect size. Carrots are at their tastiest when harvested small. Leaving them in the ground too long can result in overly large, woody carrots. You’ll also want to make sure to keep your carrots evenly moist, as letting the soil dry out too often can also result in somewhat bitter, fibrous carrots.
2. Leafy greens
We can’t recommend just one leafy green, because they are all incredibly good for us, as well as delicious — kale, collards, spinach, cabbages — how can you possibly choose just one? In general, the “green leafies” contain high amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamins A, B6 and C.
Grow greens in containers: Grow one kale or cabbage plant per ten inch deep pot. Other greens can be grown a few plants to a pot — they should be planted at least 4 inches apart and harvested small. What to watch out for: Heat and cabbage worms. Most leafy greens are cool-weather crops, so they’re best grown in rainy seasons in most areas — hot weather will cause them to bolt. In addition, many of these greens are members of the Brassicas family, which means they are prone to cabbage worm infestations.
3. Leaf amaranth (Terere)
Leaf amaranth (terere) is a less-common vegetable that is well worth a try in your own garden. The leaves have a sweet and slightly tangy flavor that works well in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries and soups to simply steaming it all by itself. As a bonus, leaf amaranth is one of the few heat-tolerant greens. It won’t bolt in the heat of summer the way spinach and kale are prone to. Nutritionally, leaf amaranth is very high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin, zinc, and vitamins A, B6 and C. Everyone should be growing this!
Growing leaf amaranth in containers: Scatter the tiny seeds over the soil’s surface in a pot that is at least 8 inches deep. Harvest the leaves when they are two to four inches tall. You will be able to get at least two or three harvest before you’ll have to sow more seeds. What to watch out for: Leaf amaranth is fairly easy to grow, and relatively problem-free. Rarely, leaf miners can become a problem.
4. Runner beans
The first time I ever grew runner beans was in a large container outside the door with a makeshift wigwam frame I made for the beans to grow up. It provided enough beans for a few dinners and our children loved watching them grow!
We grew mildly spicy ‘Mariachi’ peppers in large pots in Sunset’s outdoor kitchen, and quickly deemed them keepers on our “grow ‘em every summer” list.
Their fruits are elegant: long, and tapered, often in shades of yellow, red, and orange on the same plant. Flavor is mildly hot and spicy. Sun; all zones.
In regions with cool or short seasons, extend growing time by using floating row covers and clear plastic mulches.
You can harvest the beet roots, of course, but you can also harvest and eat the greens. Young beet greens are delicious when added raw to a salad, and larger beet greens can be sauteed as a quick side dish or used the way you’d use other greens such as spinach. Beet roots are very high in iron, potassium and vitamin C. Beet greens are even better, as they are high in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, B6 and C.
Grow beets in containers: Plant beet seeds three inches apart in a container that is twelve inches deep. Because each beet seed is actually a cluster of seeds, be sure to thin the seedlings to one per cluster. Thinnings can be added to salads or sandwiches. What to watch out for: Knowing when to harvest. Beet roots are at their best when they are harvested small — between one and two inches across. At this size, they are sweet and tender. Larger beets tend to be kind of woody and less flavorful.
Fresh, homegrown tomatoes are the reason many gardeners get into vegetable gardening in the first place. There’s just nothing that compares to eating a perfectly ripe tomato, still warm from the sun. Tomatoes are also incredibly good for us, packing plenty of fiber, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and vitamins A, B6 and C. They’re also a great source of the antioxidant lycopene.
Grow tomatoes in containers: Container sizes will vary depending on the variety you’re growing. If you’re growing an indeterminate variety, your container will need to be at least 18 inches deep. For determinate varieties, 12 inches is a good depth, and for dwarf or “patio” type tomatoes, 8 inches is perfect. One tomato plant per pot
There is nothing like peas grown right in your own kitchen garden — the tender sweetness of a snap pea just plucked from the vine is unlike anything you can buy in at a store. Aside from being absolutely delicious, peas are high in fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B6 and C.
Grow peas in containers: Sow peas approximately 2 inches apart in a pot that is at least 10 inches deep. Provide support for peas to climb up. What to watch out for: Hot weather. Once the weather turns hot, pea production will pretty much shut down.
9. Coriander (Dhania)
Tender leaves of this tap-rooted annual are indespensible for flavoring guacamole, salsas, gazpacho, and more. Coriander is easy to grow from seed in low, wide bowls; you just snip off outer leaves when plant reach about 8 inches tall. Plants need light shade in hottest climates. All zones. Cilantro grows and flowers quickly. Keep it coming by succession planting every couple of weeks.
10. Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are virtually maintenance-free crops, and are such easy vegetables to grow in your kitchen garden. Simply plant onion bulbs and individual garlic cloves on well-drained soil.
Why should you buy vegetables while you can grow them.
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