[Part of the What Should I Grow in my Garden? series]
- Easy Garden – for first-time gardeners
- Fascination Garden – just for the wonder of it. Great for gardening with kids!
- Calorie Garden – for the most calories in the smallest space
- Vitamin Garden – for highly nutrient-dense foods
- Money-Saving Garden – grow your most expensive crops at home
- Flavor Garden – for taste money literally can’t buy
This garden comes closest to the intent of the 1940s Victory Gardens in the US. I hadn’t realized until recently that those gardens were not about growing all your own food – they were designed to free up resources (vegetables, metal, train space, and processing labor) for the troops. Look at this recommended Victory Garden plot from the Illinois State Council of Defense:
What’s missing? Calorie crops. I thought this was really odd until I learned the actual goals of the program. So presumably, folks purchased the majority of their calories in the form of bread and potatoes, and home gardens were for vitamins and variety.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could eat that many radishes…
Here are my top picks for a nutritional powerhouse garden. But keep in mind, nutritious plants are just wasted space if you won’t eat them, and any veg is better than none, so plant what you like to eat!
The most nutritious foods you can grow:
- Microgreens: These are basically baby plants that you plant in trays of dirt indoors and harvest at about 2″ tall and use as a garnish. They are 4-40x more nutritious by weight than their full-grown versions, so they are worth eating a handful at a time. I haven’t written up my experiments, but there are lots of instructions on the web. I’ve found broccoli and mixed brassicas to do the best. It’s more important to keep them consistently moist than to have lots of light or heat.
- Amaranth: Amaranth leaves are incredibly good for you. So are the seeds, but they are tiny and hard to harvest. Be warned (or cheered) – if you let amaranth go to seed once, you’ll be pulling it out of your garden for years to come.
- Goosefoot/lamb’s quarters: This is a wild relative of amaranth and quinoa. It’s probably growing as a week in your yard right now, and it’s more nutritious than anything else growing in your garden.
- Chickweed: Another nutritional powerhouse you’ve probably been pulling out of the garden by the handful. Eat it young, before it gets too wiry.
- Dandelions are also edible, but I’ve yet to catch them when they weren’t too bitter for me.
These are more common garden veg that are still quite nutritious. A good rule of thumb is that the more color and flavor something has, the more nutritious it is. So, a darker green or red lettuce is more nutritious than a pale, crunchy lettuce like iceberg.
- Cabbage: Cabbage takes up a lot of space, but it’s surprisingly nutritious (especially the red varieties), keeps a long time, and is very versatile. All of our pan dinners and soups have cabbage. You can shred it and make fantastically healthy probiotic kraut. If you haven’t learned to love cabbage yet, start by chopping it finely and “hide” it in savory foods like chili and spaghetti sauce.
- Kale, collards, mustard greens, spinach, and chard: I always plant at least a 4’x4′ bed of cooking greens for the two of us. A couple leaves go into most dinners through the summer and fall, and kale, especially, dehydrates really well. I use that in soups and rice dishes through the winter. Some people buy dried kale powder at exorbitant prices and blend it into their smoothies by the tablespoon. All of these have a different taste, so buy and try some before you plant so you know what YOU like.
- Green beans: I include these because they are well-liked. Remember, it’s not nutritious if you won’t eat it! They are also super easy to grow. A 4’x4′ bed with one “tipi” of pole beans surrounded by 2 rows of bush beans will feed one person all summer, plus either give you your seed for next year or have some left over to freeze.
- Tomatoes: Solid nutrition, good yields, tasty, and easy to preserve. I don’t have enough sun to grow them, so I buy half a bushel to turn into salsa each year.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic has antiviral properties. Crush a clove into your soup just before you eat it. Packs a punch, but helps knock out the bugs.
- Beets: If the “earthy” taste bothers you, try them roasted or pickled.