If you long to plant an edible garden this spring, it's time to plan what delectable treats to grow. A garden represents an opportunity to change our eating habits, too - to eliminate trans fats, salt intake, refined carbohydrates and more.
Spring produce isn't just low in calories and fats, though. Try planting some "super foods" this spring, nutritional delights cited by WebMD and other sources for keeping your mind sharp, eyesight keen and heart pumping strong:
¢ Beans and other legumes are great sources of fiber and protein. They digest slowly, aiding in weight-loss success. Beans rank second to the tomato in popularity for home gardens. Bush beans or string beans require the least amount of work and can be grown without the support of a trellis or stakes.
Donna Gardner, greenhouse manager at Sunrise Garden Center, offers planting suggestions for one type of legume.
"Green beans do very well in Lawrence," she says. "It is best to sow them in the soil after the earth warms around mid-May."
These annual plants will be harvested from June to August. A proven source of magnesium, beans can help in lowering the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by up to 30 percent.
¢ Blueberries are brain food. In fact, it has been discovered that these tiny, blue antioxidant jewels can preserve a young brain as it matures, even reversing the harmful effects of aging on the neuronal signals in the brain. Blueberries are not packed full of one particular asset but rather possess a synergy of multiple ingredients. They have a thick skin in which most of the nutrients are stored, boasting of vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, carotenoids and other compounds.
Gardner explains the conditions best for growing the fruit: "Blueberries are a perennial bush that like it cool, so I might suggest planting them in a spot where they have afternoon shade. They will produce smaller fruit in this climate and will perform better in acidic soil."
A bush should survive for a decade - it will produce fruit by the third year, and the blueberry harvest will occur from July to September.
¢ Broccoli can and should be planted in March. These green, leafy big boys are considered the most important food to digest for the prevention of cancer. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts have been proven to aid in preventing breast, colon, esophageal and lung cancers.
Gardner suggests, "The Goliath variety performs wonderfully here. The most important tidbit of growing broccoli is to put a pure ring of nitrogen around the plant. You should allow for plenty of room as they are a wide plant with large leaves. They like to grow when it is cool, so March is the time to plant them."
¢ Carrots should be planted in April; they can handle a light freeze as they are a cool-season vegetable. They prefer well-tilled soil that is loose, and generally take 55-60 days before being ready for harvest. Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene, which can reduce the risk of breast cancer, and help with sharp eyesight. They are also chock-full of vitamin A.
¢ Pumpkins are an annual that like to be planted when the risk of a frost has passed; usually May is a safe month to plant these healthy, gargantuan flora. They will grow until well into the autumn and are ready for harvesting in September and October. Gardner states, "The pumpkin is a viny plant, and probably the most difficult aspect of it is keeping the weeds at bay. They will require ample room and cannot handle any frost at all." The pumpkin boasts phytonutrients, which keep your skin young-looking and help in preventing sun damage.
¢ Spinach has a deep green, leafy look, making it one of the most nutritious leafy greens available. Spinach aids in fighting the occurrence of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. This annual that is normally grown from seed can be planted early with broccoli; St. Patrick's Day is always a good earmark of when to sow these seeds. This annual prefers full sun, as do most edibles in the garden, and all but the blueberries on this list will appreciate a heavy dose of sunshine. Spinach is not only fabulous for those baby blues, it is a fantastic source of iron, a mineral in which about 15 percent of women of child-bearing age are deficient. Fatigue can be a symptom of iron deficiency, so like Popeye, spinach will keep you energized.
¢ Tomatoes are the most popular edible in the home garden and with good reason. They are relatively easy to grow, they produce an abundance of fruit, and if you are a man, there is no better food to consume. Tomatoes may help men avoid prostate cancer. The tomato also has lycopene, an antioxidant pigment that may help prevent tumors of the uterus. It is best to eat tomatoes with a bit of fat to maximize the absorption of the lycopene.
Gardner recommends the following for the best tomato crop: "Tomatoes are a warm-weather crop, so they should be planted in May. They will usually need to be staked in July when the fruit begins to appear. There are so many varieties of tomatoes; space is dependent on which tomato you are growing."
You may have noticed from this list of super foods that they tend to be the most colorful of foods; this is a general flag that will often tell you of foods that are terrifically wonderful for us, versus foods that provide some of what we need but cannot be classified as "super."
In order to have the most successful garden possible, you might incorporate these tips as well.
¢ Mulch: This will conserve moisture and control the weeds.
¢ Keep your plants free of insects and diseases.
¢ Exam your plot of edibles often to catch possible problems early on.
¢ Remove tomato suckers (smaller offshoots) as soon as they form.
¢ Apply fertilizer.
¢ Avoid excessive walking in the garden, particularly when the soil is wet.