Grow Good Nutrition

By Susan Littlefield

Question of the Month: Storing Greens to Preserve their Nutrients

Q: My homegrown greens wilt quickly after harvesting. How should I store them so that they retain the most flavor and nutritional value?

A: One of the biggest benefits to growing greens in a home garden is freshness. With the shortest amount of time between harvesting and eating, freshly picked greens not only taste best, but have the highest nutrient content. Harvest spinach, kale, lettuce, and other greens early in the morning when the outdoor temperatures are still cool, if possible. Pick them right before you head back into the kitchen; don't leave them sitting in the sun while you do other garden chores. Then refrigerate them immediately in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Cool, moist conditions will help them stay crisp and retain their nutrients. Try to use fresh greens within a week for the best nutritive value.

Tips for Growing Good Nutrition

Broccoli For a spring crop, start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost date. Transplant hardened off seedlings to the garden about 2 weeks before the last frost date. For fall harvest, sow seeds 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost date. Gardeners in mild winter areas can sow succession crops in the fall for harvest through the winter.

Keep the soil pH between 6.0 and 7.2 to minimize disease problems. Plant seedlings slightly deeper than they were growing, up to the first set of true leaves, and protect the stems with cutworm collars. Harvest when the head reaches usable size and the buds are still tightly closed.

Spinach Sow spinach seeds as soon as the ground is dry enough for planting in the spring. Row covers are an easy way to protect this crop from leaf miners, a common pest. Spinach also makes a great fall crop. Sow seeds about 2 months before the date of the first hard fall frost. In mild winter areas, make succession plantings for harvest over the the winter months.

Swiss Chard Seeds of this cold-tolerant crop can be planted as early as 2 weeks before the last frost date. If you're gardening in a hot summer climate, plant your chard where it will receive a little afternoon shade from taller crops. Chard also makes a good fall crop in many areas. Sow seeds about 2 months before the fall frost date. Begin harvesting individual leaves when plants are about 6 inches tall.

Kale and Collards For an early spring crop, start seeds indoors 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost date and transplant hardened off seedling out about 4 weeks before the last frost date. Begin harvesting individual leaves as soon as they reach usable size. Kale and collards make good fall crops in many parts of the county. Start seed about 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost date. Harvest kale after frost for the sweetest taste.

Turnip and Mustard Greens Sow seeds in succession in spring and late summer for a sustained harvest of these piquant greens. To prevent damage from flea beetles rotate the location of these crops in the garden and cover with row covers at planting time. Harvest at the baby leaf stage to use in soups and stir-fries. Pick individual leaves as needed or use the cut-and-come-again harvesting method.

Watermelon Plant watermelon seeds or transplants once the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past. Plant seeds in hills spaced 6-12 feet apart, sowing 4-6 seeds in a circle about a foot across. Thin to the two strongest vines. Or plant in rows, spacing plants 5-7 feet apart with 4-6 feet between rows. Give vines a dose of soluble fertilizer as the fruits begin to form, and make sure plants have a consistent supply of water throughout the growing season.

Harvest watermelons when the curly tendrils on the stem near where it attaches to the fruit are brown and dry and the spot where the melon rested on the ground is yellow, not white.

Beans Wait until the soil is warm and dry to plant. Bean seeds planted in cool, wet soil may rot before they germinate and are more likely to be attacked by seed corn maggots. If you are growing beans for the first time, dust seeds with an inoculant powder that contains special bacteria that helps the bean plants fix nitrogen from the air.

Pick snap beans when the pods are firm and crisp but before you can see the seeds swelling in them. Pick shell beans when the beans inside the pods have reached their full size but the pods are still firm and not dried out. Let the pods of dry beans remain on the plants until they are completely dry and the seeds are hard.

March is National Nutrition Month. It's a good time to think about eating -- and growing -- healthy foods. Because growing your own is one of the best ways to add healthful produce to your diet. Vegetables picked fresh from your home garden are loaded with nutrients and at their peak of flavor. And when you're harvesting homegrown produce, you'll be able to enjoy all those delicious veggies without breaking your budget.

Nutritional Powerhouses

Any vegetable is a dietary plus, but some rank in the nutritional superstar category. Among the standouts are broccoli and other cabbage family members, dark leafy greens, butternut and other types of winter squash, watermelon, and beans, including shell and dry beans as well as snap beans.

Broccoli and its relatives are loaded with vitamins C and K, carotenoids, and folic acid. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, chard, collards, kale, and turnip greens deliver a powerful combination of vitamins A, C, and K, along with lutein, minerals like iron and potassium, and fiber. Watermelon is a nutritional powerhouse, providing vitamins A and C, lycopene, and potassium. Colorful winter squash is a standout source of vitamin A, while beans offer antioxidants, vitamins A and C, fiber, and protein. And vegetables will give you get all these important nutrients for very few calories.

Try Our Vegetable Superstars

Here are just some of the many healthful vegetables we carry. Add some to your garden this season and reap a bounty of nutrition and good taste.

'Georgia Southern' Collards (80 days)-Large, blue-green, crumpled leaves are borne on upright, non-heading plants.

'Southern Giant Curled' Mustard Greens' (50-60 days)-Bright green leaves are heavily curled with frilled margins. Plants are slow to bolt.

'Bloomsdale Long Standing' Spinach (45 days)-A hot weather variety used for home garden and local market, it has thick, dark green, medium size leaves.

'Seven Top' Turnip (40-50 days)-Grown exclusively for its greens, the dark green leaves are harvested when young and tender.

'Dwarf Horticultural' Bean (62 days)-Used chiefly as a green shell bean, the seeds are buff with dull red markings. It does well in cool climates.

'Red Russian' Kale' (50 days from transplant)-The mature leaves are more tender than other kale varieties and have a mild sweet flavor. The flat leaves are deep grey-green with purple veins.

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