Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Some varieties of vegetables and fruits contain even more vitamins and phytonutrients than normal, such as these Doublerich, Caro-Rich, and Vita Gold tomato seedlings.

Momma Told You So

Your parents probably tried to get you to eat your vegetables, and maybe some fruit, too. Unfortunately, the statistics bear bad tidings. Americans, in general, eat only two or three servings a day rather than the recommended five to nine, even though research continually shows the beneficial effects for health when this quantity is consumed.

For many years fruits and vegetables were mainly thought important for their vitamin content, but now researchers are finding there are many other positive factors, referred to as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are nonnutritive plant chemicals that contain protective, disease-preventing compounds. Over 900 different phytochemicals have been identified, and more are being discovered.

What does this have to do with gardening? Growing at least some of your own fruits and vegetables gives you an opportunity to know exactly how some of your food was grown (hopefully it was grown with a minimum of chemicals) and to consume it at the peak of nutrition and flavor. Plus, by producing your own, maybe you'll be motivated to eat more fruits and vegetables. You can even choose varieties that are particularly rich in vitamins and phytonutrients. All that time outdoors tending them is beneficial to your health, too.

No pill can provide you with the wide range of phytochemicals and the synergistic effect that is available within each vegetable, fruit, or herb. So do what your momma told you to do and eat more vegetables and fruits this year, especially ones you've grown yourself. Make plans to add more vegetables, fruits, and herbs to your yard.

Among the vegetable crops, tomatoes with their lycopene; carrots with their beta-carotene; and the cole crops, such as broccoli, kale, turnips, bok choy, and cabbage with their indoles and sulforaphanes, have gotten the most press. Since all vegetables contain phytochemicals, grow as many different ones as possible. Even something like the lowly radish, which many people don't think of as being much more than a minor salad addition, has been found to contain beneficial compounds.

Let's be honest here, some fruits are not the easiest of plants to grow, especially apples, plums, apricots, and peaches. So you may not be ready to tackle those. Better to start out considering both European and Asian pears (both require minimal care and produce well) and dwarf sour cherries like Meteor and Northstar, which are easy to grow.

As for the smaller fruits, blueberries should top the gardening list because they contain phytochemicals known to maintain eye health. Blueberries need very little care except for covering them with netting to keep the birds from eating the fruit. They do require acid soil, so incorporate sulfur into the soil when planting.

Since commercially produced strawberries are among the most tainted with pesticides, consider growing them. Day-neutral everbearing varieties like Tristar, Tribute, and Fern produce fruit all summer long. Whether growing June-bearing or everbearing types, strawberries are easily frozen for year-round use.

Bramble fruits, including raspberries and blackberries, also are easily grown, especially if you buy virus-free plants. Although all varieties are rich in nutrients and phytochemicals, the red-fruited, everbearing raspberry variety 'Caroline' contains at least 20 to 40 percent more.

Herbs aren't just for flavoring food. Garlic (and other onion family members) are considered inhibitors of cancer and beneficial for the heart. Common herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme possess strong antioxidative activity.

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