Fancy picking your own delicious, health-boosting produce by summer? It’s time to get planting!
There are so many reasons why eating fruit and vegetables grown in your own back garden top trumps mass-farmed produce from the supermarket. It’s fresher, so those all-important nutrients are still at their peak. It’s organic, so there’s no nasty pesticide residue, and best of all, it tastes better. Here’s our pick of the crop to inspire you…
Tomatoes Tomatoes pack a serious nutritional punch. Loaded with vitamins A, C and K, plus good amounts of vitamin B6, folate and thiamin, these juicy red fruits also boast the impressive antioxidant lycopene, which has been found to be helpful in preventing cancer and heart disease. Lycopene also protects our eyes from oxidative stress and might be able to prevent or delay cataracts in some cases.
“Suited to growing in greenhouses as well as in the garden, if you are starting from seed, sow indoors from February to April in a propagator,” says expert gardener and editorial assistant of Grow Your Own magazine Alice Johnson. “Accustom plants to outside conditions by placing them in the garden during the day for longer periods of time for two to three weeks, before planting out.”
This delicious root vegetable can lower blood pressure within hours. One study found that people who drunk a glass of beetroot juice lowered their blood pressure by an average of five points. This in turn lessens your risk of both stroke and heart attack. The purple bulbs are helpful for your body’s detoxification processes, which means they help purify the liver and blood, and are a good source of the nutrient betaine, which fights inflammation, protects internal organs and helps prevent many chronic diseases.
“Beetroot is a hugely versatile crop,” says Alice. “Use the leaves for salads, take the golf ball sized yields when thinning and harvest mature roots once tennis ball sized. Choose a site with well-drained soil, and dig through organic matter or compost before planting to give this veg the conditions it desires.”
Why? Blueberries are one of the top sources of antioxidants – molecules which fight harmful free radicals in the body and minimising damage to our cells. This is turn helps to protect you against chronic illness like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. In various studies, blueberries have been shown to boost brain health, fight inflammation, help with weight loss and support digestion. Plus, the taste great on porridge in the morning – what’s not to love?
“An ornamental plant, it grows well in containers, so you don’t need a large garden to enjoy these colourful yields,” says Alice. “Favouring acidic, well-drained earth, you can see if your garden is suitable by checking the soil pH with a simple test kit, or if growing in pots purchase ericaceous compost to allow the plant to prosper.”
Most people’s first choice for an iron-rich veg would be the humble spinach leaf, but it doesn’t have any more than most green vegetables – the idea that it did came about when a scientist placed the decimal point in the wrong place when recording the amount of mineral the plant contained. Don’t let this put you off however! Spinach is high in niacin and zinc, as well as protein, fibre, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.
“Able to produce a year-round harvest, summer cultivars can be sown outdoors from the middle of March to May, and winter cultivars from August to September,” says Alice. “It is vital to shield winter crops or early sowings from unfavourable weather by using frost protection, with fleece and cloches being popular methods.”
Bell peppers are full of vitamin C, and the red variety contains the most. The capsaicin in peppers has multiple health benefits. Studies show that it reduces cholesterol, controls diabetes, brings relief from pain and eases inflammation. They are also full of beta carotene, an antioxidant which helps protect against cancer.
“A perfect container crop, choose a sunny spot to site your peppers,” says Alice. “Frequently harvest yields to encourage the plant to keep producing them, or alternatively leave produce to mature – these fruits are best for drying. The heat and flavour intensity of the yields will increase with time left on the plant.”
This dark green leafy vegetable is perhaps the most famous superfood of the last few years, and it has every right to its celebrity status. It’s packed with vitamin K, a nutrient that’s important in helping protect against a variety of cancers, and plays a role in healthy blood clotting, plus immune-boosting vitamin C. Kale also boasts a large amount of vitamin A which is important for vision, skin and cancer prevention. “A hardy plant which provides yields from September to May, it is important to keep kale well watered throughout its growth,” says Alice. “Take the young leaves for the best texture – once the main crown has been picked tasty sideshoots will develop for harvest from late winter to spring.”
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