Plant these healthy vegetables in your spring and summer garden

March 6, 2018 Melissa Weismiller, RD, LD, CDE

  • Homegrown vegetables are increasingly popular and relatively easy to plant
  • Vegetables offer numerous health benefits and include important vitamins and minerals
  • Several vegetables help strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation and may prevent certain types of cancer

Home vegetable gardening is one of the hottest trends right now, for several reasons. In addition to reducing your grocery bill, it is well known that people who eat fruits and vegetables as part of their daily diet have a reduced risk of many chronic diseases. And perhaps due in part to the care and effort that’s required to grow your own food, homegrown vegetables simply taste better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

When you design your own vegetable garden, you can select the ones you and your family enjoy eating, while ensuring you’re also eating those highest in nutritional value. Spring and summer are ideal seasons for planting. Here are five popular veggies that have healthy nutritional profiles, thrive during the spring and summer, and help complement other foods you’re likely to be serving up in the kitchen:

Broccoli: Although broccoli may not have been your favorite veggie growing up, your parents probably encouraged you to eat that full serving on your plate, and for good reason. That’s because broccoli is packed with vitamins and minerals. It is also thought to benefit the immune system and aid in digestion. Broccoli is known to possess anti-inflammatory properties, and it even has enzymes that are associated with prevention of certain cancers. And to make this vegetable a sure bet for your garden, broccoli is a great source of fiber and low in both sodium and calories. To round out its impressive profile, broccoli is also packed with phytochemicals and antioxidants. Phytochemicals are chemicals in plants that are responsible for color, smell and flavor, and the American Institute for Cancer Research advises eating a mainly plant-based diet because of phytochemicals’ numerous healthful benefits.

Growing broccoli: You can plant broccoli directly from seeds. For a summer harvest, plant your seeds in spring. You can also start out with broccoli transplants, which grow in six to eight weeks. If planting in the spring, be sure to harvest before temperatures get too hot, since this vegetable grows best between 65-75 degrees F.

Try this broccoli and walnut salad

Kale: Another green vegetable that’s homegrown-friendly, kale is becoming increasingly popular in salads. Rich in antioxidants, kale is thought to assist in bone health, skin health, and prevention of diabetes and certain types of cancer. In addition, it is a terrific source of fiber, calcium, magnesium and iron. And as if you didn’t need another reason to include this dynamo veggie in your garden, kale is fat-free, cholesterol-free, and, like broccoli, low in calories.

Growing kale: To enjoy kale’s full flavor, it’s best to grow this leafy plant in cooler weather, so spring would be better rather than summer. Try to select a location in your garden that has full sun. It’s also a good idea to prepare the soil two to three weeks in advance of planting with aged compost, and it should be kept moist and well-fertilized.

Try a kale breakfast smoothie or frittata

Sweet Potatoes: With a name like sweet potatoes, it’s likely your family will enjoy this vegetable. Sweet potatoes are more nutrient dense then white potatoes, they contain more fiber and are lower in calories and carbohydrates. These vegetables are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, and are thought to be effective in the prevention of various types of cancer, mainly those of the colon, prostate and stomach. Lastly, sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, an essential fat-soluble vitamin that is critical for maintaining eye health.

Growing sweet potatoes: Unlike many vegetables, sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow because they are both drought and heat resistant. In warm climates most gardeners plant sweet potatoes about a month after the last spring frost, when both the air and soil are dependably warm. Before planting, mix in a one-inch layer of compost and thoroughly dampen the bed. Rather than starting with seeds, it’s best to plant seedlings. Because they produce long leafy vines, be sure to allow for plenty of space in your garden.

Try these easy sweet potato shrimp cakes

Spinach: Yes, cartoon legend Popeye derived much of his herculean strength from this leafy, green vegetable, but that aside, spinach, with all its nutrient value, deserves a place in your vegetable garden and on your kitchen table. According to nutrition-and-you.com, spinach has several nutritional benefits and is high in antioxidants and many B vitamins such as vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin, folates and niacin. In addition, spinach also contains healthy amounts of potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. 

Growing spinach: This beautiful, broad-leaf green grows best when planted in early spring. For best results, plant in loose, well-drained soil that receives both sun and shade. Plant seeds rather than seedlings, and plant rows about 12” apart to help keep weeds to a minimum.

Put plenty of spinach in this Florentine Swiss omelet

Carrots: From carrot cake to honey-glazed carrots, reserving a spot in your home garden for this vegetable will help your eyes, skin and much more. Known primarily for their high vitamin A content and orange color, carrots actually grow in several colors and their health benefits are extensive. Rich in antioxidants, and in particular beta carotene, carrots help strengthen the body’s immune system, and are important for skin and eye health. They also help combat free radical damage that can cause various forms of chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. They also aid in fighting inflammation and help in protecting eyesight and brain function.

Growing carrots: Carrots are best planted from seeds and you can begin in early spring, three to five weeks before the last frost date. Ideally they should receive full sunlight but will also do well in moderate shade. Plant the seeds about three to four inches apart in rows about one foot apart.

These carrot oatmeal muffins are high in fiber

Growing your very own vegetables can be an easy way to put nutritious food on your dining room table, while also providing a family-fun outdoor activity.  Learn why taking a spade to soil is good you. For more nutrition and healthy-eating tips, sign up for our blog.

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