September 19, 2014
By Amanda Pace Kollar
Photo: George Harrison
Growing your own vegetables can be an exciting and productive endeavor. For starters, there is a huge difference in taste between store bought veggies and home-grown. Since you only pick them when you need them, they are always fresh! Secondly, beginning a garden requires some initial expense but pound for pound, home-grown veggies cost less! Another reason to grow your own vegetables is that it is definitely better for the environment. Store bought veggies are typically mass-produced and have usually travelled thousands of miles before hitting your grocery store. Growing your own veggies reduces carbon emissions and waste created from shipping and packaging.
However, another great reason to “grow your own” is for the health benefits. In growing your own vegetables, you are in charge of the amount of fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide you use on your plants, if any. You also get to pick plants that speak directly to what is ailing you. What follows is a list of some cool-season vegetables that do well in our area and their known, documented health benefits. Every one of these vegetables need at least five hours of sun and can be planted in the fall.
- Contains carotenes to protect against cancers.
- Lutein content helps to protect the eyes, especially in the elderly.
- Good source of calcium for bone protection.
Arugula grows quickly from seed and is ideal for window boxes or raised beds. Arugula can be used in salads, stirred into pastas, made into pesto or added to pizzas. It does not keep fresh for long, so use it within a few days.
- Rich in nutrients that help protect against breast, colon, lung and skin cancer.
- Contains chemicals that protect against stomach ulcers.
- Excellent source of the antioxidants vitamin C and selenium.
Did you know that you can eat the leaves of broccoli as well as the stalks and florets? The leaves also contain much needed vitamins and minerals and are delicious too! Broccoli comes in several different varieties but the darker the color, the more beneficial nutrients the vegetable contains.
- Rich in flavonoids, antioxidants and selenium to fight cancers.
- Contains indoles, which can help lower “bad” cholesterol.
- Calcium rich for healthy bones.
Kale is one of the most nutritious members of the brassica family. Kale rates highest in antioxidant capacity on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Scale. This scale measures the amount of antioxidents a certain food contains.
- Very high in the antioxidant vitamin C.
- High in folate for heart and arterial health.
- Nutritious, low calorie food for dieters.
There are dozens of different types of lettuce available. When making your choice, try and choose varieties that are dark green or with red tinges. These varieties are higher in carotenes and vitamin C than the lighter green lettuces. For example, Romaine has five times more vitamin C and more beta-carotene than iceburg lettuce. Also, make sure you wash your lettuce very well before eating as lettuce can contain high levels of pesticide residue and bacteria.
- Contains a variety of cancer fighting compounds.
- Very low in calories, with a low glycemic index.
- Rich in the antioxidant vitamin C.
Red cabbage is much higher in immunity boosting carotenes and higher in vitamin C than the paler varieties and is a great source of minerals. Red cabbage is best when used raw. You can replace green cabbage for red in coleslaw or add it to your salad.
- Vitamin K content boosts bone density, aids blood clotting and protects the heart.
- Helps to keep eyes healthy.
- Flavonoid and carotene content protects against many cancers.
The carotenes in spinach are better absorbed when the leaves are cooked rather than eaten raw. Steaming or stir-frying retains the most antioxidants. A great way to cook spinach is to simply wash the leaves and cook it in only the water still clinging to the leaves.
Growing your own veggies is good for you, your family and the environment. If you are new to gardening, you should know that growing your own food is also easy. You can plant in containers, window boxes, raised beds or in-ground plots. Either way, you are benefitting from all the “good things” these amazing edibles have to offer. So what are you waiting for? Now is a great time to begin planting your meals. Happy gardening!
Amanda Pace Kollar is an employee at Tallahassee Nurseries and a volunteer writer for Leon County UF/IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov
Watch on WFSU’s TV show Dimensions, Trevor Hylton, Florida A&M University Extension Agent, giving us some tips we can use to prepare our vegetable gardens for our fall planting. Just go to the link below.