March means it’s time to garden! What are you growing? For years I’ve wanted my own backyard garden and this year I finally get one after previously having a community spot, volunteering in other gardens or having a tiny porch container garden. To say I am super excited is an understatement. Not only does an organic garden mean fresh, nutritious food, but also that I’ll know exactly what went into it. Plus, I’m no longer handicapped by a limited produce section since I can source heirloom and exotic seeds easily and cheaply.
I have an ambitious garden planned for 2020. With just over half an acre, that’s more than enough space to provide the backbone of my vegan diet. Here’s what I’m planning to grow for both nutrition, fun, food security, and health.
A Whole Foods Garden
Last July I moved into my house, which sits on .66 acres of land – plenty of space for a garden. I live in zone 5b which means a late last frost date of May 17th and a short growing season. Very little can go in the ground until mid-May so I’m using cold frames and grow lights to extend my season. Your growing conditions may be different.
Since this is my first year at this house and only my second spring in VT, my garden is ambitious but also experimental. Even so, I’m planting something for every whole foods category.
When it comes to laying out your garden, it’s important to take pointers from what you love to eat but also to cover all your food groups. Most people grow vegetables but they may not consider other members of the whole food family that are essential to good health: fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses and tubers. Here’s what I’m planting this year to cover all the bases.
My property comes with wild alpine berry vines that I can harvest a quarter cup from every day or so in the summer. Last year I added young raspberry, blackberry and blueberry plants. This year I’m adding more so that I have a good berry crop, if not this year then next as berries tend to take a couple of years to produce good harvests. Strawberries are also going into the garden. They are prolific little fruiters and nothing beats them on a warm day.
I eat berries in my oatmeal and chia pudding. They’re a great snack and high in vitamins and nutrients. They’re also some of the quickest fruits to grow, harvest from, and maintain. As a bonus, they don’t take up much space and you can easily freeze the fruit for later.
That said, I’ll also try my hand at growing a few varieties of melons, another favorite fruit of mine.
Must grow vegetables include Roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers (hot and sweet), onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, various squash varieties, and asparagus (though the asparagus will take a couple of years to mature). “Winter” squashes like acorn and butternut squash will store well for months once harvested.
On top of this I’m planting greens like spinach, kale, arugula, mustard, chard and assorted lettuces.
My personal dream is to produce 70 percent of the food I consume. To that end, I have to think about long-term storage. Tubers, i.e. root vegetables, are great storage crops along with winter squashes but they’re also equally high in nutrition. This year I’m planting potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, radishes, beets and ginger. I may experiment with turnips. I’ve never been fond of store turnips but maybe homegrown are better tasting.
Nuts & Seeds
Many gardeners forget about incorporating nuts and seeds into their garden for well-rounded nutrition. This is understandable since many nut trees can take a decade or longer to produce their first harvest.
Seeds though are fairly easy to grow. This year I’m planting sunflowers and Lady Godiva squash in order to harvest seeds. We’re all familiar with sunflower seeds. So why plant a squash like Lady Godiva over regular pumpkins for seeds? Lady Godiva melons produce those green pumpkin seeds or pepitas you buy at the store. They’re my favorite pumpkin seed snack – soft and creamy, not hard and fibrous like regular pumpkin seeds.
As for nuts, I’m taking both the short and the long approach. Short-term I’m planting peanuts. Though they’re technically a legume, they have a nutritional profile like a nut. They also produce a harvest the first season they’re planted.
For the long-term, I’m planting hazelnut bushes and chestnut trees. They produce harvests in 3-5 years, some of the quickest of the nut family that will actually grow in my zone.
Legumes & Pulses
I love beans and eat them every day. These make them natural additions to the garden. Pole and bush beans, peas and French beans will go into my garden, but so will edamame, cannellini beans and chickpeas.
I love cooking with fresh herbs! Last year I grew basil, opal basil, cilantro, dill, oregano, mint and sage in containers. I’ll do the same this year in droves since I cook so much with them. I’ll add in thyme and peppermint.
Additionally, I’ll be growing chamomile to make tea.
This is the only category I’m not growing this year other than possibly as a cover crop. Next year I would love to allocate space to corn, oats and possibly quinoa or buckwheat. If I have space this year and don’t get overwhelmed by my already ambitious garden dreams, I will put in corn and oats.
A Whole Garden Is a Healthy Garden
I’m excited to garden this year and can’t wait to harvest garden-fresh produce! Though I may not have room this year for whole grains, I’m definitely planting foods that cover all the other whole foods categories for optimal health and nutrition.
If it’s gardening season in your zone, why not give it a try? Even a little herb garden would brighten up your windowsill and could perk up your health. Who doesn’t love that?
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