Are homegrown veggies more nutritious?
And it comes down to one main reason: The second a vegetable is picked, the nutrient content begins to decrease.
Commercially-grown vegetables can spend several weeks in shipping while they travels thousands of miles from field to store. To survive transportation, farmers often prioritize a variety’s durability over its flavor or nutrient density.
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When food is grown at home, gardeners harvest at the peak of ripeness when flavor and nutritional value can’t be beaten.
The distance from garden to plate can be measured in feet and minutes rather than miles and months. Organic becomes affordable.
Altogether, these differences equate to the fact that homegrown garden produce can have up to twice the nutritional value when compared to store-bought vegetables.
The 12 Healthiest Vegetables to Grow
If you’re turning to gardening because of the nutritional benefits, these are 12 of the healthiest vegetables you should grow in your garden.
Healthy Veggie #1 – Asparagus
Why you should grow asparagus: Vitamins B and C, calcium, iron.
Once asparagus is established, it will thrive in most temperate climates. Each asparagus crown can shoot up as many as nine spears at a time and produce for up to 40 years.
Tips for Growing Asparagus
- Provide a deep bed (at least a foot). In winter, asparagus burrows to protect itself from the cold.
- Plant rhizomes 6-inches deep and 8-inches apart.
- Never harvest the first year.
- Do not harvest spears more than twice in the season.
- Avoid disturbing the crown (where the green begins).
- Regularly feed with compost tea and mulch.
- If you prefer milder, sweeter, white asparagus, hill the plants so that the spears are protected from the sunlight. Sun turns the spears green.
- For more growing tips, read our complete asparagus growing guide
Healthy Veggie #2 – Beets
Why you should grow beets: Vitamins B9 and C, potassium, iron, manganese, betaine.
Coming in golden, red, purple, and white varieties, beetroots and their tops are delicious steamed in butter or raw in a salad. The roots are also great as pickles, chips, or soups.
Tips for Growing Beets
- Sow ½” deep when soil is warm; 50 – 80°F (10 – 26°C) is ideal
- Thin beets as they grow to allow larger beets to form
- “Thinnings” can be eaten whole.
- Beets respond well to “multi-sowing” the process of sowing four or five seeds in the same hole.
- Avoid planting near pole beans. This results in tiny beets.
- Beets are prone to boron deficiency. Treat with a solution of 1tsp of Borax in 4 quarts of water.
Healthy Vegetable #3 – Bok Choy
Why you should grow bok choy: Vitamin K, calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium.
Hailing from China, bok choy (also known as pak choi) is easy to grow, matures quickly, and is one of the first harvests of the spring. Choy is also surprisingly cold hardy and can be grown in fall.
Additionally, there are many varieties to try with lots of differences in flavor, size, and shape.
Tips for Growing Bok Choy
- Prone to bolting in hot weather, bok choy does best in cooler times of the year.
- Sow every couple of weeks in early spring for a continuous harvest.
- Will tolerate partial shade, although a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight is needed.
- Harvest the outer leaves on young plants for salads.
- Harvest the entire plant once it has formed a “heart” (approx. 45 days).
- If a plant does bolt, pinch off the flower or eat the entire plant as it is.
Healthy Veggie #4 – Broccoli
Why you should grow broccoli: Vitamins A, C, E, and K, beta carotene, folate.
Broccoli takes time to grow. Two to three months actually; but once the harvest starts, it just keeps coming.
Most people know to harvest the central head, but if the plant is left in place, it will continue to push out a multitude of small shoots from the side.
Broccoli can sometimes survive mild winters, so I don’t pull it at the end of the fall. Sometimes they push out new florets in the early spring which is oh so exciting!
Tips for Growing Broccoli
- If you’re starting your broccoli indoors, be sure to provide plenty of light. Long floppy stems indicate insufficient light.
- Transplant into full sunlight in compost-rich soil.
- At a minimum, broccoli needs 6-8 hours of light.
- One inch of water per week is ideal for broccoli.
- Broccoli is a flower. In warm weather, the buds might open before you harvest. No worries! The flowers can be eaten.
- Cutting the main head lower down the stem encourages larger side shoots; although there will be fewer of them.
- For a perennial broccoli variety, consider 9-Star broccoli.
- Deter brassica-loving insects by interplanting with pungent herbs like dill, sage, rosemary, and mint.
Healthy Veggie #5 – Carrots
Why you should grow carrots: Vitamins C and B6, beta-carotene, niacin
Few things are more enticing than the flavor of a homegrown carrot. Carrots are tremendous fun to grow because there are so many different varieties to try.
They’re also terrifically versatile in the kitchen.
Tips for Growing Carrots
- Sow seeds as shallowly as possible
- Sow densely in mid-spring and then thin the carrots to the desired spacing.
- Germination takes 21 days and consistent moisture is required over that entire time.
- To retain moisture over the long germination time, some gardeners use the Board Technique:
- Water deeply.
- Place a wooden board on top of your carrot seeds.
- Check often for germination or dry soil.
- Remove the board at the first signs of germination.
- For straight, uniform carrots, dig the soil deeply and remove any rocks or hard obstacles from the soil.
- Carrots do well in deep pots or containers.
- Resow every two weeks for a continuous supply of carrots.
- Immature carrots and their tops can be eaten.
- Carrots store well in the ground – I’ve harvested mine well into December when the cold has made them sweeter.
- An abundance of nitrogen will result in beautiful tops, but small roots
- Wireworms love carrots and can be difficult to deter. Beneficial nematodes are one of the best solutions.
Healthy Veggie #6 – Garlic
Why you should grow garlic: Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, phosphorus
If you love the idea of gardening, but struggle to make the time, plant garlic. It requires so little attention to really thrive. After the initial planting, there’s little left to do!
There are two main varieties: hardneck and softneck.
- Hardneck garlic tends to do best in cold climates.
- Softneck garlic does well in warmer climates and has more cloves.
Tips for Growing Garlic
- Plant cloves 1” deep with their skin on in autumn before the ground freezes.
- Avoid planting in containers.
- Apply a layer of straw to suppress spring weeds. The garlic will poke through without any trouble.
- Garlic produces a flower called a scape. When the scape curls once, cut it off to encourage bulb development.
- Scapes can be used in much the same manner garlic is used. The flavor is similar to a garlic chive.
- The garlic is ready to be harvested when the majority of the leaves have died back
Healthy Veggie #7 – Kale
Why you should grow kale: Vitamins A, B6, C, and K, manganese, copper, potassium, calcium.
This superfood is delicious as a baked chip or in salads, soups, and smoothies. It’s easy to grow, and its cold hardiness makes it something you can grow through fall and into winter. Frost actually makes it sweeter.
Tips for Growing Kale
- Add lime to your soil three weeks before sowing and fertilize at the time of planting.
- Sow from early spring to mid-summer.
- Harvest bottom leaves as you need them.
- Tender young leaves are best for salads.
- Remove the fibrous central stem from mature kale leaves before eating.
- Blooms can also be eaten.
- Kale can survive drought, but regular watering will improve the quality and flavor.
- To prevent disease, avoid planting brassicas (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) in the same location year after year. A 4-year crop rotation is ideal.
Healthy Veggie #8 – Peas
Why you should grow peas: Vitamins A, C, and K, thiamine, folate, iron, manganese, phosphorus
For me, peas are one of the first signs of spring. They thrive in cool weather and make excellent snacks while you work your way through spring-time garden chores.
There are three main types, and many varieties within each of those types:
- Shelling peas have the largest peas, but the pod is fibrous, so peas must be shelled before eating.
- Snap peas have good-sized peas and the pods are tender enough to be eaten.
- Snow peas have tiny peas and delicate pods. They are common in Asian cuisine.
Tips for Growing Peas
- Peas can be planted 1” deep as soon as soil can be worked in the spring.
- As avid climbers, peas will always try to find a way up. Set them next to a fence or trellis and watch them climb.
- The delicate tips of the plants can also be harvested as pea shoots.
- Peas are prone to pea enation mosaic virus which is carried by aphids. Buy resistant varieties.
Healthy Veggie #9 – Red Cabbage
Why you should grow red cabbage: Vitamins A, K, and C, iron
Interestingly, red cabbage has more vitamins than green cabbage. It’s a filling and versatile addition to meals, easily incorporated into soups, salads, and stir-fries.
Cabbage takes time to grow, but it’s remarkably cold hardy and can be grown year-round in many climates.
Tips for Growing Red Cabbage
- Provide ample growing space; 2.5 square feet per plant minimum
- Water deeply and fertilize every few weeks to encourage vigorous growth
- When harvesting, cut the central head but leave as many leaves behind as you can. If you continue to care for the plant, after a couple of weeks, it will push out a few baby cabbages that can grow up to the size of a baseball.
- Following heavy rain, cabbage heads can split. If they do, harvest immediately.
- Cover with floating row covers to protect from caterpillars, slugs, and other enthusiastic insects.
Healthy Veggie #10 – Red Bell Pepper
Why you should grow red bell peppers: Vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K1, potassium, folate
Why are red bell peppers the healthiest of the peppers?
Because they’re ripe!
Green peppers are actually immature red peppers.
Peppers are tropical plants, so they can be a real challenge to grow in a colder climate. It’s usually necessary to start them indoors to get mature peppers before the frost comes. I also use a heat mat to speed germination up.
Tips for Growing Red Bell Pepper
- Water deeply. 1-2” of water per week is ideal.
- Peppers love heat. Planting in black pots or against south-facing walls can help raise the temperatures.
- Pinching the top off the first blooms the plant puts out encourages the plant to focus on its leaf and root development which ultimately leads to a higher-yielding plant.
- Give each plant ample space. 18-24” is recommended.
- Sometimes large plants require staking.
- Avoid planning near cabbage relatives.
Healthy Veggie #11 – Spinach
Why you should grow spinach: Vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus
A fantastic addition to salads, soups and pasta dishes, spinach can be a bountiful spring green, if the weather stays cool. But at the first hint of warm weather, spinach will bolt. There are lots of different varieties that offer some bolt-resistance.
Tips for Growing Spinach
- For a continuous supply, sow seeds ½” deep every three weeks
- When spinach bolts, pinch off flowers.
- Water deeply and plant in partial shade to prevent bolting
- Harvest leaves as needed.
Healthy Veggie #12 – Tomatoes
Why you should grow tomatoes: Vitamins A, B2, and C, folate, chromium
The sheer variety makes growing tomatoes a real joy. You can try types you’ve never seen in the grocery store.
These warm-season superstars are easy to learn how to grow. However, it takes 100 days for most varieties to start producing fruit, so you may need to plan accordingly and start seeds indoors or keep them in a greenhouse in fall.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes
- There are two main kinds of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate.
- Determinate tomatoes are more bush-like and the majority of the harvest is ready at the same time.
- Tomato cages are best to support determinate tomatoes
- These plants do well in pots
- Indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit for an indeterminate amount of time; essentially as long as the warmer weather lasts.
- Growth is vigorous and sprawling.
- To keep plants trained up a single pole, pinch off “suckers” (the stem that appears on the junction between the main stem and branches)
- If desired, place suckers in a glass of water and let them form roots to create new plants
- Water deeply and often. Tomatoes are truly water hogs.
- Avoid wetting leaves when watering. This can cause fungal problems.
- Once a plant has reached a significant height, remove bottom leaves so that they do not touch the soil. This prevents soil-borne illnesses.
Preparing Your Homegrown Vegetables Without Losing Nutrition
Time isn’t the only thing that causes nutrient levels to diminish. The way that we prepare our food has an impact on how nutrient-rich it really is.
To maximize nutrients, minimize cook time, cooking temperatures, and exposure to liquid.
Steaming is a great alternative to boiling because water-soluble vitamins are not lost in the steaming process.
Avoid temperature cooking methods like deep-frying or grilling. Try baking or sautéing instead.
It’s also worth mentioning that healthy plants start with healthy soil.
A plant’s nutritional value is limited by the minerals and vitamins within your soil. So, feed your soil with compost, fertilizer, and organic matter, so that your soil can feed you.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t easy, but starting a vegetable garden is fantastic step in the right direction. Fill your garden beds with delicious, nutrient-dense produce, and get some exercise and fresh air while you’re at it.
Your body and mind will be nourished by it!