A perfectly ripe, juicy tomato, still warm from the sun. Sweet carrots, pulled from the garden minutes (or even seconds!) before they’re eaten. Growing your own vegetables is one of those activities that balances practicality and indulgence. In addition to the convenience of having the fixings for a salad or light supper right outside your door (or on your windowsill), when you grow your own vegetables, you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck as well. Vegetables start losing nutrients as soon as they’re harvested, and quality diminishes as sugars are turned into starches. For the tastiest veggies with the best nutrition, try growing a few of these nutrient-dense foods in your own garden. And don’t let the lack of a yard stop you — all of them can be grown in containers as well.
Broccoli is high in calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as vitamins A, B6 and C. In fact, one cup of raw broccoli florets provides 130 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement.
• How to grow broccoli
• Grow broccoli in containers: One broccoli plant per pot, pots should be 12 to 16 inches deep.
• What to watch out for: Cabbage worm. If you start seeing pretty white butterflies fluttering around your broccoli, you’re guaranteed to start seeing little green worms all over your broccoli plants. To avoid this, cover your broccoli plants with floating row cover or lightweight bed sheets. If you start seeing cabbage worms, simply pick them off by hand.
There is nothing like peas grown right in your own garden — the tender sweetness of a snap pea just plucked from the vine is unlike anything you can buy in at a store. Aside from being absolutely delicious, peas are high in fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B6 and C.
• How to grow peas
• Grow peas in containers: Sow peas approximately 2 inches apart in a pot that is at least 10 inches deep. Provide support for peas to climb up.
• What to watch out for: Hot weather. Once the weather turns hot, pea production will pretty much shut down. Grow peas in early spring and late summer/autumn, or any time of year when temperatures are consistently between 40 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Beans (especially navy beans, great northern beans, kidney beans)
While snap beans (green beans/wax beans) are a great addition to any garden, it’s the beans we grow as dried beans that are real nutritional powerhouses. Dry beans, in general, are high in iron, fiber, manganese and phosphorous.
• How to grow beans
• Grow beans in containers: Bush beans are your best option for growing in containers. Plant beans four inches apart in a container that is at least 12 inches deep.
• What to watch out for: Harvest at the right time. Harvest dry beans when the pods have completely dried on the vine. The pods should be light brown, and you should be able to feel the hard beans inside. Shell the beans, and let them sit out a few days to ensure that they’re completely dry before storing them in jars in a cool, dark, dry place.
4. Brussels sprouts
The bane of many a childhood, Brussels sprouts get a bad rap mostly due to overcooking. When prepared right, Brussels sprouts are sweet, tender and delicious. They also provide tons of fiber, magnesium, potassium and riboflavin, as well as high levels of vitamins A, B6 and C.
• How to grow Brussels sprouts
• Grow brussels sprouts in containers: Grow one plant per 16-inch deep container.
• What to watch out for: Cabbage worms (see “Broccoli,” above.)
Fresh, homegrown tomatoes are the reason many gardeners get into vegetable gardening in the first place. There’s just nothing that compares to eating a perfectly ripe tomato, still warm from the sun. Tomatoes are also incredibly good for us, packing plenty of fiber, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and vitamins A, B6 and C. They’re also a great source of the antioxidant lycopene.
• How to grow tomatoes
• Grow tomatoes in containers: Container sizes will vary depending on the variety you’re growing. If you’re growing an indeterminate variety, your container will need to be at least 18 inches deep. For determinate varieties, 12 inches is a good depth, and for dwarf or “patio” type tomatoes, 8 inches is perfect. One tomato plant per pot.
• What to watch out for: Tomato horn worm can be a problem in many areas — these large caterpillars should be removed by hand whenever you see them. Also watch out for signs of blight, which is a real problem in many parts of the U.S.