Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

BOULDER – Looking to bump up your nutrition through fresh produce straight from your garden? Sow some of the powerhouses that taste good without compromising flavor. They pump iron, potassium, manganese, copper, calcium, and zinc into our diets; fill us with vitamins A, C, K, B-complex, anti-oxidants, flavonoids and carotenoids.

According to a 2014 study by Dr. Jennifer Di Noia of William Patterson University, the green, leafy vegetables rank high on the list of most nutritious foods. Here are a few that top the list:

Chinese cabbage, also called Napa cabbage, is a delicious, crunchy vegetable that’s nutrient dense without a lot of calories.  Mild in flavor, it reminds people more of celery than a strongly flavored cabbage.  Chopped into soups, rolled around rice and tofu fillings, fermented into Kimchi, or added to your favorite stir fry dish, this ruffled member of the cabbage clan is versatile and easy to grow.

Collard, mustard and turnip greens are also part of the planting plan for increased nutrition.  Members of the cabbage family, grow them as you would other cabbages – plant in cool weather, don’t let them dry out, and give them fertilizer. Use a starter fertilizer when planting, then fertilize when they’re three weeks old and five weeks old.

Beets are an all-around must-have for healthy diets.  Their colorful, bulbous roots aren’t just showy when pickled or roasted; they’re also loaded with the things that are good for us: vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and folate. Both tops and roots are delicious additions to our meals.

Chard, a close relative of beets, also has the nutrient density that’s good for us.  They’re grown for their large leaves with edible stems. Those with thin stems are typically called chard, while those with thicker, rainbow-colored stalks are Swiss chards.  Cook the leaves as you would spinach, or rough chop and put into stir fry’s.

Plant chard in nitrogen-rich soil, thinning plants to about 12-inches apart (use the thinnings in salads). When plants are eight inches tall, side dress with nitrogen. Once the plants are seven to nine inches tall, harvest can begin. Cut outer leaves first, about one inch from the soil surface with a sharp knife.

Spinach has long been touted as a good source of iron. It is, along with omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and K. Spinach should be sown into soil rich in organic matter; it’s intolerant of becoming dry so check the plot daily for water needs.

Succession sow spinach every two weeks for a steady harvest; spinach is a quick crop that finishes within a few weeks. To keep yourself in spinach into the heat of summer, try Correnta, which is more bolt resistant and heat tolerant than others.

Planting powerhouse vegetables is only half the process for upping the nutrition in our food; in order for them to develop all of the minerals and nutrients our bodies crave, the soil has to feed them what they need. And nutritional density in plants is dependent on the quality and quantity of fertilizer in the soil.

Adding compost to the soil is a good way to boost its nutrient holding capacity, but if the garden is young, compost alone won’t give the plants all of the nutrients they require.  Whether you prefer your fertilizer to be organic or not, plan to provide your plants with what they need to grow quickly.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238.