Growing Greens: Nutrition in a Bowl

Growing greens and eating them often is a simple way to stay healthy. Greens are powerhouses of vitamins and minerals and are easy to grow. No matter where you live, you can grow greens.

We’ve all heard about the health benefits of eating kale, but have you made the acquaintance of some of the other healthy greens? Besides lettuce, there’s arugula, collards, mustard greens, spinach, beet greens, escarole, chard, lamb’s quarters, bok choy; the list goes on. All of these greens except lettuce and escarole benefit from some cooking, although a quick sauté will usually suffice.

Most greens like cool weather, well-cultivated soil, and a steady supply of moisture. We dig several inches of compost into the bed before growing greens in late summer, then stand back and watch it happen.

You will need to thin your greens, depending on the type. Combine the thinnings with other fresh vegetables to enhance salads or soups.

In our high-desert climate, the sturdier greens like kale and chard will winter over if covered with row cover, ready to resume production in early Spring.

To keep lettuce going all year round, we use a mini-greenhouse over one bed during the cold season. For a supply of greens during the summer, try New Zealand spinach or chard, which is not picky about temperature.

As our warm season develops, cool-season greens are prone to a process called bolting. This happens when the plant gets ready to flower and set new seeds. When a plant bolts its main stem elongates, the leaves become smaller and very bitter. That’s when it’s time to take the plant out of the garden and add it to the compost pile.

For warm season lettuce, we put fewer plants in the ground and keep replanting to replace plants that bolt. To determine the best varieties of greens for your growing zone, contact your county extension agent, master gardener association, or local garden supplier. To harvest greens, you simply cut off the larger outer leaves, leaving the heart of the plant to continue producing. Pick more than you think you’ll need – greens deflate markedly when they’re cooked. When you have them in the kitchen, trim out the ribs of the leaves if you wish, give them a quick sauté in a little olive oil, add some chopped garlic or a little wine vinegar at the end, and enjoy!

Greens make a great contribution to winter vegetable soups. Chop them roughly and add them at the end of cooking, so they’ll retain their bright color and flavor. For a salad that’s so good for you that you’ll “glow in the dark”, trim the ribs from a big bunch of kale, then shred the leaves into fine ribbons with a sharp knife. Add a little salt and mix it into the kale shreds to soften them, add some shredded carrot for extra color, dress with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice, and you have a substantial dish that’s full of flavor and nutrition.

Whether you have a large country garden or a container garden in a city, fresh greens can add wholesome goodness to your table. We hope you’ll start growing greens soon, for their beauty, variety, and nutritious flavor. If you do, we think they’ll become some of your favorite simple foods.

Happy Gardening!

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