What do you think of when you think of fresh produce from the garden? Do you envision crunchy green peas, or a vine of sun-ripened, juicy tomatoes? Is it a bushel of vibrant, green zucchini or a carrot pulled out of the moist earth? All these veggies make up such a luscious and tasty garden and normally when I'd think and plan a garden this is what I would think of first. But one collection of veggies which should be in the forefront of my garden planning gets thrown in later and that is - greens.
What I mean by greens are any vegetable where the leaves are harvested and eaten: lettuce, spinach, kale, collard greens, romaine, swiss chard, arugula, collard greens, beet tops etc. These underestimated veggies are going to get first pick in my garden this year and here's why...
1. They're Fast Maturing
When it comes to growing greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale etc you can get a harvest from them quickly, quicker than all veggies in the garden! In just a couple weeks you can get baby to mature greens that you can start eating providing you with fresh salads right away. With the right varieties you can even go through the entire season! Like with my romaine mix I can go through hot summers as long as I keep it watered and harvested regularly. You can even seed beds at different times (ie every couple weeks) as a succession planting so that you can keep harvesting when one planting has slowed down or you're waiting for it to grow back after harvesting!
2. They're Extremely Good for You!
Greens are your most healthiest vegetable in the garden in my opinion. In fact fresh salads are the base of the Mediterranean diet which is considered to be one of the most healthiest diets in the world by Everyday Health (www.everydayhealth.com) with the Mediterranean diet being "the best diet of 2023". Greens are packed with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, C, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium. The benefits of consuming them include: boost the immune system, support vision and skin health, high in fiber.
Another important compound found only in the "leaves and stems of plants" is chlorophyll which is the compound that absorbs the light for the plant from the sun so that it can then produce energy. This chlorophyll chemical helps to purify the blood and keep you energized. Since it's found in the leaves of plants - greens like lettuce and kale are where you'll consume more of it!
3. Easiest Crop to Grow!
If you're looking for a beginner friendly vegetable that is relatively fuss free - greens specifically lettuce even kale and spinach are a great way to start! Greens in general germinate good as long as started in good soil with adequate sun and soil warmth especially in the cool of Spring. But they have great vigor and production once germinated simply by keeping watered and harvested! If you grow them closer together they will also grow better since they'll out compete the weeds making less weeding for you!
4. Greens are on the "Dirty Dozen" List
Kale, Collard Greens and Spinach are listed as some of the most sprayed crops with pesticides of 2023 by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) - see article here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php this means that when purchased from the store it's important to find a good source, wash really well or even better if you can - grow your own and/or source locally! Not only are the greens in the store sprayed when they are grown, but are sprayed with chemicals to prolong their shelf life which takes away from their nutrition value immensely. Time to plant some greens!
5. Easy to Eat!
There's a reason why crops such as lettuce were a part of the first Kitchen Gardens or "potager". These small gardens were planted close by to the kitchen so that one could simply run out and harvest a few small veggies for a potage which means a think soup in French. Greens are so easy to harvest, prepare and eat! They just need a little wash if any - then can be eaten. Whether you crave a fresh salad right outside your door, a refreshing green smoothie or a delicious additive to soups and pasta - they are very versatile and can be added to any meal or made into a healthy snack!
Some of my favorite greens to grow is a romaine mix I sell in my seed store as well as early maturing spinach and some kale. I also like to harvest some beet greens from the beets I grow since they are so high in iron, delicious and cutting them means more energy goes into forming the beet!
I'll be giving first pick to greens in my garden this year - because I know how much I'll appreciate home grown, nutrient dense, organic greens.