Vegetable plants bring vitamins to your garden

Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau

Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau

Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau – Chock-full of the antioxidant caratonoid, "garden babies" lettuce can be harvested from the time they start growing.

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Almost everything we grow in the vegetable garden is good for us. But some veggies come packed with high levels of vitamins, antioxidants and other valuable nutrients, earning them the title 'super foods.'

According to Steve Minsky, co-owner of Nutritional Concepts, a nutritional counseling firm in Northbrook, Ill., super veggies are broken down into four families:

Allium (Allium)

Allium (Allium) includes onions, garlic, shallots and leeks. These are great antimicrobial foods, and they also are being investigated for their ability to reduce blood pressure and prevent heart disease. Antimicrobials inhibit the growth of or kill microbes, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. The easiest alliums to grow in the garden or in pots are green onions, scallions (A. fistulosum) and chives (A. schoenoprasum). These are fast-growing from seeds and can be harvested usually within 75 days after sowing. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked, usually mid-April in the upper Midwest (Minnesota) and March in the lower Midwest (Ohio). Grow onions in full sun and well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter.

Nightshade (Solanaceae)

Nightshade (Solanaceae) includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. This family is known for the antioxidant caratonoid, which helps the body produce vitamin A. Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) prefer soil rich in organic matter in full sun and regular watering for the best yield. There are many varieties readily available at garden centers. Or, if you want to start your own from seed, follow the packet instructions and transplant outdoors after the last frost.

Crucifers (Brassicaceae)

Crucifers (Brassicaceae) includes cauliflower and broccoli. This family is thought to provide anti-cancer-fighting nutrients. Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is easiest to grow in the garden or in a container. For sure success, buy broccoli transplants at a garden center in early spring. Plant in full sun, well-drained average soil. In the upper Midwest, transplant broccoli outdoors in mid- to late April. In the lower Midwest, plant outdoors in March.


Greens include lettuces, spinach, chard and other dark green leafy plants. Also containing caratonoids, these are extremely easy to grow from seeds and can be sown outdoors in a sunny spot with well-drained soil in early spring. Choose to harvest and eat the leaves when they're tiny or mature.

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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