Hooray for March! My favorite bipolar season. In the past week we’ve had powder days at the ski resorts, hot days of rock climbing in shorts and a t-shirt, rain, sleet, and a foot of snow in my front yard. We have been lucky and mother nature has been giving us some moisture in the past couple of months, so the garden is starting to awaken. After the snow melted away this weekend, we discovered the garlic I planted in November is starting to poke out some green shoots. This means it’s time to start thinking about planting.
I almost don’t need to even mention the health benefits of gardening. Aside from getting the freshest, most nutrient packed foods that are grown exactly to your standards, gardening deepens our awareness of what’s in season (and consequently what foods are best for our bodies). Having the kids help also encourages them to eat more fresh fruits and veggies and teaches them about where our food comes from.
If you haven’t done a lot of gardening, you live in a place with limited space, or you don’t have a lot of free time to spend in the dirt, here’s a quick list of things to try to optimize your production this year, plus a reminder of what you should be doing right now:
Plants with the best effort/output ratio:
Cherry tomatoes--these can be successful from indoor sprouting, buying a plant from the store, or direct seeding to a pot or garden. Sun Golds are our family favorite for flavor and abundance.
radishes--Very satisfying for the impatient gardener. Generally you can go from seed to salad in about 3 weeks
zucchini--if you have some room in the garden and a good water supply, zucchini wins for easy to grow and maximum poundage.
peas--if you have a place to trellis, peas are my kids’ favorite for direct snacking from the garden.
kale--One or two kale plants usually keeps my family eating greens (and kale chips!) from late may to late November.
Plants that are best for limited space:
When I lived in Alaska, I had a patient who was a Slow Food diva. Not only did she bake all her breads from scratch, she started from whole grains, then sprouted them, low-temperature oven dried them, and ground them into flour before turning them into delicious treats. Even though we all can’t be this dedicated to our food all the time, there is real value to putting this type of intention into nourishing our family. Especially during these first weeks of spring, I can’t think of anything more appropriate or seasonal to eat than sprouted foods. So in honor of all the teeny radish sprouts poking up in my garden, let’s talk about the health benefits of sprouts.
So, why is it worthwhile to eat sprouted foods? Two of the primary goals for our eating during the spring are to improve digestion and absorption of food and decrease inflammation in the body. Sprouts and sprouted foods are a wonderful way to work towards all of these goals. This is both because of how foods are transformed during sprouting as well as the health benefits of the sprouts themselves.
Eating sprouted nuts, grains, and legumes can improve their digestibility and absorption. This is because in their whole form, all of these contain a chemical called phytate. Phytate is the storage form of phosphorus, but it is indigestible, and can prevent the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and the B vitamin niacin. Soaking and sprouting these foods, however, will degrade phytate and increase bioavailability of these nutrients. Having high levels of lactobacillus (acidophilus) in our large intestine will help with the breakdown of phytate and improve absorption, so it is possible to absorb these nutrient from unsprouted nuts, grains, and seeds. However, sprouting will make utilizing these nutrients much easier.