Last year a 70-something friend and her husband sold their home and moved to a condo. They love the low-maintenance lifestyle; they can walk everywhere; she doesn’t miss the house, and apparently she doesn’t miss her garden. I was surprised about that. I thought she loved gardening, but she’s fine with flower pots on the balcony.
I have to admit, sometimes the simplicity of patio or balcony gardening is appealing. Gardening can be an obsession. Home gardens are time consuming and money consuming. The flowers and vegetables are nice, but by late August, I’m burned out on the day-to-day worrying about watering and weeding. Yet here I am, gearing up for another gardening season. Obsession or habit?
When it comes to vegetables, I’ve narrowed my gardening choices over the years. My criteria include:
- Yield — enough harvest to be worth the effort
- Plants that aren’t easy prey to diseases or pests
- Grow reliably in local soil and weather conditions
7 reasons greens are my favorite garden vegetable
- Greens don’t mind cool weather. They can be planted early in the growing season, and harvested before other vegetables are barely sprouted.
- Greens are nutritional powerhouses. There’s some nutrient variation from one to another, but they are basically all good sources of fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, lutein, vitamin K, other B vitamins, various minerals like calcium and a variety of polyphenols.
- Greens come in a wide variety of textures and flavors. Kale is different from salad lettuce is different from Swiss Chard is different from spinach. Most can be eaten raw; many should be eaten raw.
- Depending on where you live, greens can be harvested from early spring to mid-summer. In fact, greens are geographically versatile, unlike tomatoes or peppers or other hot weather plants. They can tolerate cold and some even tolerate light frost.
- Greens are easy to grow. A great choice for kids and adults who are learning about gardening. Plus kids are more likely to try unfamiliar greens if they grew them themselves.
- Greens can be grown in pots, making them a good choice for people who live in apartments, condos or townhomes, and can set plant pots on a balcony or patio.
- Greens can be grown from seed, so no need to buy pricier starter plants. A packet of seeds can yield a lot of greens.
Expand your greens repertoire
I remember the first year I grew arugula, almost 20 years ago. It came up like gangbusters thanks to a cool wet spring. I’d never really tried arugula before, and the spicy/bitter flavor hit the spot. I was eating 100% arugula salads every day, dressed with a bit of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve planted it ever since.
I’ve experimented with other greens, with varying success. Some just don’t like my garden (I’m looking at you Swiss Chard!). Some, like kale, keep putting out leaves all summer until frost. Arugula planted in fall miraculously comes back to life in spring. Here are some of my recommendations:
- Various lettuces: from single variety lettuce to the many lettuce mixes. It may be easiest to grow leafy lettuces rather than varieties that form into a head like Romaine, Butter or iceberg.
- Kale: there are several different varieties of kale available now. Use it raw or cooked. Lots of people enjoy baking the leaves into kale “chips”.
- Swiss Chard: different varieties some in different colors, which adds color to food. Typically eaten cooked.
- Arugula: My first love in greens. Mostly eaten raw, although it’s a popular addition to pizza.
- Beet Greens: Cooked beet greens are a great addition to grain dishes like risotto, or to pasta. Or just sauté some for a side dish, seasoned with a splash of vinegar.
- Collards: These need long, slow cooking. Usually seasoned with bacon or pork, but when they’re cooked properly they’re divine, served with BBQ.
- Spinach: Popular, tender, serve raw or cooked. Can be fussy about hot weather.
- Mustard greens: These have a strong flavor and aren’t my favorite. They can be eaten raw or cooked.
(Almost) Anyone can grow greens
Whether you have a large outdoor garden or a pot on your balcony, you can experiment with some greens. The easiest ones for pots are leafy lettuce varieties, spinach and arugula. And don’t be discouraged if you’re limited to a balcony. Watering is much easier and you won’t have bunnies, deer or birds nipping at the leaves.
If you can’t grow your own, no worries. Grocery stores and farmers’ markets are great sources of these, so you can always take advantage of the nutritional benefits of greens all year long.