There may be an international pandemic happening, but it’s also gloriously spring! And what does spring bring? Flowers and vegetables for many green-thumbed dietitians across the US.
In addition to getting people outside, gardening offers many other health benefits. Mental health experts note that digging in the dirt and gardening reduces stress and anxiety, improves attention, and lowers cortisol levels. 1 Raising your own food also improves self-reliance, reduces trips to the grocery store, saves money and increases consumption of produce. 2 ‘Lettuce’ take a look at what several dietitians are cultivating this spring.
Kelly Blake, RDN, LD, IFNCP, owner of Nutrisensenutrition notes it’s her third year of gardening. She and her husband grow bell peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, jalapeño peppers, green beans, and pumpkins. She notes the pumpkins were an “accident when we discarded a Halloween pumpkin into our compost pile and we ended up with 4 nice pumpkins!”
As a 6th generation farmer, Carla M Saviñón, RDN and owner of Home Grown Nutrition in Central Florida, states she has a passion for growing plants despite living in the suburbs. She uses container gardens and a large raised bed in her backyard and is trialing small scale homesteading this year. “I created a layout on paper of how I wanted to plant my plants before I planted them, and studied which varieties would do the best in the hot, humid central Florida spring and summers. All of my plants (aside from my herbs) I grew from seeds and then transplanted the seedlings. Along my fence line, I planted zucchini, cucumber, and watermelon, since these are vine plants that like to spread out.”
Given the abundance of sunshine in Arizona, retail RD expert Barbara Ruhs of marketrd.com ramped up her gardening, but “finding the right location so her plants didn’t burn was a wake-up call” compared to her northeast roots in Boston. She notes artichokes love dry climate, but watering them too much makes them wilt. She has corn, lettuces and tomatoes planted and is already harvesting celery, snap peas, Fava beans and a few varieties of kale. In addition, she has an herb garden and a few fruit trees (Meyer lemon and fig) plus grapes. In a month or so, zucchini, cucumbers and Shishito peppers will be ready for harvest.
Jenna Volpe RD and owner of Whole-istic Living’s notes you’ll find a pot of live rosemary on her windowsill to add to roasted veggie dishes or to be made into a fresh plant tincture or herbal formula. Her backyard yields lemon balm, which is part of the mint family like rosemary. She uses it for teas and fresh plant tinctures, but cautions it is contraindicated in those with hypothyroidism as it may suppress thyroid function in some people.
Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, AKA “The Plant-Powered Dietitian”, has been gardening since she was old enough to remember. Coming from two parents that were raised on farms, they always grew much of their own food. She didn’t initially have her parents’ green thumbs, but “really got back into it about 8 years ago, when I started earnestly growing in my back yard in LA county”. Sharon grows lettuce, radish, spinach, kale, chard, carrots, beets, herbs, citrus, and avocados in winter and switches to tomatoes, eggplants, beans, squash, onions, basil, cucumbers, and grapes in the summer. Gardening makes her happy. She can use difficult to obtain edible flowers and broccoli leaves because of her garden.
“I absolutely love to garden”, claims Julie Stefanski MEd, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CDE, FAND Owner, Stefanski Nutrition Services. “Since I'm not from the South, I did not know until I gardened that you could grow okra and eat the young pods raw! So yummy dipped in hummus”. She always grows fennel, herbs, tomatoes, and kale. “It's so nice to be able to see the plants grow”.
Jan Patenaude, RDN, CLT and Food Sensitivity Specialist credits her 94-year-old mother for teaching her how to garden. ”Even as very young children, we could always pick rocks in the garden. They grew pineapple, Sissoo “Spinach” greens, celery and passionfruit”.
Kim G. Beavers, MS, RDN, LD, CDE grows lots of things including herbs and asparagus and is trying her hand at tomatoes, sugar snap peas and cucumbers. In addition, she has “a fig tree that’s “going gang busters”, a Myer lemon tree, satsuma mandarin, two pomegranate trees and a pear tree”. She was originally going to sell asparagus at her local farmers market but the yield did not match the certifications for her market, so now she gives it away. She has made some of her plants into photos and greeting cards called “fresh notes”.
Amrie DeFrates, RDN of @gardngrown began gardening four years ago “on our apartment balcony where I grew tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower and herbs. In the front yard we grow pineapple guava, grapes, pears, apples, plums, nectarines, limes, blood oranges, tangerines, mulberries, blackberries, raspberries, figs, olives, lavender and sunflowers. In the backyard we have almonds, grapes, strawberries, pomegranates, kumquats, lemons, artichokes, herbs and edible flowers. They are trying what works for annuals including tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, green beans, beets, radishes, carrots, zucchini, lettuce, celery, pumpkins, broccoli, cauliflower and snap peas.” She also grows microgreens and baby greens in a small greenhouse.
Kathy Glazer, MS RDN LD of Eatsmartcoach.com has been gardening since she was a teenager, but more consistently in the past 30 years. She grows herbs, lettuce, veggies, berries and flowers.
If you’re interested in gardening, but intimidated by the process, consider something small. Mary Angela Miller MS RDN LD, The Food Safety Dietitian, used to “revel in my burgundy, purple, indigo colored garden... until I downsized to my condo and now all I have is the garlic I snuck in behind my back patio bushes...and it's coming up!”
Did you know you could regrow green onions from the ends of store-bought ones? Bri Bell, RD and owner of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen has been doing this for years and notes it’s “a great way to stretch your grocery budget and have fresh herbs year-round. Just place the root end of green onion in a glass of water on the windowsill and watch as new growth appears virtually overnight.”
If you have deer or other critters that will see your plants as salad, consider growing something on your deck. Jackie Durand, RD, CDN or JD Nutrition LLC plants potatoes using the “eyes” by drilling a few holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. She layers 6 inches of soil at the bottom and cuts a small section around the potato eye and places in dirt, eye up. The eye should poke just above the surface. She advises to water regularly and leaves will sprout in about 2 weeks. As plants get bigger, keep covering them with dirt so only top leaves are showing. Once underground, they sprout more tubers to make more potatoes. Keep filling the bucket to the top as they grow. Once the tops die out later in the summer, dump out the bucket to harvest your potatoes.
If you’re interested in learning more about gardening, The National Gardening Association has free resources here: https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1578/ or check out Sharon Palmer’s free kit: Grow Your Own Food: https://sharonpalmer.com/grow-your-own-food-toolkit/
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Palar K, Lemus Hufstedler E, Hernandez K, Chang A, Ferguson L, Lozano R, Weiser SD. Nutrition and Health Improvements After Participation in an Urban Home Garden Program. J Nutr Educ Behav.2019 Oct;51(9):1037-1046. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2019.06.028.