Veggies are at the frontline of health
Eating healthily to keep healthy and maintain a good level of immunity is as much of a strategy in this time of Covid-19 as wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising.
Vegetables provide a balance of vitamins and minerals that support the immune system and build our general level of health. The healthiest vegetables are those we grow ourselves without using poisonous sprays. Fresh is always best, because the moment a vegetable is picked its nutritional value starts to diminish. Even if the homegrown excess is stored in the refrigerator, the veggies retain far more goodness than produce that is handled many times, and transported many kilometres, before reaching the supermarket shelf.
March is the main planting month for autumn and winter vegetables. These vegetables have very specific health benefits for this time of the year. You may have heard the saying, ‘nature gives us what we need when we need it’. Based on what the family will eat, and the vitamins and minerals they need, here is a rundown of vegetables for your health.
Cruciferous veggies are generally high in fibre, essential minerals and vitamins A, C, K and E, which strengthen the immune system. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the recommended consumption of cruciferous veggies is one cup of cooked vegetables a day, or two cups of raw vegetables.
To grow: Cruciferous vegetables do best in full winter sun, need fertile soil and regular fertilising and watering – they should not dry out.
Take your pick from these:
Brussels sprouts require preventative spraying for aphids, fertilising during their growth stage and topping when 1m high to develop the sprouts. Staking is necessary Broccoli needs plentiful water to develop a good head. Once the main head is cut, it will produce side shoots that extend its harvestable life by a month or more.
Cabbage needs space to grow and constant monitoring and spraying for aphids, which otherwise render the heads inedible. This is especially important in July and August. Cabbage heads retain their vitamin C content if stored in the refrigerator.
Cauliflower takes up to four months to harvest. Underwatering results in deformed heads. Cover the curd (head) with leaves to keep it white and shore up soil around the stem to support it.
Kale has the highest level of vitamins and calcium among the cruciferous vegetables. It thrives in cold weather and is not troubled by pests or disease. It grows in slightly acidic soil and semishade.
Asian leafy greens are cut-and-come-again vegetables, done by harvesting the outer leaves. Bok choy, tatsoi and mizuna are light, mustardy greens for salads, stir-fries and soups. The pungent mustards are Japanese Giant Red Mustard, Red Frills and Green in Snow. Watch out for cabbage caterpillar and use Margaret Roberts Biological Insecticide.
Rocket is a quick-growing salad green with a mustardy flavour. Sow thickly and harvest by thinning out.
Radish is also a quick crop. Sow a new batch every 10 days for a constant supply. Uneven or irregular watering can cause radishes to split.
Alliums as vegetables for health
Alliums contain varying degrees of sulfides (onions and garlic the highest), which have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions that help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as help to relieve colds, flu, sinus conditions and chest infections. They also contain compounds known as probiotics that are good for gut health.
To grow: Alliums need full sun and will grow in most types of soil. Water well during the growing season and don’t let the soil dry out. Fertilise at regular intervals.
- Onions take anything from 4 – 7 months from sowing to harvesting. There are two main types of onions: short day and intermediate day. ‘Short day’ cultivars such as ‘Texas Grano’ and ‘Red Creole’ are best planted in regions from Musina down to Bloemfontein from February to the end of March. ‘Intermediate’ cultivars, such as ‘Australian Brown Skin’, are best sown in all areas from Kimberly downwards through to the Western Cape from April to the end of May. ‘Red Creole’ can also be grown in these areas.
- Leeks have all the goodness of onions but are easier to grow. Space plants 15cm apart. Make holes 15 – 20cm deep and 3 – 4cm wide and drop the seedling in, but don’t firm down the soil. Water the soil in and the hole will gradually close. Mound up the soil around the stem as it grows to keep the long stems white.
- Spring onions are the easiest of all the onions to grow. Sow all year round and harvest within 60 days of sowing. Both the bulb and green parts can be eaten, cooked or raw, and the flavour is milder. To keep them going, take four or five out of the clump that have been harvested and replant them about 7cm (four fingers) apart.
- Garlic planted in March is ready to harvest in July. Plant each clove, tip upwards, in well-composted soil in a sunny position. As long as the base of the bulb is buried, the tip can be just below the surface or stick out slightly. Green shoots will appear within days.
Leafy greens include stalwarts like varieties of Swiss chard and spinach. Both are rich in vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system in winter, contain antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals and have a detoxifying effect on the body. Spinach and Swiss chard can be cooked in a hundred different ways, but they are also good as green smoothies, a quick-to-make energy drink. Whip them up with strawberries, oranges or bananas (or a mix of all), and thin with water, almond milk or yoghurt.
To grow: Both are easy to germinate and grow, and don’t take up space, but need regular fertilising for a continuous harvest. Plant in fertile soil. Leaves should be ready for picking about 8 weeks after sowing.
Root crops are excellent vegetables for health
Beetroots and carrots are sweeter in winter and as close as you can get to comfort food in vegetables. Beetroots are good for roasting, and carrots are a mainstay of soups and stews. But did you know this? According to Healthline (www.healthline.com), beetroots are high in nitrates that help dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow and improving heart health. Carrots contain vitamins A and K, as well as the antioxidant beta-carotene that’s important for eye health.
To grow: Plant in full sun, in deeply dugover soil that drains well. Compost can be added, but not fresh manure. Remove sticks and stones, and break down clumps of soil for a fine tilth of soil.