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Leafy greens are a group which includes things like kale, spinach, arugula, collards, and mustard greens. These, as well as a variety of lesser-known options, have a place in any vegetable garden.
Anyone can grow them, from an apartment-dweller growing alfalfa sprouts on the window ledge and kale on the balcony to a gardening enthusiast stuffing an outdoor plot with obscure varieties. Here are five reasons you should get started on your greens-growing journey today.
1) Leafy greens offer extraordinary health benefits
Leafy greens are full of things that are good for your health, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The specifics depend on the type of greens you’re eating, many varieties contain calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, K, and E; they all have fiber.
Best of all, unless you’re choosing oily or fatty cooking methods, you take in few calories when you eat greens. That is a blessing if you’re watching your weight because there is no need to portion-control your greens as long as they’re part of a balanced diet. The fiber helps you feel full, and your body will love you for the goodness you’re taking in with every bite.
Handy hint: If your first thought at the mention of greens is the overcooked cabbage your mom used to make you eat, take heart! There is a wide range of delicious recipes which incorporate different greens, and with time and experimentation, you will find the combinations which best suit you and your family.
2) You’ll eat more leafy greens when you can pick them fresh from your garden
The easiest and most appealing way to eat leafy greens is to plant a range of different varieties, and harvest them in small quantities every day. Munching your way determinedly through a big bunch of kale from the supermarket feels onerous; wandering through the garden to pluck a few leaves here and there feels indulgent.
Feel like a salad? Combine a few lettuce leaves, some baby spinach, a handful of alfalfa sprouts, and a small bunch of beet greens. Are you cooking minestrone? Toss in some finely shredded kale and Swiss chard. Having a selection of different greens on offer makes it fun and convenient to add them to your diet regularly.
Handy hint: The closer your greens are to the kitchen, the more likely you are to look after them properly. You can pop out and pick a few at different times of the day, whether a handful of spinach for your morning omelet, a couple of fresh lettuce leaves for your sandwich at lunch, or a bunch of kale for that stew you’ve been dying to try.
3) Leafy greens are easy to incorporate into your diet
Greens are versatile vegetables, and you can incorporate them into your diet in many different ways. Start simple on your greens journey, especially if you are taking children along for the ride.
Try freshly picked garden salads with a tasty vinaigrette, add finely chopped kale or spinach to soups and stews, or look for smoothie recipes which blend fresh greens with fruit. As you and your family become more accustomed to seeing greens on your plates, you can branch out and start trying dishes where greens play more of a starring role.
Handy hint: Iceberg lettuce is one of the most familiar greens for most children (and adults), but unfortunately it’s far from the most nutritious. If this is the starting point for your family, try out mild-tasting greens like butter lettuces and baby spinach before you head into more ambitious territory like kale, arugula, and endive.
4) Fresh leafy greens taste much better than what you buy in the supermarket
Leafy greens taste best when they’re fresh, and most have a sweeter, milder taste when picked young before the leaves mature and toughen. When you grow your own, you have full control over when you harvest, and what size leaves you choose to pick.
Supermarkets have to stock what’s commercially viable; you merely have to consider your preferences.
Handy hint: Remember to clean your produce thoroughly before eating. No one wants grit in their teeth, or worse, to accidentally chomp into a caterpillar while they’re eating their salad.
5) There are delicious leafy greens that are only available if you grow them yourself
Have you ever tried turnip greens? What about collards, sorrel, watercress, orach, amaranth, purslane, mustard greens, purple cabbage, or red Russian kale? Have you ever heard of Asian greens like Tokyo bekana, tatsoi, celtuce, mizuna, perilla, or yukina?
How many different lettuce varieties can you name, let alone say you’ve tasted? There is an exciting world of greens out there, but only a select handful ever make it to the supermarket shelves. Whether because they are too fragile to transport easily or too obscure to sell well, dozens of greens will never make it to market, so you and your family will never get the chance to try them unless you grow them yourself.
Handy hint: Don’t try too many new things at once. You won’t like all of them, and it’s frustrating and disappointing to waste garden space on plants that your family won’t eat them. Try to give at least three-quarters of your available space to known favorites, and tuck in an experiment or two in the area that’s left.
Ready, set, grow!
Getting started with greens couldn’t be easier. If the weather is too harsh right now to permit outdoor plantings, or if you’re in an apartment with no outdoor space, start with some alfalfa sprouts or a tray of microgreens on a window ledge or bench.
If you can get started outdoors, put some kale, lettuce, or Swiss chard seedlings in a pot, or sow seeds of your favorite greens in a garden bed close to your back door.
Keep an eye out for recipes which call for greens, and take the time to experiment with things you’ve never tried or heard of before. For inspiration, browse seed catalogs, chat to neighbors who garden, or browse stalls at the local farmers market. But whatever you do, get started! You won’t regret it.