Ask any chef, and they’ll tell you that great meals start with high-quality ingredients. If you’ve done any research on the state of vegetables today, you’ve likely discovered that they’re genetically modified to produce a greater weight, often at the detriment of flavor and nutritional density. They’re also likely sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and are severely lacking in nutrients as monoculture practices have depleted the soil of valuable nutrients. Studies are continually finding the nutritional value of common produce to be disintegrating; to get the same vitamin C that your grandparents got from a single orange in their youth, you’d need eight times oranges grown today. With this information in mind, the following will give you some key pointers for growing your own vegetables. The focus will be on practices that improve flavor and nutritional values.
To grow vegetables, you need seeds, and there are two ways to get the best ones. You can order sprouting seeds online, or you can use the seeds found within a particularly delicious piece of produce. In both cases, you’re going to want organic, non-GMO options if those are available.
It’s also becoming more common to find seed libraries in decently-sized towns. These locations (sometimes they’re found within your local book library) allow you to check out seeds with instructions on how to plant them and how to harvest the next season’s seeds from the plants that grow. You then give back the new seeds that develop when your plants mature.
When it comes to watering your vegetables, particularly when they’re young and need lots of moisture, you want to be very cognizant of the type of water you’re using. Well water is generally okay as long as there are no bacterial problems in your area. Tap water, in contrast, can make growing plants a nightmare. This is because most tap water has a high chlorine content. This is added to the water preparation process by your local government to kill bacteria. When it comes to plants, there are lots of good bacteria that you don’t want to kill (the same goes for you, actually, as your gut bacteria can be killed by chlorinated tap water). Take the time to filter the water or fill a basin and give it a few hours to dissolve on its own.
Learn About Soil Biology
One of the most essential elements of delicious, nutritionally-dense vegetables is soil filled with living organisms. Store-bought soil can be used as a starter, but it’s not actually ideal. You want to get a high-quality compost going and use that to fill your soil with living microorganisms. You want good bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, and larger things like earthworms to be making their way through your soil. Without dense soil biology, your plants cannot properly access the nutrients it needs. Making and maintaining your own compost is also a wonderful way to reuse the produce you already have, things like vegetable ends and egg shells. If you’re someone who drinks a ton of coffee, know that grinds can go into your compost, but they do alter the pH of your compost mixture.
Perennials Are Your Friends
Given the value of soil biology, it’s important to take steps to help keep it thriving once you’ve got it. Every time you dig up the soil, a large portion of the microbiology within it dies. To avoid killing off all your hard work, you might want to consider perennial vegetables. These are vegetables that grow back every year without needing to be replanted. You can compare this with annual produce that needs to be planted each year again if you want to continue to have produce. Asparagus, for instance, easily lives for fifteen years or longer. This means that you could end up with fifteen years of non-disturbed soil. Onions, horseradish, rhubarb, artichokes, garlic, radicchio lovage, sorrel, and many herbs are perennials.
Another fantastic component of good vegetable growing is the use of cover crops. These are plants that are selected to protect your soil from erosion, not for eating. Not only do cover crops help add organic matter to your soil, but they can also help keep pests at bay while attracting pollinators. Sprinkle cover crops throughout your vegetable bed to act as a shield, protecting your soil. If you’re in an area with harsh winters, you’ll want to find winter-hardy plants.
Dynamic accumulators are another kind of plant you’re going to want to sprinkle throughout your vegetable garden. These plants have deep-reaching roots compared to other plants meaning they mine the soil for nutrients. They pull these nutrients up through their roots into their stems and leaves. When their leaves fall off at the end of the season, this deposits all those vital nutrients in the top level of your soil where your other plants can access them. Because of this effect, you don’t want to clean up their leaves in the fall. Simply let them disintegrate atop your soil.
You also want to encourage your soil to be fungal dominant. While that sounds intense and scary, it’s actually really easy. Mushrooms are only the very tip of a giant fungal network. These networks actually connect to the roots of plants and provide them with nutrition picked up elsewhere along the network. This can help ensure that your vegetables have all the nutrients they need. Encouraging fungal dominant soil is as simple as laying good mulch down made from wood chips. The wood chips provide the perfect environment for fungi to grow, and your plants reap the benefits of this.
The above information should have opened your eyes to the key aspects of growing healthy, delicious vegetables in your garden. It can be incredibly rewarding to watch your little plants pop out of the soil and begin to grow, and it can be thrilling to pick your veggies and cook a meal with them. Given the history of the human experience, we’re programmed to receive a big dopamine boost when we collect our own food from nature. This means that not only will your health and your meals improve with well-grown vegetables, but your mood likely will too.