Master tips from a Master Gardener (5/18/17)

Bill Koellner · Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Those who garden enjoy our yards and gardens with beautiful displays of color throughout the summer. Although, we don’t usually eat our flowers, we are rewarded with the nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. Improved knowledge of color nutritional relationships in colorful fruits and vegetables puts optimal nutrition at consumers’ tables.

We all know good nutrition is eating a balanced diet consisting of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and drinking water. For optimal nutrition we should eat from all the food groups and eat more fruits and vegetables. According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should consume between five and 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This is equivalent to about 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups daily, depending on the amount of calories you need to consume for your weight and level of activity.

While all fruits and vegetables have some nutritional benefit, the deeper the color, the more disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals present. These nutrients provide anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, and anti-aging properties.  According to USDA’s dietary guidance system “MyPlate”, half of our plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. Eating a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables has been linked to improved health, and for a good reason. Vegetables and fruits (both fresh and frozen) are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, which have been shown to protect against major chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are divided into five color categories: red, yellow/orange, blue/purple, green, and white. The following describes the particular benefits of each color category and gives some ideas for the growing options.

Red: Strawberries, cherries, beets, red peppers, cranberries, tomatoes, raspberries, red apples, watermelon, radishes, Red chili peppers, Red grapes, Red onions, Red pears, Red peppers, Red potatoes, rhubarb and Watermelon - provide health promoting lycopene and anthocyanins that protect against heart and lung disease.

Strawberries - Select plants adapted to our growing area. The plants like a rich, acidic and well-drained soil. Soak the plant roots in water several hours before planting on a cloudy day. Dig a hole 6 inches wide and a few inches deeper than the roots. Mound the soil in the center of the hole and spread the roots evenly over the top. Water thoroughly. Be sure the plant crown is neither too deep nor too shallow. Pinch off flower buds the first season on the June bearing plants; on the ever-bearing, remove the buds through July 1st. Feed the strawberry plants in the summer with compost enriched with bone meal.

Tomatoes prefer well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter and near neutral pH. Dig a hole one foot wide and put a layer of compost or well rotted manure mixed with a handful of bone meal and one tsp. Epsom salts. Space the plants about two feet apart. The soil should reach the first set of true leaves, so bury the plant deeply. Give the tomato plant support. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer like 4-8-4 and mulch with hay, straw, shredded leaves. Prune by pinching out the suckers.

Yellow/Orange: carrots, apricots, Butternut squash, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mangoes, Nectarines, Oranges, Papayas, Peaches, Pumpkin, Rutabagas, Sweet corn, Sweet potatoes, Yellow apples, Yellow beets, Yellow figs, Yellow pears, Yellow peppers, Yellow potatoes, Yellow summer squash, Yellow tomatoes, Yellow watermelon, and Yellow winter squash.

Nutrients in Orange and Yellow Fruit and Vegetables Include: Beta-carotene, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients reduce age-related macular degeneration and the risk of prostate cancer, lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, promote collagen formation and healthy joints, fight harmful free radicals, encourage alkaline balance, and work with magnesium and calcium to build healthy bones. This information is from the World’s Heathiest foods Organization.

Carrots - Sow seeds as thinly as possible, three to four seeds per inch. Bury 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Thin the seedlings, leaving two to three inches between plants. For straight tender carrots, plant seeds in a raised bed in full sun. For sweeter carrots, apply a fertilizer high in potash and low in nitrogen. Water seedlings regularly and gently.

Winter squash prefers a rich soil and sunshine. Dig a hole large enough for a bushel of cow manure or compost and top with good garden loom. Plant five seeds per hill, thinning to three seedlings after they develop true leaves. Harvest once the rinds are firm, cutting the stem two inches above the fruit.

Green: spinach, asparagus, Artichokes, Arugula, Asparagus, Avocados, Celery, Chinese cabbage, Endive, Green apples, Green cabbage, Green grapes, Green onion, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, green peppers, snow peas, peas, green beans, Green pears, Green peppers, Honeydew, Kiwifruit, Leafy greens, Leeks, Lettuce, Okra, Peas, Snow Peas, Spinach, Sugar snap peas, Watercress, and Zucchini - Provides lutein for eye health.

Spinach is one of the best vegetables you can grow and eat! Spinach likes it cool, so plant in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. Spinach matures quickly - sow short rows every two weeks. Sow 1/4 inch deep, one inch apart in neutral soil that is enriched with manure or compost. Keep the plants well-fed and watered.

Green peppers need warmth to thrive. Transplant seedlings outside a month after the last frost date. Plant in well-aerated soil that is enriched with compost. Transplant on a cloudy day and protect the seedlings from the scorching sun. Water with drip irrigation as overhead watering will wash away pollen. Mulch pepper plants with grass clippings or hay.

Blue/Purple: Black currants, aronia berries, Dried plums, Elderberries, Plums, Prunes, Purple Belgian endive, Purple Potatoes, Purple asparagus, Purple cabbage, Purple carrots, Purple peppers, and Raisins. Blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, concord grapes, purple cabbage - Provide anti-aging and antioxidant properties vitamin C, fiber, and flavonoids. Similar to the previous nutrients, these nutrients support retinal health, lower LDL cholesterol, boost immune system activity, support healthy digestion, improve calcium and other mineral absorption, fight inflammation and protection against chronic diseases.

Eggplant - It is best to buy established plants as seed starting needs ten weeks of growth before transplanting. Space the plants eighteen inches apart in a sunny location.

Blueberries - require acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5. The soil should be well-drained and rich in humus. Mix one or two buckets full of acidic peat moss with the soil in the planting hole. Fertilize with soybean meal, cottonseed meal or ammonium sulfate. Mulch the plants with pine needles, wood chips or sawdust. Plant more than one variety - early, midsummer and late varieties are available. Plant the blueberries in as much sun as possible. Blueberries will tolerate some shade. Water the new plants well the first year.

White: Bananas, Brown pears, Cauliflower, garlic, onions, white potatoes, Dates, Ginger, Jerusalem artickokes, Jicama, Kohlrabi, Mushrooms, Parsnips, Potatoes, Shallots, White nectarines, and White peaches, turnips, and white corn - Contain photochemicals such as allicin (found in onions and garlic) that benefits the heart. Source: USDA

Onions are an easy-to-grow white vegetable, but onion seeds can take five months to mature, so look for onion sets that are available in nurseries and through catalogs. Plant onion set bulbs about one inch deep and four inches apart. Water and feed with high-nitrogen fertilizer early in the season. Cut back water and food midsummer as the bulbs will ripen better in drier, less fertile conditions.

Many of these garden vegetables can be planted in containers for the back step, patio, small garden or larger garden. This month and next is the time to order or buy seeds. For some of the vegetables, you may start some of these seeds inside under grow lamps. We need to emphasize the importance of increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, and to choose from the colored fruits and vegetables.
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