For most people, when they think about protein, they think meat. But there are plenty of vegan-friendly options for getting your protein, that you can grow right in your own garden.
Here are some of our favorites with tips for growing and cooking from Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RDN, CDE, dietitian and avid gardener (Source Rodale's Organic Life). I've included a scale detailing how easy (or hard) that plant is to grow for the average gardener (1 being very difficult, 5 being very easy):
1. Brocolli. One of our family's favs, but not necessarily easy to grow. Ease of growing: 2
Broccoli is a legit superfood. Not only does the cool-season crop deliver fiber and protein—1 cup has 2.5 grams of each—“it’s an excellent source of cancer-fighting phytonutrients and vitamin C for your immune system,” says Halas-Liang. (Here's exactly what to eat in a day to reduce your risk of cancer.) The florets are great in stirfries, pureed into soups, or eaten raw with dip—and you can turn the stems into slaw. To avoid mushy broccoli, don’t overcook it, warns Halas-Liang: “Cook until it’s tender and crisp and still bright green.”
2. Edamame. A perfect addition to stir-frys, or as a steamed snack. Ease of growing: 5
With all nine essential amino acids, it’s as close to animal protein as it gets; plus, a study in the International Journal of Obesitylinked soy protein to fat burning and weight loss. As well as delivering 10 grams protein per ½ cup, the green beans are rich in isoflavones and omega-3 fatty acids, inflammation-fighters linked to decreased heart attack risk and reduced symptoms of menopause. Add organic edamame to guacamole or hummus, mash into a toast topper, or eat straight up with a sprinkle of salt.
3. Asparagus. Don't start these from seed, as you can only harvest in the second year. Buy and plant one-year crowns. But once they're going, they're perennials, so you'll always have them. Ease of growing: 4
The spring spears contains 3 grams protein and 3 grams fiber per cup—all for a measly 27 calories. Asparagus also delivers a hefty dose of heart-healthy folate, and inulin to support digestion and healthy gut bacteria. “Asparagus is delicious shaved,” says Halas-Liang, who uses a vegetable peeler to turn it into ribbons for salads. It’s also tasty steamed, broiled, or sautéed.
4. Peas. Another favorite in our house, and very easy to grow. Ease of growing: 5
These glorious green pods that arrive in late spring are packed with protein (4 grams per ½ cup), as well as mood-boosting folate, heart-healthy fiber, and almost half of your vitamin C needs for the day...Toss snow peas or snap peas into stirfries and pastas, puree shelled garden peas into soups, or pair with mint in a salad. (Here's how to pre-sprout your peas to give them a head start and boost yields.)
5. Kale. Young leaves are good in salads, more mature leaves are great sauteed or in soups. Make sure to "massage" the leaves in your prep to make them less tough. Ease of growing: 5
When it comes to leafy greens, kale takes the protein prize, with more of the macronutrient than spinach, collards, and mustard greens—and double that of Swiss chard. One cup also delivers more than your daily dose of immune-boosting vitamin A and bone-building vitamin K. Plus, it’s a good source of calcium. Chop it into salads, puree it into pesto, bake it into kale chips, or try it on this ridiculously delicious kale and lemon pizza.
6. Sunflower seeds. A delicious snack. Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow, and they're a beautiful addition to your yard, but they're a direct sow; you can't start them and transplant them later. Ease of growing: 3
The glorious annual can stretch over 4 meters tall with a flower head 12 inches across, which is where the kernel comes from. As well as providing protein (¼ cup delivers 6 grams), the seeds are rich in linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat linked to weight loss. Plus, they’re a super source of vitamin E and selenium for gorgeous skin. Add sunflower seeds to oatmeal parfaits, cookies, muffins, salads, and pesto. Here's how to harvest sunflower seeds.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Victory Garden. In case you’re unfamiliar with this bit of agricultural history, here’s a quick summary:
Victory Gardens became popular during World War I as a way to ease demand on the public food supply, as well as boost morale for Americans struggling through a major war. The Victory Garden campaign was then resurrected during World War II for all the same reasons, but this time, it spread across European nations as well.
The government, during both wars, encouraged families to grow fruits and vegetables in their yards, as well as in community gardens.
The idea to encourage backyard and community gardens sprung from the need to increase food supply at a time when our agricultural resources were being shifted elsewhere, and transportation facilities were needed for the war effort.
Every family that grew their own tomatoes, carrots, berries, herbs and cucumbers did so because they truly felt like their backyard garden was contributing to a larger cause. President Woodrow Wilson said, “Food will win the war.”
So what does this have to do with us today? Is there a place for Victory Gardens in 21st century America?
Well, let’s think about this: there might not be a great American war raging in the traditional sense, but what about a war against corporate greed? Unsafe farming practices? Chemicals invading our environment and polluting our water supply? An economic culture that forces us to rely almost exclusively on corporations for our well-being? Worker exploitation?
What if we started fighting for the small family farmer? For a cleaner watershed? For an environment with less greenhouse gasses? For healthy soil that won’t erode when the wind blows? For produce grown in an environment that didn’t exploit labor?
The more food we grow ourselves, the less we rely on corporate supermarkets, shipping companies and corporate mega-farms for our food. For every tomato we grow ourselves, that’s one less tomato that had to be trucked across the country in a hot semi from a corporate farm to a chain store.
The more organic fertilizers and soil amendments we use, the less we rely on multi-national chemical companies to feed our plants (and ruin our soil). For every bag of Worm Compost, or alfalfa meal, or biochar, or fish emulsion, we use, that’s less money going into the pockets of billion-dollar chemical companies. Natural fertilizers and amendments also replenish the microorganisms and organic matter in the soil that chemicals destroy.
The more we shop from local farms, co-ops, CSAs and farmers markets, the more of our money stays right here in our own community. For every bundle of radishes you buy directly from the local farmer who grew it, that’s money going to a family that lives, plays, works and goes to school within 50 miles of your own home.
So, you want to do your part to heal the planet? Rely less on corporations for your food. Rely less on laboratories for your fertilizer. Rely MORE on locally-grown organic food—that either you grow or a small family farmer has grown for you. Let’s re-introduce Victory Gardens for the 21st century— the war might not be the same as it was a hundred years ago, but if we lose this one, what kind of planet will we leave for our kids?
If you’d like to grow more chemical-free food for your family this year, check out these Good Sweet Earth products, or (if you live in West Michigan) hire your own personal garden consultant to walk you through the growing season. If you’d like to buy some local produce, here are a few local West Michigan sources we love that you can try out this year as well:
With temps barely reaching 30 degrees it’s hard to think about your garden, but being cooped up on these long winter nights, I think this is the best time to start planning for spring! So what is a gardener to do in February?
First, take a look back at your garden journal and see what worked last year and what didn’t. (Not sure what a garden journal is? Check out this post from last season that explains why a garden journal is essential to successful gardening.)
Next, make a list of what which fruits and vegetable you would like to grow this year. Everyone seems to want the staples of a backyard garden—cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and green beans. Those are easy to grow and make a fine garden, but browse a few seed catalogs and consider branching out! One of our garden consultation clients is growing Amaranth which is a grain related to quinoa—how fun!
For me, this year I am working on expanding my perennials including planting more raspberries, strawberries, additional apple trees, and chamomile for tea. Also decide if you want to start seedlings or purchase seedlings from a local nursery. Some plants are best direct sown into the soil such as lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and green beans. Others, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, need a head start with our shorter growing season. We are pretty lucky here in West Michigan with many greenhouse choices to purchase seedlings, so if growing your own seems intimidating, rest assured you will have a good selection of pros nearby to get those seeds going for you (for a price).
Finally, order your seeds! There are lots of great places to order organic seeds from but some of my favorites include Johnny's Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Happy Gardening!
Whether this is your first year gardening or you’ve gardened your whole life, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a garden journal. Let’s be honest: every year we think we’ll remember that awful variety of tomato we grew or that amazing variety of eggplant, but when the next spring rolls around, our minds completely draw a blank. Or worse, we think we remember the right variety so we buy a seedling only to be disappointed again at harvest time. And this my friends is where your garden journal becomes an essential gardening tool.
In my garden journal I put a sketch of my garden plan and all of its successions. This is important for crop rotation in future years. I also make note of each variety of plant in my garden and the date I planted it. And be specific, don’t just say “large tomatoes” but “Better Boy Tomato,” and then note what you and your family liked or disliked about that tomato variety. Maybe the plant was a great producer or perhaps the taste wasn’t as rich as you like. If you don’t love a variety then don’t grow it again! There are too many amazing plants out there to settle for something mediocre.
Also take the time to note which pests you dealt with this season. For me it’s important that I remember that I had wireworms this year and that I will need to turn my soil early so the birds can feast on any pests that survived the winter. I’ll also need to apply beneficial nematodes before planting to take care of the rest. I am also dealing with Japanese beetles so we’ll apply milky spores this fall, but my garden journal will remind us to do it again in the spring.
Noting how you feed your plants is also vital to success from year to year. How many pounds of living worm compost did you use? Did you top dress? How regularly did you apply worm tea? Did you use any additional fertilizers, and how did they work?
It’s helpful to note any failures you have in your garden this season. Did you plant your eggplants too close together? Perhaps you miscalculated how long it would take your cabbage to mature and thus planted your peppers later than you wanted. And note your successes too! Did that new trellis work like a charm? Perhaps all your succession planting went exactly as planned. Write it down so you have it for the next go around.
A garden journal may seem like an added task to an already busy season, but it will be worth the work when you can’t remember that amazing variety next spring or can’t remember exactly where you planted those potatoes two years ago. Plus, if you keep your journals from year to year, you might actually surprise yourself on what a great gardener you’ve become.
So if you haven’t started your garden journal for this season it’s not too late—just get a notebook and start jotting. Happy gardening!
The pest I’m hearing about most from west Michigan gardeners this year is Japanese beetles. These pesky little copper-colored beetles especially love roses and apple trees—both of which we have on our property, so I have been especially interested in monitoring them for activity.
Their telltale sign is leaving “skeletonized” leaves while leaving the veins intact. Unfortunately Japanese beetles are not real picky eaters and will attack almost any flower, shrub, tree, or vegetable plant. My first encounter with the Japanese beetles this year occurred when they showed up on my pole beans; they’ve also enjoyed some of our cucumber plants.
So how do we get rid of them without nasty pesticides?
First spray your plants with Neem oil. The benefit of Neem oil is it is derived from an evergreen tree and is safe for use around humans, animals, earthworms, lady bugs, and other beneficial insects. Neem oil also protects your plants from a variety of other insects including caterpillars, cabbage worms, mealy bugs, mites and whiteflies, just to name a few. Neem oil can also help with powdery mildew. This is an item I wouldn’t want to start the year without because there is a good chance I will need it at some point during gardening season!
Second, Japanese beetles are slow and not all that alert. This makes them easy to catch. Fill a bucket or jar half way with water and a squirt of dish soap. Catch the beetles with your gloved hands and place them in the bucket. They cannot escape from the soapy water. The best time to catch them is early in the morning when they are the least alert although you should have no problem catching them anytime during the day. Also leave the bucket of dead beetles in the garden as a deterrent. Japanese beetles are largely moved by scents and the smell will deter additional beetles.
Finally, grubs are the larval stage of the Japanese beetle and the presence of the beetles in your garden or on your roses may mean you or your neighbor have a grub issue. Japanese beetles will travel a mile for a good meal, but if they are in your garden and you didn’t have grubs this spring you may have them next spring. Grubs can be treated organically with milky spores, but the milky spores take a year to effectively establish themselves in your soil. I know we will be applying them this fall to get a jump on any problems with grubs in the future.
Now that I’ve given you some good ways to rid your yard of Japanese beetles, here’s what I’d avoid: Japanese beetle traps. Studies have found they attract more beetles than they actually catch.
So is there a way to prevent these pests from invading your garden? Well, theoretically, natural repellants for Japanese beetles include chives, garlic, catnip and tansy, but to be honest, I have not found these to be very effective. Directly below my pole beans are my chives, so I’m not convinced planting those things actually works as a deterrent.
So while you may not get rid of the all the Japanese beetles in your yard, you can definitely control their population so they will not have an impact on your harvest.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.