The supermarket shelves are bare and the price of food has shot up due to supply chain disruptions, weather events and, of all unpredictable things, the rising cost of fertiliser. Add to that the effects of climate change, and many people who have never gardened before might seriously be considering growing their own food.
Whether you are a beginner gardener or a budding backyard farmer, if you are aiming for full or partial self-sufficiency you will be wanting to grow foods with a higher nutritional value. So here are my top ten fool-proof veggies that will give you more bang for your buck in calories and nutrition.
Calories per 100g: 30
High in: Carbohydrate, Vit C, A, B2, B6 & E, potassium, copper, manganese, iron and magnesuim
My absolute favourite. I cook with pumpkin at least twice a week. The most versatile of curcurbits, I use it for pasta, curry, risotto, roast dinner and even, on the odd occasion, dessert.
Pumpkin is a wonderfully nutritious food with vitamin A off the charts, and packed with vitamins and minerals.
It does need a fair bit of fertility so heap up plenty of compost and/or well-rotted manure, and stick your seeds in a crater at the top (the crater is so that water keeps the seeds wet and does not run off). When the seedlings are small make sure they are kept moist, but once growing the pumpkin vine shades the soil beneath it and becomes quite drought tolerant.
Be aware that pumpkin can take up A LOT of space.
Calories per 100g: 109
High in: Carbohydrates, fibre, Vit C & B6, potassium and folate – mostly in the peel
This most beloved high carb food is not only filling, but utterly delicious when you grow your own – a whole different world to shop-bought.
If you grow them in the ground you will need to plant your chitted tubers at the bottom of a deep trench – cover with soil and as the leaves appear keep piling on the soil. The potatoes form on the growing stems so the deeper the cover, the more potatoes.
They also grow well in large, deep containers where you can keep piling soil on top as they grow. Harvest when the leaves start dying off – carefully so as not to cut the tubers.
Calories per 100g: 84
High in: Carbohydrates, fibre, beta-carotene, potassium, Vit B5, B6, C and E magnesium, iron and calcium
Purple, orange or white, the extremely drought tolerant sweet potato is a winner with most people. It is a highly nutritious and very filling vegetable that is virtually indestructible – which also makes it a great groundcover for food-foresters.
But be aware that once you have sweet potato in your garden you will never get rid of it! It is wise to grow it in a large container – such as a raised bed – otherwise it will run rampant in your garden smothering everything else unless you keep it under control.
Sweet potato tubers form under the ground within a few months of planting. Search around carefully for small to medium sized tubers and dig them up, leaving swollen roots in the ground to continue growing. Large tubers become woody and fibrous – they are not so pleasant to eat.
A sweet potato plant will continue to produce tubers at different sizes throughout the year in warmer climates. Sweet potato leaves are also edible and can be used just like spinach – they need to be blanched as they contain oxalic acid.
Sweet potatoes can be propagated very easily by leaving pulled vines on the soil or part burying them.
Calories per 100g: 81
High in: Carbohydrates, fibre, protein, iron, magnesium and extremely high in Vit C & B6
It is no accident that ‘pea protein’ is an often listed ingredient in processed vegetarian food: peas are nature’s little protein packs.
Many years ago I went on a cycling & camping holiday in the UK with my partner at the time. We were both vegan and found it quite hard to get enough nutrition along the way, particularly protein – in those days the availability of vegan food was not quite what it is today.
After one particularly hard and hungry day on hilly terrain, we hit a downhill slope on the way to Chichester, at the bottom of which was a field full of peas – ripe and ready to eat. Never have I eaten such delicious peas in all my life – or filled up so quickly on something so tiny. Those peas kept us going for the next fifteen miles.
Peas are not only up there with the most tasty, snackable legumes, they are also easy to grow – as long as you can outwit the slugs.
Calories per 100g: 97
High in: Protein, fibre, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, Vit C & most of the B vitamins.
One of the most delicious of all garden vegetables and a real treat. For most of my life I thought I didn’t like broad beans, based on being given them unpeeled as a child. Once I discovered how utterly yummy they are minus their skins I was mightily peeved at all the years I had been missing out.
Broad beans are easy to grow and a wonderful crop over winter in the subtropics. Sow them in late summer-early autumn in a block so that they will support each other in windy weather.
They are another favourite of slugs (who have very discerning taste when it comes to vegetables) so make sure you use all your slug thwarting tricks to protect your young seedlings. Once they are up and away slugs won’t be a problem anymore.
Calories per 100g: 49
High in: Vitamins A, K, C & most of the Bs, manganese, copper, calcium, potassium and magnesium, iron, fibre, and omega 3 fatty acids.
Something of a superfood, kale is absolutely packed with goodness. Kale smoothies may not have the best reputation for flavour, but once you try fried kale leaves you will be addicted.
Kale is another of those annuals that become perennials in the subtropics. They can get attacked by cabbage moth and aphids, who might eat most of it, but then it will spring back up again once they are gone. It comes in green, red or purple, and is a very attractive plant dotted around the garden as a space filler.
Calories per 100g: 19
High in: Vit C, K, A and B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, and a rich source of minerals including copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, managanese and phosphorous.
Another leafy green chock full of goodness and vital elements that we need for optimum health. Silverbeet is amazingly easy to grow, is virtually a perennial in the subtropics and when it goes to seed you will have more popping up in your garden. It seems to be relatively immune to attack by pests.
It is an excellent staple for stir fries, pasta and risotto, and picked young makes an excellent salad leaf.
Calories per 100g: 89
High in: Carbohydrates, fibre, potassium, Vit B6 & C
You could probably live on bananas alone for months if you had to. Prolific and fast producers, bananas grow from suckers so once you have harvested the fruit, cut that stem down and let the suckers grow. You will have more bananas than you can poke a stick at.
Banana skins also make a wonderful, quick compost ‘tea’ – soak the skins in water and leave for a day or two, then water plants with it. My friend Paola swears by this and even uses whole overripe bananas to make compost tea with – and judging by her garden, it works.
Calories per 100g: 32
High in: Vitamins A, C, E, fibre, folic acid, papain and chymopapain (anti-inflammatory enzymes that aid digestion)
Commonly called paw paw but actually not, as I recently discovered, Papaya is one of the easiest fruits to grow: they come up like weeds if you throw out a piece with seeds in it. Which is easier and wiser than cleaning and storing the seeds because A) it is a palava, and B) the seeds are not viable for long.
I did not like papaya when I first tasted it in Brasil, as part of a breakfast fruit platter that I massively underappreciated at the time. It tasted a little like sick to me – and I have heard that from other people since. It is an acquired taste, but once you have it you will not be able to resist a delicious fresh papaya – red ones being the best in my view.
They are not long lived and the fruit of young trees is better than that of mature trees, so scatter some seeds every couple of years and you will have a constant supply in your garden.
Calories per 100g: 97
High in: Fibre, vitamin C, A & B6, iron, potassium and magnesium
An Aussie backyard favourite for good reason. Other than being perfect for pav, passionfruit is a wonderful, easy to grow plant. It is also very fast and will cover an ugly fence or pergola super quick – so very useful to shade the hot side of a house.
The flowers are stunning – one of the wonders of nature – with the added bonus of delicious and very nutritious fruit. Harvest when the skins are dark and starting to crinkle.
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