Drink Your Greens
By Sommer Cartier for Let's Talk Plants! March 2022.
Nothing beats fresh vegetable juice for its goodness, nourishment and incredible health benefits. The research is out, juicing can help us eat more fruits and vegetables. In turn, we get important vitamins, minerals and disease–fighting antioxidants into our bodies. However, if you’ve ever established a juicing regimen, even if just to supplement your meals, you know that the amount of produce needed to sustain this practice can be very expensive. Rather than investing more money and energy into your big box grocery store, redirect it to your very own backyard garden. Grow your own juicing greens and save money and time while ensuring you are using the safest and cleanest greens available for your body. If you have a smaller garden, and are unable to meet your produce needs, a backyard juicing garden can help supplement your veggies and save you trips to the grocery store.
Here are a few popular juicing greens you can easily grow in your back yard garden.
Swiss chard is a powerhouse of nutrients and easy to grow regardless of soil, day length or temperature. Its tolerance to warm, dry conditions makes it a great leafy green to grow year-round in San Diego.
There are several varieties to choose from. Here are a few:
· Bright Lights produces stems in yellow, orange, gold, pink, red, white, and striped. It’s leaves and stalks are tender and have a milder flavor than other varieties.
· Fordhook Giant has thick, greenish-white leaves that are heavily savoyed and quite tender.
· ‘Rhubarb’ is a popular chard variety, named for its appearance and not flavor. This variety is not related to actual rhubarb. ‘Rhubarb’ chard produces dark green, savoyed leaves with dark red veins. The stalks are crimson and slightly flat.
Swiss chard does best in full sun, however, if growing year-round, plant it in a partially shaded location with at least 4 hours of direct sunlight. Swiss chard can easily be grown from seed but is usually slow to start. Once they hit their growing spurt they become vigorous producers. You can shorten the wait by planting seedlings purchased at your local nursery. If starting from seed, plant 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. If using seedlings, plant them the depth of the root ball and 4 to 8 inches apart. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy – picture a wrung-out sponge. Around mid-season, feed your plants with nutrient rich organic compost. If using fertilizer, follow the direction on the package.
Most Swiss chard varieties are ready to harvest in 50 to 60 days. For optimum flavor, harvest the leaves while they’re still glossy, removing two or three leaves off the outside of each plant. This will allow the plant to fill back in with new growth and leaves.
This nutrient dense green is packed with vitamins C and K which are natural immune boosting vitamins. Spinach is also loaded with minerals, plant protein and flavonoids that act as antioxidants, making it an important green to juice.
While spinach is generally a cool season crop, heat resistant varieties can be grown during summer months. Below are a few heat resistant varieties to look for:
· Bloomsdale Longstanding is a popular hardy variety that performs well in the garden, even when temperatures begin to climb in late summer and early fall.
· Catalina is a sweet and mellow tasting leaf with a crunchy texture. This variety grows quickly and is slow to bolt, even under less than ideal temperatures.
· Indian Summer has an upright, dark green leaf that is especially slow to bolt. This cultivar is also valued for its disease resistant nature.
Plant seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep in fertile, nutrient rich soil with 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. Make sure to water thoroughly, keeping the soil evenly moist. Once seedlings have grown their first set of true leaves, thin the plants to around 6 inches apart and continue to keep the soil evenly moist. Typically, you can harvest spinach 4 to 6 weeks after planting seeds. To maximize crop, use the "cut and come again" method to harvest the leaves. Remove leaves with garden scissors, starting with the oldest outer leaves and letting the young inner younger leaves remain to continue growing.
This super green is packed with fiber, antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C and K, iron, and a wide range of other nutrients that can help prevent various health problems, making it a nutrition superstar!
There are several types of kale to choose from:
Curly kale is the most common type. The bright green leaves look like ruffles. The flavor is pungent and peppery.
Dinosaur kale has long narrow wrinkly leaves, like dinosaur skin. Its flavor is deep and earthy with a slightly nutty sweetness.
Redbor kale is kale with ruffled leaves ranging in color from a deep red to purple.
Russian kale has flat fringed leaves that range in color from green to red to purple. Its flavor is sweeter and more peppery.
Plant seeds in loamy, well-drained soil about ½ an inch deep and inch apart. Once the seeds emerge, thin them so they’re 8 to 12 inches apart. If planting seedlings, plant them the depth of the root ball and 12-18 inches apart. They will thrive if given plenty of space to open and bloom outward.
Kale can be grown year-round in San Diego, however, it grows most rigorously during the cool season. Keep the soil moist to encourage consistent growth and to preserve the sweet crisp flavor of the leaves. Use compost or high –nitrogen vegetable fertilizer to feed your plants throughout the growing season. Compost can be applied every 4 to 6 weeks to nourish your plants. If using fertilizer, follow the instructions on the package. To harvest kale, remove the older outer leaves, and allow the center of the plant to continue producing
Hopefully you are feeling inspired to start your very own backyard juicing garden and boost your vegetable intake while saving on money and time at the grocery store. The vegetables suggested above are just a start. There are plenty of other wonderful homegrown options you can juice. Be sure to focus on vegetables with higher water content since the intent is to extract the juice. Also, keep an eye out for my next article coming out in the May 2022 edition of the San Diego Horticultural Society's newsletter Let's Talk Plants! where I will provide tips on how to help your leafy greens beat that summer heat and thrive.