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Grow a Healthy Rainbow Salad Anywhere

Health and Wellness

grow your own veggies

Deliciously fresh veggies aren't just for farmers and farmers market shoppers. Even with just a bit of space, you can have a rainbow of salad fixin's this summer-as long as you get started pretty soon.

Having a variety of fresh vegetables can have a great impact on your body. “A wide variety of color in your salad will give your body an array of very important nutrients called phytochemicals," says Dr. Anabel Facemire, a cardiologist with Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular.

Dr. Facemire explains that these are powerful healing substances found in all vegetables, but especially in green leafy vegetables. Phytochemicals help prevent and can even reverse chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. She recommends you to steer clear of fat-loaded salad dressing and use balsamic vinegar and avocado or cashew dressings instead.

You don't have to have a magical green thumb to grow your own vegetables. You just need a few basics like seeds, soil, water and fertilizer. Most importantly, you need some outdoor space that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.

If you have sunny garden space or room for raised beds, that's great. If not, you can turn another sun-drenched space-like your deck or a patio-into a garden by using containers.

Container Garden Essentials

Because containers can only hold so many nutrients and so much moisture at a time, choosing the largest containers you can afford and fit in your space will make your gardening easier. Local home and garden centers typically sell everything from imported pottery to molded plastic in a variety of colors.

Next you'll need some potting soil, which you'll also find at your local garden center. Commercial potting soil typically includes:

  • Sterilization to ensure an absence of pests
  • Moisture-holding ingredients
  • Time-released fertilizers

A steady supply of water is also essential. Containers and raised beds tend to dry out faster than a ground-level garden. Frequent watering either from your hose, a watering can or a drip watering system will help your plants survive even the hottest days of summer.

You can even make your own inexpensive drip watering system with upcycled plastic bottles.

Planning Your Rainbow of Veggies

Once you have your containers and a watering plan ready, it's time to hunt for the right plants or seeds to create a summer of heart-healthy vegetables. Some container-friendly ideas to create a rainbow salad include:

  • Tomatoes: With some upright support and a big enough container, most tomatoes do well on a patio. Grape-size tomatoes are fun to grow in a small space and are easy to add to a salad-no slicing or chopping required.
  • Carrots: Carrots can be planted quite early in the spring and into the fall. Planting every few weeks will keep you in carrots regularly. Shorter varieties of carrots work well in containers.
  • Sweet peppers: Bell peppers come in their own rainbow of colors-yellow, red, orange, green-and add heart-healthy sweetness to a salad. Like tomatoes, they may need some upright support.
  • Greens: Most salad greens work well in containers. Seed your containers every couple weeks with leaf lettuce, arugula and spinach for fresh baby greens, especially in the cooler early summer and into the fall. Plant kale and chard in the spring and keep harvesting leaves all summer.
  • Beets: These root veggies come in their own rainbow of colors, from gold to deep purple. Like carrots, beets can be seeded repeatedly from early spring into the fall. The leaves can be used raw or sautéed with onions. The roots can be boiled, roasted or served raw on salads-they also make tasty pickles.

Whatever you choose for your container garden, remember to look for compact varieties of plants where possible. Some varieties also mature earlier, which gives you access to your homegrown veggies sooner.

Don't forget you can grow plants upward on supports like trellises and tomato cages. This works well for vine like cucumbers, summer squash and sugar snap peas.

Keeping Your Garden Going and Growing

In addition to regular watering, your garden needs a steady supply of nutrients. With less overall soil than an in-the-ground garden, container gardens especially need the nourishment a good fertilizer can provide. And the more frequent watering containers require washes nutrients away more quickly.

Commercial fertilizers come in a number of options, some of which are designed for vegetables. Liquid fertilizers can be applied with water. Granular fertilizers can be spread on the soil. Some kinds are released over time to give a steady supply of food to your plants.

Some gardeners steep compost and water in a big pail to create "garden tea." This "liquid gold" is easy to pour into containers and provides rich nutrients your plants will love.

With a little prep now and some ongoing care, you can have a steady supply of heart-healthy vegetables in your own kitchen garden-even if you don't have a huge garden space.

Do you have a successful garden? Tell us about it in the comments below.