Harvested in late November, tender, sweet Tokyo Market Turnips and Turtle Tree Seed carrots provide winter food. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Sprinting to spring — early vegetable varieties for optimum nutrition

While preparing for spring, I am still pulling onions, garlic, turnips, beets and carrots from cold storage.

February 24 – March 8, 2020

“To date, four hundred generations of farmers and tens of thousands of plant breeders have played a role in redesigning native plants. The combined changes are so monumental that our present-day fruits and vegetables seem like modern creations.” — Jo Robinson, “Eating on the Wild Side”

Mount Washington — Eaters and food shoppers, garden admirers and gardeners respond to the visual appeal of vibrant vegetables and edible flowers. Our food choices are driven, too, by what we have learned about the effect that each morsel has on our state of being. My recent column about beets began with a tip from a competitive athlete who heard that physical and mental capacity are heightened by eating beets. While exploring the literature to learn about beta vulgaris, I found myself on the Mediterranean thousands of years ago, where its ancestor was an edible leafy green with a nominal root. From there I was catapulted to the laboratory of plant researchers and breeders. Along the way, I came upon the work of a physician who popularizes the results of nutrition research. All of this, in addition to the book “Eating on the Wild Side,” is contributing to my priorities as I choose vegetable seeds for my polyculture garden.

Beginning with greens planted in early spring, I found affirmation for my mainstays as well as surprises on the top 10 list of powerhouse vegetables published on Michael Greger, M.D.’s NutritionFacts.org website. Pinnacle to base, they are: arugula, rhubarb, cilantro, butterleaf lettuce, mesclun mix, basil, beet greens, oak leaf lettuce, Swiss chard and beets. I am surprised to find rhubarb is more than a traditional condiment or dessert accompaniment, and that butterleaf and oak leaf lettuces come in above vegetables with deep red colors. I enjoy arugula both raw and sauteed. Pestos of cilantro and basil always add richness to bland foods. Even though I have sauteed beet greens from autumn harvests in the freezer, bunches of beets with luxurious greens are irresistible in the markets.

Pickled turnip about to be served, left, Feb. 16, 2020. Lacto-fermented pickled turnip and beet: alternating layers, Feb. 19, 2020. Photo: Judy Isacoff

The hunt for seeds brought me to my favorite purveyor, Turtle Tree Seeds, located in nearby Columbia County, New York, and on the web. I found a few red-accented butterleaf lettuces and the wonderful Three Root Grex and Lutz Green Leaf beets on their website.

Three Root Grex. Photo: courtesy FedcoSeeds.com

While preparing for spring, I am still pulling onions, garlic, turnips, beets and carrots from cold storage. The flavor of overgrown Tokyo Market Turnips is not received with enthusiasm when offered raw or braised, but they are very desirable as a pickle. Do include successive plantings of this lovely salad turnip in your vegetable or flower garden. The leaves are nutritious, too.

Resources

*Jo Robinson, “Eating on the Wild Side:The Missing Link to Optimum Health,” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013. Page 3

Vegetables Rate by Nitrate | NutritionFacts.org
https://nutritionfacts.org/video/vegetables-rate-by-nitrate

Local all biodynamic and organic seed source https://turtletreeseed.org/