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Growing Nutrient-Dense Tomatoes

Food Preservation

Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown garden items because they don’t require much space, can grow in many different climates and they are relatively quick from planting to harvest.  They also happen to be an incredible source of nutrition. Like many produce items, homegrown provides health and flavor benefits compared to store-bought. 

Tomato Studies Show Surprising Results

It’s a common misconception that nightshades are ‘bad’ for you. While there are people who have sensitivities and allergies to nightshades, a peer reviewed summary in the Mediators of Inflammation Journal reveals that consuming tomatoes on a consistent basis is associated with lower risk of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) and several different cancers. Despite the health benefits, not all tomatoes are created equal. Some are more nutrient dense and there are so many different flavors to choose from. That’s why so many people are growing their own tomatoes. 

Three More Reasons to Grow Your Own Tomatoes

There’s nothing like the flavor of sun-kissed, vine ripe tomatoes! When you grow your own tomatoes, you’ll soon realize that what you get from the grocery store may be labeled tomatoes, but tastes like  water in comparison. Try it  yourself to see just how drastically different your homegrown  tomatoes are from the alternatives.

KNOW your tomatoes are  packed with nutrients. Growing your own puts the quality back into your hands so you know you and your loved ones are getting the most vitality from your food. Plus, eating fresh picked food  drastically reduces the nutrient loss from plant to plate..

There are over 10,000 tomato varieties to choose from. Do you like your tomatoes sweet, mild, acidic, fruity, rich, or even smoky? When you grow your own, you have way more options to delight your taste buds than the store!  

8 Steps To Growing Nutrient-Dense Tomatoes

When inviting plants into your life, it’s important to remember that plants want to thrive. They do whatever it takes to grow strong and turn to seed for the next generation of plants. Your role as a steward is to provide the best conditions for your plants to flourish. Here are the eight considerations when growing tomatoes.

1. Choose Your Tomato Plants  Based on Your Goal

Often people choose their tomato plants based on which looks the most enticing. Choosing this way can severely backfire and result in a diminished harvest or worse, none at all. Instead, start by choosing what type of tomato you grow. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes grow to a fixed mature height and generally produce all their fruit over just a few weeks. This is great if your goal is to preserve tomatoes for off season enjoyment.

Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and produce so long as your climate conditions are right. Most gardeners prefer this type of tomato so they can enjoy tomatoes all season long. The Guinness World Record is a tomato vine that is 65 feet! 

If you accidentally choose a determinate variety when you really want tomatoes all season long, you may be disappointed. So before you rush out and buy your tomato plants, remember to choose your type based on your goals.

2. Climate 

Climate plays a very important role in tomato production. Most tomatoes fruit between 50-95°F (10-35ºC). If your warm season temperatures are outside this range, you’ll want to look for those few varieties that can produce at higher temperatures. 

Consider starting your seeds indoors or purchasing young tomato plants from your local nursery to get a headstart on the growing season for cooler climates. For hot climates, it can cause lower immunity if the plant is not well established by the time temperatures hit their highs. 

In addition to choosing the right type, choosing varieties that are well adapted to your climate can vastly increase your tomato harvests. Discover how to find the best varieties for your climate with the 10 Tips for Growing Delicious Tomatoes Download from our friends at Grow Your Own Vegetables.

3. Your Tomato Plants Need 6-8 Hours of Sunlight  

Without proper sunlight, your vegetable plants cannot photosynthesize and grow. Your outdoor tomato plants need 6 hours of sunlight minimum and ideally, 8 or more for optimum health. NOTE: Sunlight and grow lamps are not the same thing. If growing indoors, your tomato plants need 16-18 hours under grow lamps. 

4. Quality Soil Means Nutrient-Rich Food 

Health starts in the soil. If growing in a container, choose a high quality, organic potting mix. If growing in soil, ensure good drainage, structure and fertility. Tomatoes like a lot of nutrition! Add a 2” layer minimum of organic compost on the top of your potting mix or soil each growing season will most likely not be enough. Dr. Earth is one example of an organic soil amendment made specifically for tomatoes.

5. Grow Tomatoes Vertically & Trellis Early

Growing  vertically is one of the best choices for your tomato health. Plants drooping on the ground have a greater chance of contracting diseases and more fruit is wasted. Stake or trellis when plants are young. Waiting can result in a tangled mess and damage to your plants where disease can enter.

For determinate tomatoes that typically grow between 3-5 feet tall at full maturity, cages are often enough. But for indeterminate tomato types, you’ll want a taller, stronger trellis. You can find more information on trellises here in the 10 Tips for Growing Delicious Tomatoes download.

6. Prune For Health & Get More Than Tomatoes 

Tomatoes are plagued by more diseases than any other garden vegetable. Luckily, many of these diseases can be prevented through increased air circulation. If you’re planting indeterminate tomatoes, you’ll want to begin pruning lower leaves when the plant is 8-12” high keeping a minimum of three leaves at all times. 

As your plants grow and are pruned, their roots will grow deeper and the foliage will be higher off the ground. This not only provides your tomato plants with ideal air circulation, but you’ll have extra space left over on the soil surface to plant some lower growing plants. Basil is a favorite choice for gardeners to plant under tomato plants. They compliment each other well in the garden and on your plate, making it easy to harvest for those mouth watering summer Caprese salads. 

7. Water Tomatoes Deeply, But Less Often

Tomatoes are drought tolerant so it’s possible to water more thoroughly and less often. For cooler temperatures, watering once a week and letting the soil dry out a bit between waterings is ideal. If you live in a hot, dry desert, add a few inches of mulch to the soil to drop the soil temperature by as much as 10°F. This will help your soil retain enough moisture to prevent wilting from dry soils combined with high temperatures. 

8. Three Tips to Harvest and Store Your Tomatoes

Develop a harvest routine: Harvesting at peak ripeness is not only ideal for flavor and nutrition, but allows the plant to produce more fruit for you. When your tomatoes start producing fruit, you’ll want to harvest 2-3 times per week. If you know you won’t be able to get out to your garden for longer than 3 days, harvest fruits that are almost ripe also and let them ripen on your kitchen counter. This also prevents fruit from falling and rotting on the ground, wasting harvests and attracting unwanted insects.

Harvest before watering or  heavy rains: Lots of water all at once will split your tomatoes open (and make them taste watery). Harvest as much as you can before waterings and heavy rains. 

Eat fresh and store any extras at room temperature: Sun-kissed taste best! And avoid storing your extra tomatoes in the fridge. 

Refrigeration temperatures actually destroy flavor and texture and thanks to this 2016 study, we are now discovering why: chilling of tomatoes causes changes in DNA methylation. Chilling also causes a loss of volatile compounds that largely contribute to tomato flavor. 

Ideally, store at a temperature between 50-68°F to keep your tomatoes fresh.

For more tomato tips and strategies, download your complimentary 10 Tips for Growing Delicious Tomatoes Guide.

You Don’t Need Seeds to Grow Herbs

edible flowers

Did you know that you don’t need seeds to grow your own herbs at home? All you need is access to healthy plants to take a start from. Whether they are from a friend’s garden or the grocery store, it’s simple to get started.

It doesn’t work for all herbs, but it does work for most.

Learn how to get started in this video:
**Please share what herbs that you are going to try to do this with below.

Superfoods to Grow in Your Garden

Food Preservation

Why spend a fortune on buying organic superfoods from the supermarket if you can grow them yourself? If you are lucky enough to have a garden in your home, make sure you make use of it and grow nutrient-packed crops that will make a healthy and delicious diet! Gardening is good for the body and mind alike – taking care of your plants has several proven mental health benefits, while eating organic fresh food is great to keep your body healthy. So, if you have the chance to grow your own crops, why not choose the ones that are the most beneficial for your health? That is right – it’s time to grow your own superfoods!

First, let’s take a moment to understand what superfoods are – these foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) have a very high concentration of nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins, making them fantastic health boosters. However, there is no set criteria to determine which foods qualify for this status – the term “superfood” is essentially an umbrella term for the foods that carry the most health benefits when consumed as part of an otherwise healthy diet. And what else is healthier than homegrown crops? Plus, you can be sure that your food hasn’t been treated with pesticides, biocides or other harmful chemicals. And the good news is, you can grow a good amount of these superfoods even if you are short on space – as some of them can thrive in pots and containers, without the need for a dedicated spot in your garden.

So what are you waiting for? With the help of this infographic, you can decide which superfoods suit your gardening skills the most, so all you need to do is get planting! 

The difficulty levels are indicators of how much time and effort is needed to keep the crops thriving, as well as how sensitive they are to certain weather conditions. Some plants, like peas and zucchini, are more forgiving and can grow even in lower-quality soil. However, plants like blueberry bushes are extremely sensitive to the type of soil they are planted in – blueberries require well-drained and acidic soil in order to produce healthy fruit. Some of these plants need to be protected during the winter (lemons and fig trees need shelter from the frost), while others don’t tolerate the heat. It is advised to research your preferred plant thoroughly, so you can be prepared for the possible problems and the ways to solve them.

Don’t forget – anyone can become a gardener, so don’t let the difficulty levels discourage you from attempting to grow a higher-maintenance crop – just make sure you have done your research and are willing to spend time in your garden. Good luck and happy planting!

Guest Article by: Dóra Pista

Dora Pista is a blogger and hobby gardener, with a passion for healthy eating and cooking. She created the infographic above to help beginner gardeners start their journey into superfood growing.

Find Dora on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

The Benefits of Fermentation

Food Preservation

Fermentation has a rich history that runs hand-in-hand with human history. Fermentation charts the progress of countless societies whose survival depended on bread, one of the oldest fermentations, and of Johnny Appleseed traveling up the Mississippi River spreading the gift of cider. It tells the story of humans seeking to both preserve and enhance the foods they have cultivated from seed to sprout to fruiting body, and tending to their garden with care for all living beings affected by them. For centuries fermentation has been helping us get more of what we grow.

Soybeans and miso are a great example of fermentation that has all of these incredible attributes! Without fermentation, soybeans offer a light flavor; however, after being fermented with koji (the process of making miso), the soybeans develop a rich and complex flavor structure as well as millions of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, that help balance the microbiome in your gut. These beneficial bacteria then live with us and the by-product of them metabolizing in our gut has shown to manufacture vitamins, primarily K and B12, once in our microbiome [1]. Compared to fresh soybeans, which have a shelf life of a couple weeks at most, miso can potentially last for years and years if handled and stored correctly. Some misos ferment for three years and can be stored far longer. Fermentation has evolved alongside us because of these beneficial properties: preservation, unique flavor development, and bacterial/enzymatic development.

While fermentation is quite special for these attributes, miso does not stand alone in providing the benefits of fermentation. Fermenting cacao develops the flavor, lengthens the life of storage, and increases nutrition, which is what gives us chocolate! Kimchi is another fermented food that provides preservation, develops the flavor, and creates health benefits that the raw ingredients don’t have. Lesser known ferments have been produced in various places all around the world for thousands of years such as masato, a lightly alcoholic, fermented beverage made from yuca root that indigenous Peruvians will steam, peel, and chew the yuca root to be fermented by the yeasts in saliva [3]. With ferments such as sauerkraut the fermentation brings a development of acidic flavor, whereas for miso the fermentation causes a rich, nutty flavor to grow over time. Fermentation can bring vastly different flavors to a food. Fermentation experimentation is your way to discover them.

With the appliances we have these days, fermentation doesn’t fill the deeply crucial role it once did. For many of us, the decision to ferment does not decide if we will make it through winter, but that does not mean that we are in any less need of fermentation and the unique benefits it provides. So much of the food we consume carries fewer nutrients than the same produce grown decades or centuries prior. This is from growing in chemically amended soils, so receiving the nutrients our bodies need from the food we buy is becoming more difficult. This is a point already on many people’s minds, which may have been what brought you to us here at Grow Your Own Vegetables in the first place. 

Because of the average Western diet, increased use of antibiotics usage, and a wide array of other factors that can damage your gut’s microbiome, we as a society are seeing a steep rise in gut-related health issues. The science on the brain-gut connection is young, so actually knowing how many conditions poor gut health may cause is near impossible with our current knowledge. According to Mental Health America (MHA), “research in animals has shown that changes in the gut microbiome and inflammation in the gut can affect the brain and cause symptoms that look like Parkinson’s disease, autism, anxiety and depression.” [2] Because most fermentation methods produce enzymes and bacteria that benefit our gut health, these methods can help restore balance to our gut. By preserving nutrients and increasing our body’s ability to access the nutrients in our food by breaking them down more effectively, fermentation can help make sure our bodies are getting as much as they can out of what we do have. 

Fermented Food

While grocery stores may give us access to fruits and vegetables, often grown by industrial farms, they often prove to be lacking in the nutrients we need to live a healthy life. Supporting your local, small farms that use regenerative and/or organic farming practices who have healthy soil (and therefore healthy foods) is fundamental in voting with your dollar for healthier systems, but organic produce can be unattainable for many without the financial privilege to regularly access these foods. For so many, growing, preserving, and preparing our own food is the best way to access these benefits: the sovereignty, health benefits, and quality of life it provides.

Growing your own vegetables is the foundation that ensures you and your family will receive the nutrition that you need. Fermentation is one of your best tools to make sure the nutrients from the produce you grow will be more bioavailable! After being picked, most vegetables will slowly start losing nutritional content. Fermentation helps reduce that loss in nutrients and can often actually increase nutrient availability! Cabbage’s conversion to sauerkraut is a great example. Sauerkraut has about 12% of your iron and 11% of the vitamin B-6 needed daily, whereas cabbage only has around 1% of your daily iron and 6% of the vitamin B-6. This increase happens simply with salt and time! Often fresh produce will still be the best source for vitamins and micronutrients, but fermented foods will often provide enzymatic and bacterial support to your gut that fresh foods don’t compare to.

While fermentation is often a practice in patience, it can be one of the most deeply rewarding methods of food preparation. Fermentation is a way to take something you are familiar with and have a brand new experience from it! Fermentation, like so many other culinary techniques, can feel overwhelming at first, but it is a rewarding skill to learn. I encourage you to learn through both doing and studying. Other than ensuring safety, there is no one single “right way” to go about fermentation. Fermentation is alive. As alive as I am writing this, and as alive as you are reading it. Because ferments are alive, they can behave in ways that are difficult for us to predict, so be patient with yourself through your fermentation journey.

You can think of fermentation as a young life. We cannot have control over all elements of a life, just as we cannot expect to control all elements of fermentation, but through tending to our ferments in an informed way we are able to guide them through healthy fermentation and create tasty and unique superfoods!

Brandon Beins
Culinary Educator and Human, Plant, & Soil Health Advocate

“My food journey began in high school when culinary classes brought me into the world of creating food. I continued on to culinary school before completing a two year apprenticeship with a local sushi chef. This apprenticeship was really where 

I learned to care for ingredients; how to prepare them in a way that shows them respect. In order to really take care of your ingredients you need to start with the soil. I haven’t had many memorable meals that were prepared with unhealthy produce from depleted soils,and most of the memorable meals from my life were simple meals made from ingredients that had themselves been nourished lovingly and prepared the same way. I believe high quality food can be prepared by anyone, and it starts with the soil.” 

Benefits of Microgreens & Ways to Enjoy Them

Climate & growing conditions

Benefits of Microgreens:

There are many foods that we have come to know as superfoods that can often be difficult to access, such as maca, MCT coconut oil, and spirulina. Depending on where and how you live, these can be very difficult to grow, process, and store. 

When buying foods like these, they often have a higher price point as well, which presents its own set of challenges. To me, these are some of the factors that make microgreens the absolutely incredible superfood that they are! Microgreens can be produced very simply in your own home, and there are growing numbers and sizes of retailers who provide seed in bulk specifically for this purpose! While you do still need the space to grow in and a short list of materials to start producing your own microgreens, the setup required is quite straightforward. Once you are established, it becomes what is probably the most efficient superfood to produce yourself!

The benefits of access are the beginning of the “super” quality of microgreens. This still leaves the wondrous world of their vast nutritional content! Beyond the high antioxidant content found in microgreens, they are also found to have significantly higher levels of nutrients, such as vitamin E and vitamin C, than the mature versions of the plant. In an article from NPR, author Eliza Barclay shares about a study conducted by Gene Lester, who is the National Program Leader of Nutrition and Food Safety/Quality for the USDA, alongside colleagues from the University of Maryland, College Park, which was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. The focus was on analyzing the nutrients in microgreens. They included 25 varieties of microgreens in their sample pool of species while looking at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals. What they found means a lot for our understanding of and relationship to microgreens! Their findings showed, ¨leaves from almost all of the microgreens [tested] had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant.¨ Variation was found from species to species, just as is found in mature species.

Coming from a culinary foundation, it always excites me to use an ingredient with such an acute flavor, unique texture, and high amounts of various nutrients. The search for  ingredients which bring a special texture or flavor that both stands out and incorporates well is an unending search. Microgreens meet all these criteria, and they do it in a way where they also provide great variation for you to experiment with and choose from. If you would like to make your dish stand out with flavors reminiscent of traditional Italian recipes, a bitter, slightly-spicy microgreen like radish or mustard goes a long way! Something herbaceous? Basil, fennel, or cilantro! Something refreshing? Peas, celery, cabbage, or parsley fit that in my book. Something with a sweeter, rounded flavor? Beets, arugula, or sunflower! 

Uses for Microgreens:

In my six years or so working in restaurants, I watched a number of ingredients skyrocket in reputation in our culture. Foods that many of us had not even heard about a handful of years ago are now popping up all around us from small, local cafes to NPR articles to Michelin star restaurants. These quick rises can often leave us with the basic question of what these foods are, let alone what makes them stand out or how to acquire or prepare them.

This stardom can lead to an unfortunate and unnecessary disconnect from these ingredients; however, we plan to address this by helping people connect with these ingredients! We are excited to share how accessible it can be to use microgreens in a variety of dishes in your own home. Microgreens certainly deserve the fame that has gotten them into Michelin restaurants, and by the same rationale, they deserve to be in your home diet as well! 

Microgreens can sometimes be confused with sprouts, but the distinguishers between the two are that microgreens must be grown in a solid medium (soil or soil-free mediums) and usually take somewhere between 7 and 14 days to be ready, whereas sprouts are simply sprouted in water and typically take just two or three days. Microgreens are understood to be higher in fiber, more nutritious, and safer in general than sprouts, as sprouts can sometimes develop harmful bacteria in their humid environment.

As mentioned earlier, microgreens provide a distinct, refreshing flavor and texture in cooked dishes or complimentary in salads or cool dishes. Because of all of these attributes, there is a fairly wide diversity of dishes that I like to use microgreens in. They seem to contribute the most to a dish when they are added at the end to preserve their flavor and crunchy texture. Some of the dishes that I enjoy including microgreens with cheese or charcuterie boards, pasta (mixed in after removing from the heat to keep the microgreens fresh), tomato toast, tacos, on top of curry, or with eggs in the morning. Sometimes cutting microgreens down smaller, sometimes leaving them whole!

I hope you feel more acquainted with microgreens after this! Their benefits and simplicity are the biggest takeaway within this. Don’t be afraid to try adding them to your favorite dish! Whether that be pizza, Tom Kha, nachos, hummus, or sushi!

Brandon Beins
Culinary Educator and Human, Plant, & Soil Health Advocate

“My food journey began in high school when culinary classes brought me into the world of creating food. I continued on to culinary school before completing a two year apprenticeship with a local sushi chef. This apprenticeship was really where 

I learned to care for ingredients; how to prepare them in a way that shows them respect. In order to really take care of your ingredients you need to start with the soil. I haven’t had many memorable meals that were prepared with unhealthy produce from depleted soils,and most of the memorable meals from my life were simple meals made from ingredients that had themselves been nourished lovingly and prepared the same way. I believe high quality food can be prepared by anyone, and it starts with the soil.” 

Superfood Gardens that Thrive

Building Projects

Tackling garden projects is always easier when you’re inheriting best practices and lessons learned from people with experience. ​​​And all of us here at Grow Your Own Vegetables would love that for you. Superfood gardening… without all the hard work. Because let’s face it… we are better together. 💚 

The Superfood Garden Summit is starting soon, and once the LIVE Summit begins, it is going to fly by! ​​ 

​​​So let’s get started with your first step here. ​​​​​​Lots of gardeners get this backwards and skip this step… and that’s what creates a lot of extra effort. Yuck! ​​​​​​​Watch this video, get registered and download your bonus eGuide here:  https://superfoodgardensummit.com

Join Stacey and 15 other gardening experts for the 

2021 Superfood Garden Summit

https://superfoodgardensummit.com/