Many Manitobans are busy planning their Thanksgiving menus and vegetables are an important part of this meal.
To be guaranteed the freshest, tastiest vegetable dishes, try locally grown products at a nearby farmers market or organic food grower such as Stonelane Orchard in Steinbach or Blue Lagoon Organics in St. Francis Xavier. These merchants have had an interest in their product from seed to harvest and can tell you how it was grown and even offer serving ideas and recipes!
However, why not consider growing your own vegetables next spring? This is a dimension of gardening that has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years. There was a time when most backyards consisted of an expanse of turf, punctuated with a few trees and shrubs. But all that is changing! Duayne Friesen, formerly of Lacoste Garden Centre, now area representative for Ball Seed Co., tells us it's the Gen Y group of new gardeners that is fueling the rebirth of this excellent trend. They are interested in 'getting back to the earth', concerned that their young families benefit from eating nutritious, homegrown vegetables and learn how food is produced.
Comparing notes across the garden fence with the neighbours and bragging about who has the earliest radishes, has become a whole new competitive sport! We know those juicy tomatoes and sweet carrots and corn have been grown with our own special care, despite the vagaries of weather, insects and bunnies -- making it all the more rewarding.
Apartment balconies are ideal for growing a wide assortment of vegetables. Some varieties are specifically bred to be grown in smaller environments and can produce a remarkably abundant crop.
It's also well-known that a couple of hours in the garden are a dependable stress reliever. However, the most important reason we grow our own is for the improved taste and nutritional value. There is no better flavour than a tomato that has just been picked and is still warm from the sun. Corn, harvested minutes ago and steamed to perfection, undoubtedly has more nutrition than any found in the grocery store.
Most of us are aware vegetables that are dark green, orange and other rich colors are the most nutritious. Spinach, broccoli and carrots are all excellent choices, high in nutritional value. But did you know seeds are now available to grow purple carrots? And orange cauliflower and peppers? Or how about burgundy asparagus and potatoes?
The research that developed these new coloured vegetables was started to create a greater interest in eating vegetables. It was also found that the levels of nutrients in these new varieties were directly related to their pigment. Most of us are accustomed to orange carrots but they can also be yellow, white, red or purple, with each colour having different levels of nutrients.
Our bodies convert the beta carotene in orange carrots to Vitamin A, supporting good eye health. Red carrots, popular in Europe, are rich in lycopene, similar to tomatoes and watermelon, and can aid in the prevention of heart disease and some cancers. But consider purple carrots! Their dark pigment is much higher in anthocyanins, which act as powerful antioxidants, boosting our immune system and helping to stall degenerative diseases and aging.
When we think of fall harvest and Thanksgiving dinner we look forward to orange pumpkins for pumpkin pie, orange sweet potatoes and orange carrots, sweetened with brown sugar and topped with a dab of butter. Why not try a new variety of orange cauliflower, called 'cheddar'? Not only delicious, but good for you, too!
Within weeks, gardeners will be poring over new seed catalogues, looking for interesting varieties to try in 2011. Try something new! After all, growing some of these unusual vegetables might just make you the champion veggie grower of the neighbourhood!
Karen Loewen is a master gardener and president of the Steinbach & Area Garden Club.
Here are some local and other Canadian companies to contact for new seed varieties:
T & T Seeds, Winnipeg (www.ttseeds.com)
Lindenberg Seeds Limited, Brandon (www.lindenbergseeds.ca)
Heritage Harvest Seed Co., Carman (www.heritageharvestseed.com)
Dominion Seed House, Georgetown, Ont. (www.dominion-seed-house.com)
Thompson & Morgan, Oakville, Ont. (www.thompsonmorgan.ca)