By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Not only is gardening good exercise, but it can also improve your health in other ways.  Home grown fruits and vegetables can really pack an immunity punch.

An immunity garden is a grow-your- own kitchen garden with a careful selection of plants that have been proven to boost your immune system. Burpee, the seed company thinks this is a new trend. Ha! Gardeners have known for years that home grown not only tastes better, but it also makes you feel better. Even eating a bit of dirt with your freshly pulled carrots is good for you. Eating a diverse diet loaded with antioxidants and nutrients found in your own garden helps support your immune system; pretty important in this time of floating covid bugs.

Smart people want to know where their food comes from and are trying to eat as locally as possible for sustainability and to reduce their carbon footprint. Nothing is more local than the few feet to your own garden. Not only that, since you can pick it at the peak of freshness, growing and eating your own produce is usually heathier than store-bought. The exception is getting it fresh from the local farmer’s market.

Produce from the grocery store comes from commercial farms designed for optimal production. These operations are built for speed and quantity and the varieties used by Big Ag are developed to grow fast, large and perfectly shaped. As though a tomato with lumps didn’t taste as good as a perfectly round one. In the process, they lose some flavor and nutritional value. Thus, cardboard flavored tomatoes. 

Now that we have settled that, just what should you plant in your garden? Some of the best starter vegetables to boost immunity are tomatoes, squash and radishes. Plant bright colored vegetables as the colors reflect different phytonutrients and antioxidants. A multi-hued plate of veggies not only looks appetizing, but it also has health benefits and disease fighting power. You might even get the kids to try a purple carrot or a black tomato. If you hate peppers, you have probably been eating green peppers. They aren’t ripe. Instead try red, yellow or orange varieties. Ripe peppers have a much different flavor. They have more sugars in them for one thing. Think green apples. Green peppers turn red when ripe.

Gardening is a great out-door activity for kids. They are more apt to try a new vegetable or fruit if it comes from something they have had a hand in. And not just weeding. That will put a kid off gardening pretty fast, as Petunia can tell you. She hated to have to weed. She got all dirty and sweaty. She even hated picking strawberries unless it was in the early morning, and she hated getting up in early morning. Such a “girly” girl.

Here is a neat trick to get your younger crew interested in gardening, draw a good-sized circle in the soil with a hoe. Have the kids plant the tall varieties of sunflowers in the trench leaving a 2-foot bare spot. Then plant beans, peas or even small sized cucumbers out- side the sunflower row. The sunflowers will make a tall, shady, cool, “fort” to play in with fresh veggies crawling up the sides for them to snack on while they play.

For the bigger kids, a contest, who can grow the prettiest squash, the largest tomato, the first lettuce etc. Let them pick out what they would like to plant. If they plant it, more than likely, they will eat it. Be sneaky, tell them to plant a vegetable they hate. Then they must eat one bite of it.  Can’t hurt to try.