As a fitness trainer, part of my job is to help people lose weight. People are generally good at exercising, but when it comes to diet many people fail. In order to lose weight, you need the right combination of exercise and good nutrition.
One type of diet I recommend to my clients is what I call the Protein Salad Diet. Instead of a wimpy, rabbit-food salad with nothing but iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and low-fat dressing, the Protein Salad is a heavy salad consisting of greens, protein and fat. This salad is so heavy (literally) you'll struggle to eat the whole thing. It has a good combination of leafy greens, fruit, and protein. You can eat this salad all day and get some great nutrition! It's a great meal for bodybuilders and those trying to lose weight.
The best part is, you can easily grow many of the ingredients yourself!
Easy plants to grow for your salads are highlighted in sections below.
To start, you'll need a leafy base. Growing leafy vegetables are perhaps the easiest vegetables to grow. They sprout quickly and, depending on the variety, can produce a harvest in a matter of weeks. If you plan ahead and stagger start these leafy vegetables, you could have at least one salad a day for a week.
Leafy vegetables are best grown in the Spring and Fall as they are cool-weather plants. Growing leafy greens during the summer is possible, as long as they have plenty of water and a bit of shade. Since leafy greens have high water content, be sure to water them at least once a day.
Leafy Greens: Lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, leaves of beets.
Salads often have leafy greens and fruit, typically tomatoes and the non-sweet fruits like peppers and cucumber. If you want to eat these Protein Salads on a regular basis, I recommend growing indeterminate grape tomatoes. I once grew more than 70 grape tomatoes on one plant! If you do grow cherry or grape tomatoes, you’ll need to keep them trimmed so they don't get out of control.
If you want to make Mexican-based salads, grow some hot peppers. I've had a lot of success with growing Hungarian wax peppers in my Garden Tower 2. I planted my hot peppers on the top of the GT2 so I could stake them. Hungarian wax peppers taste mild when green, but hot when red. You could use them to make a Tex-Mex Protein Salad (Recipe below).
Fruits: Apples, avocados, berries, cucumbers, peppers, oranges, pumpkins, summer squash, tomatoes
What better way to reduce high calorie dressings and flavor up your salad than to grow and add your own herbs?
Basil has been among my most successful herbs to grow. It grows fast and abundantly. It’s an ideal thing to add to a salad if you have a taste for something Italian. We've grown so much basil in our Garden Tower we’ve had to give it away!
Another herb that I've successfully grown is cilantro. If you have a taste for something Greek, Italian, or Persian, use cilantro to make a Mediterranean Protein Salad or Persian Salad (Recipe below).
Herbs: Arugula, basil, cilantro, thyme, oregano
If a salad has left you miserably hungry, it's because it had no fat. Fat will give your salad some substance and, believe it or not, fat actually signals your brain to make you feel full when a hormone called "leptin" is released.
Now, you're thinking, "But it’s fat!" But it’s not the fat that makes you fat, it's excessive carbs. I lost 12 lbs. in 8 days by reducing carbs and increasing fat and protein content in my diet. I didn't even need to lose any weight! This Protein Salad, depending on how you make it, will be naturally low in carbs. It’s perfect for you diabetics out there.
Fat Sources: Cheese, sour cream, whole-fat yogurt, olive/avocado/flaxseed/coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados
Unlike fat, protein doesn't really make you full. Instead, it is used to maintain and build muscle in your body. In fact, protein is the building block of your body. If you were to strip away all the cells in your body, you'd be left with connective blocks called protein. Yes, you are simply a statue made out of protein.
Protein Sources: Red meat (yes, red meat!), chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, quinoa
How To Construct A Protein Salad
This salad is ideal for those who want to lose weight and for those who want to build muscle. The fat and protein will make you full for a lengthy period and also supply you with important vitamins and minerals.
1. Start with a base of 1 cup chopped leafy greens - lettuce, kale, chard, bok choy, etc.
2. Add protein - 1/2 cup meat, chicken, fish, egg, beans, nuts, or seeds
3. Add fruit - 1/2 cup chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
4. Add fat - 1/2 cup oil (olive/avocado/coconut)
5. Add toppings such as herbs, sour cream, cheese, etc.
Mix everything together. If the amounts I've given are too low, just increase them, especially if you're a hungry lion!
Protein Salad Examples
These are general guidelines. Play up the ingredients however you like!
Tex-Mex Protein Salad
2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
1 cup meat, chicken, shrimp or black beans (if vegan)
1 cup chopped tomatoes and hot peppers
Alternative: 1 cup of salsa (grow your own salsa garden)
1/2 cup sour cream or guacamole (if vegan)
1/2 cup shredded cheese or rice (if vegan)
1 handful of crushed tortilla chips
Photo Credit: https://eatrunwritelove.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/img_6851.jpg
Persian Protein Salad (no leafy base)
2 cups chopped cucumbers
1 cup meat, chicken, or chickpeas (if vegan)
1 cup chopped tomatoes and peppers (hot or mild)
1 cup feta cheese or olive oil (if vegan)
1/2 cup parsley or cilantro
1/4 cup onions or garlic
1 teaspoon of black pepper
Asian Stir-Fry Protein Salad
2 cups chopped bok choy
1 cup steak, chicken, shrimp, or edamame (if vegan)
1 cup chopped broccoli
1/2 cup chopped mild or hot peppers
1/2 cup rice or quinoa
1 minced clove of garlic
Pinch of salt
2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil (to sauté)
2 to 3 tablespoons of additional olive oil to use as a dressing
1 or 2 tablespoons Asian sauce of your choice
Here in Indiana (Planting Zones 5 & 6) our lawns are returning to green and we are getting excited for gardening season. This also means the inevitable return of “weeds” to our lawns, containers, and gardens.
Did you know that some of these so-called weeds can actually provide nutrition and other health benefits for you? So before you trash or compost these little blessings, take a moment to learn about some of their wonderful benefits.
Dandelion is one of the first spring green plants to arrive. Yes, that pesky plant that seeds so easily and many work very hard to eradicate. Dandelions are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese and full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, and K. Their bitterness increases bile flow from the liver and gallbladder helping to improve digestion and relieve whole body congestion. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in olive oil. You can also try adding them to your green smoothie, or infuse the leaves for tea.
Violet is another plant that grows abundantly in this area. The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A and C. Violet is thought to be a blood purifier and cleanser for the lymphatic system. This system is a network of tissues and organs that rid the body of toxins and wastes. After winter, consuming violet may assist the body to cleanse any leftover toxins for a more energetic spring. You can use the whole plant, or just the leaves and the top of the stem. The thin roots are known to be especially powerful for lymph cleansing.
Cleavers is another plant often considered to be pesky weed. Historically, cleavers have been used to drain swollen glands and cleanse the lymphatic system. They have been used to treat skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema and as an external poultice for sores and wounds. Cleavers have also been used to soothe irritation in the bladder. They are known to have a mild diuretic effect; so can help with inflammation in the body from winter foods.
This makes cleavers another great herb to add to your Spring diet!
Don’t spray your yard! Always be sure to harvest from a clean, toxin-free area. I let my dandelions grow like crazy and use them all season long. In fact, I blow the seeds around my garden. If you don’t have a yard, bring home a fluffy seed top from a dandelion and dedicate a container to this nutritious plant. I also let the violets grow. They make a great ground cover around other herbs. They take off easily, so you only need a small one to get started. Cleavers tend to be found in wooded areas and also grow plentifully when transplanted.
So much fun and freshness for free!
Please note: Be absolutely sure of the identification of plants before taking them internally and see your physician for health issues. This is not meant to be medical advice, simply thoughts about additions to your diet.
It's an age old question...Is it better to start seeds indoors and transplant later or to sow seeds outdoors directly into the garden? And what about just skipping seed starting all together and purchasing transplants from a local farmer or garden center? Which is better? Where should I start?
Indeed! The uncertainties of life's big questions are enough to keep a would-be gardener from ever getting started! The good news is, just like in life, there are no hard and fast rules in gardening. The short answer to these often challenging questions is...
Choosing whether to start your garden from seeds or transplants depends on a number of factors - time, experience, and budget to name a few. The type of vegetable or herb being grown also makes a big difference. Some plants prefer being directly sown into the garden, while others prefer to be nursed along indoors before being transplanted.
Outlined below are some benefits and drawbacks of starting seed indoors or in the garden. The benefits and drawbacks of starting with transplants are also considered. Knowing these factors will help you determine the best way to get started and on your way to growing a happy, healthy garden.
Starting From Seed
- All ages enjoy sprouting and caring for life!
- If you're planning a large garden, starting from seed is more affordable.
- You control the source of the seeds and the varieties grown.
- Start early indoors, transplant, then seed in succession throughout the season.
- Root crops - carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets - prefer to be directly sown.
- Beans, corn, garlic, and peas also prefer to be directly sown and grown in one place.
- Time – Waiting for soil temperature to rise and night air temperatures to be above 50°; Waiting for seedlings to mature for transplanting; Monitoring young sprouts 2-3 times per day
- Weather – If you sow direct outdoors, drought, heavy winds, flooding and insects can destroy young seedlings.
- Equipment – The cost of protective covering, seed trays, germination heating pads, and indoor grow lights can add up.
Starting with Transplants
- Get a head start on the growing season!
- Start broccoli, chard, and kale indoors and move them outside soon after your plant hardiness zone’s frost-free date.
- Planning a small garden? It may be more affordable to purchase transplants.
- Transplants are stronger and more resistant to weather conditions and pests.
- Celery, eggplants, leeks, onions, peppers, and tomatoes do well as transplants.
- Transplants can go through shock when moved from their original container.
- If you start seeds indoors, you will need to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them into a permanent location. Hardening off your seedlings means moving baby plants outdoors (a few hours each day) then back indoors, over a period of a week, while they adjust to sun and wind.
- Transplants purchased from other farms or greenhouses may introduce pests, diseases, or weeds into your garden.
- Plant varieties at nurseries and big box stores are limited. If you prefer non-GMO, organic, or heirloom varieties, it may be best to start your own transplants from certified seed sources.
When beginning your garden from seed, sowing directly into the garden or starting in trays, be sure to pay attention to the temperature of the soil. The number of days for seed germination is related to the warmth of the soil. Seedling flat heating mats are great for moving sprout times along more quickly and predictably.
Here’s a handy chart to help you with timing:
If starting from seed isn’t for you, search your local farmers’ market in the Spring and Fall to purchase transplants. These are usually reliable, often heirloom varieties accustomed to growing in your local climate. You can also learn a few secrets of gardening success when buying from local growers.
Odds are, if you're up for the learning curves and fun of growing your own food, you will end up combining all these ways of starting your garden - buying transplants, starting your own indoors, and starting seeds directly in the garden. For more detailed information about when to start specific varieties, check out this 2017-Planting-Chart.pdf from High Mowing Seeds.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, How To Plan A Garden #3: Preparing for Pests.
Lengthening daylight hours and hints of springtime signal the time to plan your garden. This Tower Power blog post is the first in a series of three to guide you in planning a successful year of gardening. We've crafted an infographic of the basics to get started!
(Click on infographic to enlarge) (Click here to download a pdf of this infographic)
🔗 USEFUL LINKS FROM THE INFOGRAPHIC ABOVE:
1) Plant Hardiness Zone Lookup:
2) Companion Planting Infographic and Database:
A Garden Journal or Sketchbook - This doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as putting blank pages into a binder or use card stock or repurposed cardboard as the cover. This is a great activity to do with kids!
In your Garden Journal, you will record temperature and weather patterns, your garden designs, when and what you plant, as well as, your discoveries, successes and failures. This post has specifics on what to include in your journal. If you prefer going paperless, online options are available for a fee, like this one launching this Spring 2017 from GrowVeg.com.
No matter how you decide to collect garden information, the most important thing about a Garden Journal is that you keep one. Once you have your journal ready, you are ready to begin planning your garden!
Location, Climate, and Weather
Begin by observing and taking note of the largest patterns present in your location such as the climate, seasons, and movement of the sun during different times of year. On this grand scale, Plant Hardiness Zone maps can help you determine the length of your growing season and which types of plants will thrive in your geographic area.
These zones are based on weather patterns and the average lowest temperature. If you live in the United States, enter your zip code here to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. If you live outside the U.S., BackyardGardener.com provides helpful resources. The Old Farmers’ Almanac will help you find the range and number of frost-free days with the Frost Date Calculator.
Record in your Garden Journal:
- Plant Hardiness Zone
- Average lowest temperature in winter
- Dates when frost-free season begins and ends
- Number of frost-free dates
Space and Tools
On a smaller, site-specific scale, the amount of available space and microclimates on your property will help determine the best place for your garden or gardens. Microclimates are small areas or habitats determined by variables such as surface type, walls, wind, water, trees, or other physical features. Answering the following questions will provide a clearer idea of where and how to create your garden.
Record in your Garden Journal:
- Do you have full sun, partial sun, shade, or a combination of these?
- Where are your available spaces? Patio, balcony, on concrete, in the yard?
- How many hours of daylight do these areas receive?
- Which areas are easiest to access?
- What kind of tools do you need? Containers, shovels, tiller, hose, watering can?
Gardens serve many purposes. Food, medicine, beauty, therapy, habitat and wildlife restoration are a few general themes. What is the primary focus of your garden?
For inspiration, check out this list:
(Click on graphic to enlarge)
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension also has great Garden Themes for Kids.
Explore different types of garden plants, herbs and flowers. Select varieties that will work with your available space and chosen theme. If you will have a small space or vertical garden, look for bush or container varieties. These are smaller in height and grow better in containers.
These sites provide great images and information for plant selection:
Plant companions are helpful friends that benefit others. For instance, marigolds are friends with many plants in the garden due to their ability to repel pests. Surrounding tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage) plants with marigolds to defend them from nematodes and leafhoppers. These charts will help you discover which vegetables, herbs, and flowers grow well together and which ones should be separated.
Cliché as it sounds, timing is everything in gardening! The successful growth of your plants depends on the season, length of time for seed germination, and days to maturity. Pay close attention to these factors as you decide when to start your garden.
The amount of time you have available to spend gardening is also something to consider. Are you working full-time, a full-time parent, or both? Are you retired? Do you travel a lot? Think about how much time you will be able to commit daily to tending your garden.
Garden Tower Designs
If you are planning to grow in a Garden Tower 2, check out these tools:
I’m from New York City, having little gardening experience. All I used to know about gardening was that if you planted a seed in the ground and watered it, then something was supposed to happen.
Now, I’ve grown so much food, I've had enough to give away!
Back in 2015, my wife and I purchased the Garden Tower II (GT2). My wife wanted to purchase this vertical container garden mainly because you can grow root vegetables in it. The GT2 has 50 pods to plant in and a vermicomposting system. It didn’t take much for her to convince me that we needed to invest in this product, so after getting our tax return money, we bought the GT2.
To start growing, we purchased seedlings. Growing from seed hasn’t been my strong point, and we wanted some quick results. I had already done lots of research on growing plants, but I wanted to test some of the conventional gardening wisdom to see what was true and what wasn’t. Being willing to experiment on my garden was a big eye-opener.
For starters, we discovered that we didn’t need to spray our garden with anything, not even with organic sprays. I spent a few moments every morning inspecting the garden for pests and picking them off. I later discovered that wasps loved to eat cabbage worms! So, instead of looking at wasps as my enemies, I saw them as my allies. Whenever the wasps raided my garden, I just stepped inside the house and let them do their thing!
Comparing Garden Containers
Another discovery was seeing how important composting was for the plants. I did an experiment using eggplants in the GT2 and eggplants in conventional pots. The eggplants in the GT2 grew much larger and healthier than the ones in conventional pots.
The eggplant fruit produced by the eggplants in the GT2 were actually edible and nearly free of blemishes, whereas the eggplants in the conventional pots produced small, hard, and ugly fruits. The eggplants in the GT2 had access to compost, whereas the other eggplants did not.
Discovering Compost Critters
Perhaps the biggest discovery was the black soldier fly larvae. For a few days, I noticed that the compost contents were quickly reducing in size. Then I’ve discovered these maggots in my compost tube. After researching about them and seeing them in action, I fell in love with these guys! Unlike red wigglers or European night crawlers that eat veggies and fruit scraps, the black soldier fly larvae ate almost anything, including meat and cheese (two of which would usually be forbidden to add in a compost pile).
Because of my success with the GT2, I started a Facebook page called “The Back Deck Harvest.” The page has a ton of photos of my experience with the GT2. I simply post what I’m doing in the garden. No silly memes, no articles, nothing but my work in my vertical garden.
The GT2 was a great investment. We have grown tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants, squash, peppers, basil, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, cilantro and parsley, and have even revived a few dying marigold plants I bought. We have eaten the fruits of our labor and have shared our fruits with others. We went from growing barely anything to growing a big crop of food on a small deck of 90 square feet.
If you live somewhere between Hardiness Zones 1-7, you may be lolling and snoring along to winter’s hibernation song right about now. The colors outside are drab, the daylight hours are short, and the “nothing-like-it” taste of crisp sugar snap peas and sweet cherry tomatoes picked fresh from the garden linger someplace off in the distance.
Winter doldrums have you down?
Here's a quick and easy way to snap out of the winter blah blues. Put the kettle on for a cup of mint, lemon verbena, or ginger-turmeric tea. Sweeten it with local honey, and grab a stack of next year’s seed catalogs!
My friend Kristi, an extraordinary cook who prepares nearly all her meals from local, pasture-raised meats and homegrown produce, is also an absolute connoisseur of seed catalogs! She can’t wait for her selected catalogs to arrive in the mail. This time of year, her collection is scattered across her coffee table, dog-eared and littered with sticky notes marking her wish list for the garden. Kristi told me, “It’s the vibrant pictures, unique colors, shapes and patterns of the seeds, flowers and vegetables that inspire me on these gray winter days. I also love discovering the newest heirloom and container varieties. I want to try them all!”
Request Free Seed Catalogs
Kristi also hinted that seeing pictures of fully mature plants in the catalog is important. This helps her visually plan how she will arrange her community of plants. After marking the pages of the seeds she’d like to purchase, she draws a map of her garden and plays matchmaker with companion plants. Planning tools found in Johnny’s Selected Seeds Grower’s Library and Garden Tower’s Planting Design Guide are helpful when designing your garden.
Planting season is closer than you think. Before you know, you'll be starting seeds and watching the world wake from its slumber. Until then, enjoy getting lost in Spring and Summer daydreams and planning. What will your garden grow?
The enthusiasm induced by looking through seed catalogs can lead to ambitious plans and a bountiful garden with more produce than you can manage to eat. This, of course, is a wonderful problem to have! Apply to sell at your local farmers’ market, start a food stand, or share with co-workers and neighbors. Your local food bank will also be happy to receive your extra harvest. Check out ampleharvest.org for a place nearby to donate.