Plan to grow healthy food this season

I follow the Cleveland Clinic on Facebook and they often post health-related topics that promote wellness.

A post from the Clinic last week caught my attention in particular because it listed new options for our diets, or rather, foods we should be eating, but maybe we aren’t. The title of the post was “Fresh Start: 5 Foods to Try This Spring.”

I was pleased to see that four of the five are vegetables and fruits that we can grow in northeast Ohio. The fifth, mangoes, are readily available in grocery stores.

The first of the five was a vegetable I tried for the first time a few years ago, kohlrabi. The clinic described kohlrabi as similar to radishes or turnips, and perhaps it is by way of its texture, but it is a member of the cabbage family of plants and that was the flavor I recognized. With its crunchy texture, kohlrabi can be eaten raw in salads, sauteed in stir-fries or cut into slices and baked into chips.

I wasn’t disappointed in the way it behaved in my garden. A swollen stem that sits on top of the soil, the bulb-like vegetable grew quickly and by early June, I was enjoying a harvest. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden four to six weeks before the last frost date, which is mid-April around here.

Because it is a cool-weather vegetable, I was more than anxious to start a fall crop as well. Kohlrabi seeds can be started indoors about six to eight weeks before the first fall frost, around the first of August, and set into the garden when the seedlings are about four inches tall. Even better, the bulb-like vegetable can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

According to the Cleveland Clinic article, kohlrabi is full of vitamin C and loaded with fiber. Even if you don’t like the taste, grow it anyway and give it away. It’s that fun to grow.

Another ”Food to Try” in the clinic article includes a favorite of mine and is the first vegetable to show up in spring, asparagus. Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables we grow. Even before the garden is tilled in spring, the asparagus harvest has begun. Although asparagus is available in grocery stores year-round, their backyard growing season is short, about six weeks. The clinic likes asparagus because it is high in vitamin C and potassium, but also folate.

Newly planted asparagus beds shouldn’t be harvested the first two years. By the third year, the harvest is short, no longer than three weeks so the plants can be left to grow and feed the roots for the next season. The spears we eat are actually stems that when left to grow become tall, fern-like plants.

Fennel is the next vegetable on the list, and I am assuming the article is referring to Florence fennel. I have grown Florence fennel in my garden and it was another fun vegetable, but we weren’t fans of this vegetable with its licorice flavor.

Florence fennel shouldn’t be confused with common, or sweet fennel. Common fennel doesn’t produce edible bulbs, but like Florence fennel, it has feathery stems, umbrella-like flowers and aromatic seeds. Although the stems and seeds also are edible, it can be invasive and in some areas is listed as a noxious weed.

The clinic likes fennel because it contains vitamin C, fiber and potassium. Potassium is important for heart health and helps boost metabolism. It is used often in Mediterranean dishes or it can be sliced and eaten raw. Although like kohlrabi, it grows as a bulb at the base of the stems, the are not related. Fennel is a close cousin to carrots and parsley.

The last “Food to Try” were cherries. With respect to the clinic, although this fruit has all sorts of healthy qualities, I’m sure nearly everyone has already tried it. In their defense, the article specifies that the cherries should be fresh and not cooked into a sugary syrup or pie filling. When they are in season, we always buy fresh cherries from the store for a healthy snack.

If you have cherry trees in your back yard, you probably have to fight the birds for your share. Also filled with vitamin C, cherries contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps to prevent cell damage.