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How to make your broccoli even more nutritious

Florida orangeDid you know that one study comparing Valencia oranges grown in Florida to those grown in California showed that the former had only 33% of the vitamin A found in the latter?  Another study comparing the biggest to the smallest red cabbages showed that the huge heads had only 5% of the vitamin C by weight as the small heads.  Clearly, even within the same type of fruit or vegetable, growing conditions can have a huge impact on the quality of your food.

The Florida problem is related to soil quality --- Florida's soil tends to be sandy and lacking in organic matter, compared to the much richer loams found in California's orange groves.  Jerry Minnich explains that organic matter is key to good food quality since the humus binds soil together into aggregates, promotes microorganism growth, and as a result holds onto micronutrients that quickly wash beyond the reach of crops in soil low on organic matter.  If micronutrients aren't within reach, your plants won't be able to provide those micronutrients on your plate --- even plants are what they eat.

Soil organic matterThe solution is to add copious organic matter to your garden in the form of compost, mulches, and cover crops.  Minnich notes that manure is a very good, all-around source of nutrients since most livestock need many of the same micronutrients that you do, and tree leaves are also especially useful since deep-rooted trees can soak up micronutrients from the subsoil that are usually deficient in the topsoil of your region.  On the other hand, if you buy your food, it might make sense to pay the extra money for organic since various studies have shown that organically grown produce has up to 3.6 times the vitamin C, 2.3 times the betacarotene, and 1.7 times the protein as conventionally grown produce of the same type. 

Light is another very important factor, especially in the vitamin C content of your crops.  I've noticed that certain crops (particularly berries) are twice as sweet if harvested on a sunny afternoon compared to on a rainy day.  During sunny weather, your crops not only produce those delicious sugars, they also stock up on vitamin C --- one study showed that when a plant was shaded for 24 hours, it lost a fifth of its vitamin C content.  Other studies have suggested a similar loss of vitamin A and iron during low light conditions.  To prevent this nutrient loss in your garden, give your crops space so that overlapping leaves don't shade the produce and harvest your bounty in the afternoon.

Red Delicious appleI feel like I can taste the final factor resulting in watering down our produce's nutritional powers as well --- overuse of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.  Have you ever noticed how grocery store apples taste like they've taken the flavor from an apple half that size, combined it with half a cup of water, and left behind a crunchy but nearly taste-free fruit?  When plants are given too much readily available nitrogen, they grow quickly, but don't suck up micronutrients in the same proportion.  The result is a big, watery vegetable with little nutrition or taste.  Organic sources of nitrogen, on the other hand, tend to be released slowly over several years and don't cause this problem.

Feed your soil compost, delete the high nitrogen fertilizer, and watch the sun --- that sounds easy enough.

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This post is part of our Gardening for Maximum Nutrition lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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