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Growing Greens to Boost Your Iron Intake

FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

If you aren’t much of a meat-eater, you may struggle to get enough iron from your diet, with government surveys showing that iron deficiency is relatively common among women. However, the good news is that a number of vegetables, which can be successfully grown in your own garden in the UK, are able to boost your iron intake. Green vegetables are a good source of plant-based iron, but also offer plenty of fibre, vitamin C, beta-carotene and folate. The fact that these vegetables are high in vitamin C is useful, as it helps your body to absorb non-meat source of iron more efficiently. Here we take a look at five green vegetables that are rich in iron and some growing tips to get you started.

SpinachSpinach

Although like many other leafy greens spinach has a slightly bitter taste, it can be used in a range of recipes – from salads and pasta dishes to soups and curries - that allow you to combine the leaves with other flavours. If you have never grown spinach before, try perpetual spinach, which is very easy to grow and will continue to produce more leaves after cutting. Sowing these spinach seeds under cover in March allows you to enjoy the leaves by the end of the spring, while sowing from April will make sure you have a supply in the summer and autumn; for a winter crop, sow covered in August or September. Ensure you water the plants well when it is dry and pick out flower heads, as flowering reduces the length of the cropping season. If using in a salad, pick the leaves when they are young, as they have a milder flavour at this stage.

Kale

If you are looking for a hardy winter vegetable that requires little care, plant kale in July for a crop ready between October and March; it’s also free from pests besides caterpillars in early spring. There are a range of varieties to choose from, but Dwarf Green Curled Kale grows well in poor soils and produces tender leaves, while Redbor adds a splash of colour to dishes. Growing your own allows you to enjoy kale at its freshest, as its flavour deteriorates just a couple of days after picking.

PeasPeas

Besides offering the typical nutrients common to most green vegetables, peas are also a useful source of protein and zinc. While you might not be familiar with zinc, we need this essential nutrient for a strong immune system and KwikMed advises that this is another mineral commonly deficient in a largely vegetarian diet. When it comes to preparing the ground for sowing, according to a BBC growing guide, pea seeds sown in ground that is cold and wet will rot, so protect the soil with polythene prior to sowing. Sow shorter varieties in blocks, with seeds 6 inches apart and sown at a depth of 2 inches. However, sow taller varieties in a row, with 2 to 4 inches between seeds, adding subsequent rows at least a foot apart. If you would like more than one harvest, sow new seeds every two weeks. Once the seedlings are 2 or 3 inches tall, use bamboo canes as stakes to offer support to their tendrils. Pick peas regularly to ensure freshness, though once the crop is over, don’t remove the whole plants, as their roots contain beneficial bacteria that add nitrogen to the soil, so allow the roots to decompose and add this nitrogen to the soil for the benefit of future crops.

Broccoli

If you want broccoli that’s full of flavour, choose purple sprouting broccoli. This also has the advantage that it will come again after cutting. May or June is the best time to plant broccoli seeds and this gives you a crop in February and March; sow seeds in trays, an inch or two apart in half-inch deep grooves. When the seedlings appear, thin them to 3 inches apart and after a month plant them in the ground. You should leave 2 feet between plants and as they grow you may need to support them using a cane; also be aware that they attract slugs, snails and caterpillars, so use deterrents and remove any caterpillars that you see. It’s important that you pick the ripe spears of broccoli when ready, as if you don’t they will flower, so keep an eye on your crops around harvest time.

Pak ChoiPak Choi

Used extensively in Asian cooking, pak choi also works well in salads and stir-fries when leaves are small. Baby leaves are available just 30 days after sowing, while mature heads take up to two and a half months. However, you need fertile soil and a sunny spot in your garden to achieve best results. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends sowing the seeds for pak choi between April and July in rows at least a foot apart; this is particularly important if you want to harvest when the heads of pak choi are fully mature. If growing baby leaf, thin seedlings to 3 inches apart, but thin to at least 10 inches for full-size heads. Watering the plants well will avoid the plants going to seed and ensures they are full of flavour when you pick them.

Article written by Jenni Perkins

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