In the Garden:
March, 2013
Regional Report

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Healthy vegetables, generously spaced in weed-free raised beds, are more nutritious than stressed plants.

Less Stress; More Nutrition

Yes, stress-free vegetables are more nutritious, says Dr. Wesley Kline of Rutgers University. That doesn't require they do yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation. Though those practices will likely reduce our stress.

Vegetable gardeners can make the most of their hard work by keeping in mind "three important things," advises Kline, Agriculture Agent for the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County New Jersey. Choose vitamin-packed vegetables you enjoy. Grow them in healthy conditions.

"First select vegetables you like," Kline encourages. "Then look at what has the most nutritional value. If you like them and they're nutritious, you have a winner!"

Thoughtful gardeners can tip the scale for best quality yield. "Do anything you can do to manage diseases and insects that reduce stress on the plant," urges Kline. "We want plants to be actively growing and getting enough nutrients, not stressed."

Stressed plants have less food value. Under stress, a plant's energy is diverted to survival, fighting diseases and insects. They expend more energy respiring and less energy producing food through photosynthesis.

Kline's Tips For Growing Nutrition-Packed Plants

  • Remember that many plant diseases such downy mildew thrive in a moist or humid environment. Many disease-causing fungal spores need moisture- such as dew on leaves - to germinate and cause infection.

  • Raised beds have better water drainage than flat ground, especially important if you garden in heavy soil.

  • Space plants far enough apart so air circulates freely, allowing the soil and plant parts to dry out.

  • Remove weeds as soon as you see them! Weeds cause stress by competing with vegetables for nutrients, water, and light.

  • Water the roots (not plant vegetation) longer and less frequently at the soil level. Roots absorb nutrients via water. Soaker hoses are great for small gardens; drip irrigation for large gardens.

  • Apply plastic mulch or an inch or two of organic mulch like compost, shredded leaves, or newspaper to conserve soil moisture.

  • Before adding fertilizer, test garden soil for phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and pH. Kline finds most long-used gardens are over-fertilized from years of routinely adding chemical fertilizers. This is usually less of a problem when using compost and organic fertilizers, which have less concentrated amounts of nutrients.

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