The Energizing Garden

Grow nutrition in your garden with plants that can be harvested and used as satisfying snacks.

| May/June 2017

  • Try growing pumpkins to use for pies, but also to roast the seeds as a snack.
    Photo by Svetlanais (iStock)
  • Grow sunflower varieties that specify they are for seed production, and use the seeds as a home-grown snack.
    Photo by AntiMartina (iStock)
  • Soybeans are one of the best sources of plant-based protein.
    Photo by STRANNIK9211 (iStock)
  • Plant peanuts after the last frost has finished.
    Photo by Lalith_Herath (iStock)
  • Peanuts are surprisingly easy to grow at home.
    Photo by Dragoncello (iStock)

Think about the kinds of foods you usually reach for when you need a quick energy boost. Chances are not all of them are healthy, and that few contain whole or organic ingredients. But if we decide to replace some of the processed junk with more natural options, we can make many satisfying snack foods at home with ingredients grown in our own backyards. Here are a few garden crops that are surprisingly simple to turn into healthy snacks.

Super Seeds

Look at most nutrition guidelines, and seeds are highly recommended as part of a healthy diet. They’re relatively high in calories, which we need for energy, but unlike many other high-calorie foods, they come in a very nutritious package. Seeds are rich in healthy fats, packed with vitamins and minerals, and contain fiber and protein, too. So why not grow some snackable seeds in the garden?

Grow Sunflowers for Beauty and Seeds

Sunflower seeds have all the advantages mentioned above, and happen to be an especially good source of vitamin E, as well as folate and iron. They’re also a fun plant that’s easy to grow. Look for varieties that specify they are for seed production, not only decoration. Plant sunflowers in spring as soon as danger of frost has passed, sowing seeds about two inches deep. Thin plants so they are about two feet apart in rows. Sunflowers get tall, well over six feet for most varieties, and may need to be staked to keep them upright. Some of the popular varieties to grow for seeds, such as ‘Titan’ and ‘Mammoth Grey’, can easily grow to be 12 feet. Seeds will be ready to harvest in the fall. When they’re mature, individual seeds will be clearly visible and will pop out of the sunflower head easily. You’ll know they are getting close when the flowers start to bend down toward the ground under the weight of all those seeds. If necessary to keep birds and squirrels from stealing your harvest, you can cut the flowers and hang them inside to allow the seeds to finish drying.

Grow Pumpkins for Pies and Seeds

While often grown for their tasty flesh, or for decoration, pumpkins are another plant with plentiful, large seeds perfect for roasting and eating. Like sunflower seeds, they’re a good source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, iron and zinc. Some varieties even have “naked” or hull-less seeds that make for easier snacking — try ‘Williams Naked Seeded Pumpkin’ and ‘Kakai’. Like other types of winter squash, pumpkins are planted in late spring, after danger of frost has passed, and are not harvested until fall. Sow seeds 1 inch deep. Look for spacing instructions specific to the variety you choose (bush varieties take less space), but one common way to plant pumpkins is in small hills with two or three plants each, with hills spaced 4 to 8 feet apart. Pumpkins and other types of squash experience significant pressure from multiple diseases and pests — not least of them, the formidable squash bug — so it’s a good idea to read up on organic options for coping with these problems. You can expect that pumpkins are ripe when they have developed a hard rind and mature color (many, but not all, varieties will be a solid orange).

Lovable Legumes

Another group of nutrient-dense foods is legumes, which includes beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. As with seeds, legumes contain healthy fats, fiber, and lots of vitamins and minerals. In addition, when we’re hungry, many of us crave protein, and legumes are among the best forms of plant-based protein.

Enjoy Soy

Beans in general are good sources of protein, and soybeans especially so. Like the other legumes mentioned above, soybeans contain fiber and healthy fat, as well as other essential nutrients, particularly B vitamins. There must be hundreds of ways to eat soy, but enjoying the beans fresh as edamame makes a delicious and simple snack. When planting, think of soybeans as your typical bush bean — they don’t require support like pole beans do, and they’re all ready to harvest at about the same time. To plant, wait until danger of frost has passed, and then plant in rows, sowing 1 inch deep and at least 2 inches apart. You’ll need to keep the plants watered and weeded, but they’re generally low-maintenance. To enjoy as edamame, harvest beans while still green — the pods will have swollen noticeably indicating it’s time to pick. Preparing edamame is simple. Just add them to boiling water and blanch until bright green (about 5 minutes). Then add coarse salt, shell and eat. Soybeans are also good roasted. Toss them with olive oil and salt and roast them right in the pod at 425 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. Some health experts caution against too much soy, which can have estrogen-like properties with uncertain effects on breast cancer risk. However, most of these concerns are related to consuming soy supplements, while eating soy foods is typically considered safe. If you want to read more about these issues, find a summary of the science at

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