Eat the Rainbow Garden

Rainbow heart of fruits and vegetablesEver heard of the rainbow diet? It’s not an actual diet – it refers to choosing fruits and vegetables from every color in the rainbow.

Eating a full rainbow of foods regularly helps provide our bodies with the nutrients needed for good health. In addition to fiber, vitamins and minerals, naturally colored foods contain what are known as phytochemicals. These powerful nutrients are the disease-fighting substances that also give fruits and vegetables their array of colors. (Recipes below!)

Ingredients

1 six-pack kale, chard, lettuce, and/or spinach starts
1 tomato plant
1 eggplant plant
1 six-pack purple cabbage
1 six-pack leeks
and/or
packets of corn, cucumber, and squash seeds
large planting containers or small garden plot

For a complete list of vegetables that can be grown in Western Washington and when/how to plant them,  this chart is a great resource.

Location

You can plant this garden in large pots or directly in the garden. Whether in a container or garden, plants need good light, soil, adequate space, and water. Choose a location that is somewhat flat and receives a minimum of 8-10 hours of full sunlight each day. More is always better. In addition, make sure you have a good source of water nearby. Western Washington summers are often very dry throughout July & August. Your rainbow garden will appreciate a good watering at least once a week during the growing season and daily watering if in containers.

Soil Prep

If you are starting a new, in-ground garden, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested first. Your local conservation district should be able to help you with that task. You can also use raised beds or large pots/barrels. Fill them with clean soil and/or compost for an instant garden.

Mix 3-4 inches of compost into a new garden to improve its overall soil biology and health. If you already have a garden area, be sure to add 1-2 inches of compost each year to maintain soil health.

Fertility

To ensure adequate nutrition for your rainbow garden, add a complete organic fertilizer (available at most garden and nursery centers) to the area to be planted and mix in well before planting. Be sure to follow directions for the product you are using; generally 1-2 cups per 10 square feet and broadcast across the area. For long season heavy feeders like squash, eggplant, corn, cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumbers adding a top dressing around the plants of 1-inch of compost a month after planting can help keep them growing vigorously.

Planting

If growing in-ground, space kale, tomatoes, eggplant, chard, and cabbage about 24 inches apart; lettuce 10-12 inches apart, leeks 3-4 inches apart, and spinach 6-8 inches apart. When planting in containers, you can reduce that space by half or more.

Plant to bury kale stems to first set of good leaves. Be sure to bury the entire root ball of your lettuce, about 1/2 inch deeper than the pots they were in. Spinach has a crown in the center of the plant, where the new leaves come from. Plant to make sure crown is the soil level.

When seeding corn, planting a grid pattern helps ensure good pollination and a good crop. For example, plant seed 2-3 inches apart in three or more rows spaced one foot apart. Plant seed 1/2 inch deep and water frequently till they come up. Thin to 6 inches apart in-ground, closer when in containers.

Cucumbers and squash should be planted in hills 3-4 feet apart. Plant 3-5 seeds in each hill; thin to one plant per hill. Mixing a small shovel full of composted manure into each hill before planting will help feed them throughout the summer.

Maintenance

Weed, water, and nurture your plants through the summer. Make certain that your garden is always well watered, but not sopping wet. Have a rain gauge set up near your garden. Summer rains don’t often last long enough to soak our gardens well and often need additional irrigation. For more information on caring for your vegetable gardens, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington is a great resource from WSU.

Harvest

 When to Harvest Vegetables provides specifics to look for to harvest each vegetable for best flavor and nutrition.

Rainbow Recipes

Eating the rainbow is easy! Check out these fun recipes, head out to harvest, and make a great-tasting meal.

Cheesy Squash Casserole

1-1/2 cups chopped summer squash (any type)
1/2 cup cracker crumbs
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 egg, beaten

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Put in a greased baking dish, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until done. Makes 2 – 3 Servings

Eat the Rainbow Black Bean Soup

1 large onion, chopped
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and finely diced (add more or less to taste)
1 yellow or red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red cabbage, chopped (or 1/2 large cabbage)
6 ounces mushrooms, quartered
2 cans (or 3 cups) cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (or for smokiness without heat use smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon regular chili powder
generous grating of black pepper
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
5 cups vegetable broth (or water plus 2 servings bouillon)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups chopped lettuce or spinach
salt to taste (optional)

In a large pot, saute the onions until they soften. Add the peppers and carrots and cook for another two minutes. Add the garlic and remaining vegetables and cook for another two minutes. Add all remaining ingredients EXCEPT lettuce and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, adding additional water or vegetable broth as needed to keep a soupy consistency. Just before serving, stir in the lettuce and salt.

To use a slow cooker: Place sauteed vegetables and all remaining ingredients EXCEPT lettuce and salt into slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours. Just before serving, stir in the lettuce and salt and add additional seasonings, if necessary. Recipe courtesy Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen.

Washington State University