If you were getting most of your food from your garden, the three nutrients you would need to pay particular attention to are calories, protein, and calcium. I’ve already talked about calories and protein, so now I’ll address calcium. The next post (November 27, 2012) will be about something entirely different, I promise. The dairy industry has done a great job of telling people how much calcium is in milk and cheese. Such a great job, in fact, some people might think that’s the only place to get it. You can put calcium on your plate in the form of leafy greens right from your garden. You will also get calcium from the beans you eat.
A vegetable that is loaded with calcium is collards at 921 mg per pound. That translates to 357 mg calcium per cup of cooked collard leaves and stems. By comparison, a cup of whole cow’s milk contains 291 mg and a cup of goat’s milk has 326 mg calcium. Parsley has as much calcium per pound as collards. People don’t usually eat as much parsley as they would collards, but it is something to think about. Everything adds up, so including parsley in your recipes will increase the calcium content of those dishes. Kale is a good source of calcium at 601 mg per pound or 206 mg in 1 cup of cooked kale. These numbers come from How To Grow More Vegetables, 8th ed, and The New Laurel’s Kitchen. We usually eat steamed kale and collards with some vinegar added. These greens, along with garlic and/or onions cooked in butter or olive oil, are also good as a topping for mashed potatoes.
With a low tunnel we can grow collards and kale through the winter here, harvesting about once a week at most. The best over wintered collards I’ve grown were in the 12’x20’ greenhouse I had at one time. Once March hits, these crops realize they are in their second year and send up seed stalks. Leaving at least some of these plants go to seed will attract beneficial insects, as well as give you seeds. You especially need to let your parsley overwinter. It comes back to life early in the spring to put out flowers attracting beneficial insects, just in time to protect the new spring brassica plants in your garden. By the end of March, or even earlier if you are putting them under cover, it is easy enough to have new plants set out.
At Ecology Action in Willits, California they grow perennial collards, otherwise known as tree collards. The summer nights are cooler there than here, and the winters aren’t quite as severe. Bountiful Gardens occasionally sells tree collards and has more information in their catalog. I’m not sure tree collards would do as well here.
It is good to seek out varieties intended for your region and conditions. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) sells Green Glaze and Cascade Glaze collards. The smooth leaves are more resistant to cabbage worm and cabbage looper. Even’ Star farm in Maryland has been breeding collard and kale varieties specifically for winter harvest. You can find the Even’ Star varieties at SESE.
There is much more to know about calcium. You need calcium for strong bones and teeth. If you are pregnant and not getting enough calcium, your baby will take it from you. I had a friend who had to have major dental work done each time she was pregnant. No matter how much calcium-laden food you’ve eaten, other factors in your diet can work to block absorption. Not enough fat is one of those factors. You have probably heard that it is important to have enough vitamin D to work with the calcium and you can get vitamin D from being in the sun. However, what you might not know is that D is a fat soluble vitamin, so you need fat as a catalyst to help things along. That means, including some milk and cheese in your diet would be good after all, along with the greens. You could add peanuts and hazelnuts to your crop plan. Peanuts (313 mg/lb) and hazelnuts (948 mg/lb) are sources of calcium and are good sources of fat. I have heard of vegans who suffered broken bones from otherwise minor incidents, as a result of not enough calcium. It might have been not enough calcium absorption. Sugar consumption and stress will relieve your bones and teeth of calcium, but it is best to avoid sugar and stress for so many reasons anyway. According to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, the best sources of usable calcium are bone broth and dairy products. When that old hen reaches the end of her laying days, make sure you stew up the bones for soup.
Phytates in grains might block calcium absorption. Soaking, fermenting, and sprouting will help prevent that. Soaking oatmeal overnight is a good idea. Not only is it better for mineral absorption in your diet, but if you do that, your breakfast is almost ready. It is already in the pan, just turn it on and let it cook while you make your coffee or whatever it is that you do in the morning.
It is important that we get our nutrients from the food we eat and that food needs to have been grown in healthy soil. The nutrients in food come naturally packaged with other things necessary for their assimiliation in our bodies. If you rely on supplements, you could be throwing things out of balance. There is so much to know about a healthy diet. Educate yourself and eat a variety of foods from local, sustainable sources.
More about Growing Calcium at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/growing-calcium.aspx.