Garden On, Vashon

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Let’s Grow More on the Wild Side

January 19th, 2014 at Sun, 19th, 2014 at 11:14 am by Karen Dale

Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side” packed the house at the Land Trust two weeks ago. Easy to find folks interested in living longer and healthier through eating MORE of something.

Her NYT best-selling book describes how our fruits and vegetables today have had much of their nutrition bred out of them. Jo claims, “It’s not our fault: our brains need lots of fuel, so whenever we feed our brains with fat, sugar, or starch, the brain rewards us with the pleasure chemical dopamine.” That pleasure response has led over 400 generations of farmers to select plant varieties that have more far, sugar, or starch, or are less sour, bitter, or tough than the wild ancestor plants.

The problem is that many of these nutrients are chemicals the plant uses to protect itself against environmental threats—excess sun, insects, diseases and molds. When we inbibe foods rich in these nutrients, we give our bodies those same protective elements. For instance, the purplish-red in lettuce and other leafy veg is anthocyanin, a nutrient that shields a plant from damaging UV sunrays. Eat a salad of ‘Merlot’ or ‘Red Oakleaf’ lettuce, and you’ve given yourself a dose of antioxidant that “shows great promise in fighting cancer, lowering blood pressure, slowing age-related memory loss, and even reducing the negative effects of eating high-sugar and high-fat foods” (quote from the book).

But you can read the book yourself: it’s available at Vashon Bookshop or through Amazon (print or ebook). And you can see some of the plants this summer, as her garden will be on the VAA Garden Tour. For the rest of this blog, I’m going to list some foods mentioned in her hand-out “Recommended Varieties of Phytonutrient-rich Fruits and Vegetables for Vashon Island” so you can look out for them in the seed catalogs speeding your way in the mail. 


Alliums: Cancer-killing properties. Scallions (green onions) have 140x more phytonutrients than white onions, garlic 12x, shallots six times more. If you need a bulbing onion, choose a red onion (she has grown ‘Red Globe’). The greens of scallions, green onions, chives and asian garlic chives are packed with phytonutrients.

Carrots: All were once purple until Dutch breeders, seeking to honor their country’s saviours the House of Orange, crossed a yellow carrot with a purple to get the now-dominant color. Look for ‘All Purple’ or ‘Cosmic Purple.’

Corn: ‘Ruby Queen’ with its red kernels is relatively rich in anthocyanins. Available only from Burpee so far, our local Thriftway sold ‘Ruby Queen’ ears last year. 

Cauliflower:  purple varieties like “Graffiti’ have 2.5x more antioxidents than white cauliflower—and is SOOO beautiful!

Broccoli: ‘Purple Sprouting’, typically an over-wintering broccoli, is rich in anthocyanins and anti-cancer glucosinolates.

Greens: Arugula and dandelion greens are full of glucosinolates. Red- or bronze-tinted leaves of lettuce have developed anthocyanins that protect the leaves—and you the eater of those leaves—from sun damage.

Potatoes: In order, ‘All-Blue’, ‘Purple Peruvian’, ‘French Fingering’ and ‘Mountain Rose.’

Tomatoes: ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ is a flavor-packed rambler with nearly all the nutrients of the wild tomato; ‘Juliet’, a sweet pear-shaped, highly productive cherry, is nearly as nutritious. You’ll find the ‘Indigo” series of blue-black skinned tomatoes in all the catalogs this year.


Apples: No coincidence that an apple resistant to scab and other surface diseases, like ‘Liberty’ has protective nutrients loaded into its skin. Jo also grows ‘Bramley’s Seedling’, ‘Golden Russet’ and ‘Northern Spy.”

Blackberry: ‘Wild Treasure’ is a cross between a wild trailing and an upright. Prolific and thornless, she hopes it becomes a Vashon icon.

Blueberry: Found to be highly nutritious: ‘Elliot’, ‘Rancocas’ and ‘Rubel.’

Raspberry: ‘Caroline’ is the only raspberry that has shown to reduce breast cancer in animals.

Strawberry: ‘Ovation’ has twice the antioxidant protection of other varieties. Two crops a season.

These recommendations came out of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies published in juried scientific and medical journals— “the gold standard of scientific testing,” she told the crowd. With these plants, you can grow yourself a more health-giving garden in 2014. If you don’t get the seeds yourself, watch for some of these varieties grown by the Vashon Garden Club to be offered at their Mother’s Day Sales in early May 2014.

gardens on the south end of Vashon Island, on a sandy hilltop overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. "Garden On, Vashon" shares what the Island has to teach us about gardening HERE—from making soils to sowing seeds to raising plants to harvest, cooking, preserving, and designing new ways to cultivate your little chunk of Vashon Island. To contact me, email, or leave a comment.

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