3 Easy Ways To Cook Plantain, The Spinach-Like ‘Survival Weed’

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3 Ways To Cook Plantain, The Spinach-Like 'Survival Weed'

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I grew up in Chicago and remember seeing plantain growing in yards and parkways along city streets. What always caught my eye were the slender seed stalks emerging from a nest of green leaves. I had no idea they were edible, but have harvested them frequently since then.

Both plantain leaves and the seedy stalks can be eaten, and they contain a surprising number of nutrients on a par with spinach and other leafy green vegetables like kale and collard greens. Plantains have healthy doses of vitamins K, A and C, in addition to iron and fiber.

Harvesting Plantain

Plantain leaves can be easily snipped from the plants with a pair of scissors. The leaf stems are actually a bit fibrous, so cut close to the base of the leaf. The leaves are best when harvested before the tall 4- to 6-inch seed stalk emerges. Much like dandelions, the leaves of plantain become a bit bitter once the seed stalks emerge.

The seed stalks also can be eaten, and there are a few ways of preparing both the leaves and the stalks.

Cooking Plantain

A general rule of thumb for cooking plantain is to immerse the leaves or the stems in boiling water for 4 minutes, and then immediately immerse them into a bowl of ice water. This will shock the leaves or stems to stop the cooking process and fix their deep, green color. When plantains are overcooked they tend to disintegrate, so stay close to the 4-minute rule.

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This initial boiling step will not only tenderize the plant but will help to dilute any bitterness in the more mature leaves. Once you have done this initial step you can go into a variety of directions with further preparation and recipes. It’s not absolutely necessary to do this blanching step. Young, tender leaves can be washed and tossed into a green salad, served with any dressing you prefer.

3 Ways To Cook Plantain, The Spinach-Like 'Survival Weed'

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Here are three recipes:

1. Sautéing Plantain

I’ll often follow the blanching step in the boiling water with a quick sauté. I’ll drain the plantains and then drop a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil in the pan, and toss the plantains around over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes. They make a great side dish, and you can top them with anything from pine nuts to bacon bits.

The seed stalks can be sautéed the same way, and when stacked on a plate have the appearance and a bit of the flavor profile of asparagus. The seeds also can be stripped from the stalks and used as a garnish on everything from salads to mashed potatoes.

2. Plantain Soup

In its simplest form, plantain soup includes strips of plantain leaves boiled in a broth for 4 minutes. I’ll usually add two cup of plantain leaves cut into julienne strips about a 1/4-inch wide and bring 4 cups of chicken broth or beef broth to a boil before adding the plantain leaves. You can add other ingredients to the broth, from noodles to vegetables or even chunks of chicken or strips of beef or venison. Add the noodles or meat or other vegetables to the pot first, and add the plantains to the broth 5 minutes later and cook for an additional 4 minutes.

3. Plantain ‘Goma Ae’

I lived and worked in Asia for two years and spent about 4 months living in Japan. It was there that I first encountered Goma Ae. It’s basically boiled spinach that is squeezed dry after boiling and then tossed in a mixture of sesame seed oil and soy sauce before being shaped into a cube about the size of an ice cube. It’s then sprinkled with a little more sauce and sesame seeds and served cold.

To make the plantain version of Goma Ae, take 2 cups of plantain leaves and boil them in water for 4 minutes. Shock the leaves in ice water and then squeeze out as much water as you can. Mix 2 tablespoons of sesame seed oil with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and toss the leaves in the sauce. Form the leaves into cubes with your fingers; you should get about 4 cubes in total from 2 cups of leaves. Drizzle any remaining sauce over each and sprinkle with sesame seeds. This is the plantain recipe I make most often, and it goes great with any meal. If you want more cubes just double or triple the recipe.

How do you eat plantain? Do you have any other advice? Share your tips in the section below:

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Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

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Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

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From Russia across Europe to the United Kingdom, stinging nettles are enjoyed in soups, stews and as an ingredient in everything from pasta to pesto. The nettles also make an excellent tea, but regardless of the recipe you need to apply a bit of caution and common sense when harvesting and preparing stinging nettles.

Of course, stinging nettles also are found in yards and fields throughout the United States and North America.

It’s hard for many people in North America to understand the popularity of stinging nettles in Europe. There are a few good reasons why Europeans consider them a regular part of their diet:

  • Stinging nettles can be harvested in early spring, long before other green, leafy vegetables show up.
  • They grow like weeds and grow just about anywhere, making them easy to find, and they’re free.
  • They are commonly found in grocery stores and markets in Europe, but rarely if ever in grocery stores in the US.
  • They are a long-established part of European culinary traditions and culture.

Here’s the point: Don’t be put off by the name. They can be incorporated easily into many recipes if handled and prepared properly.

Once the leaves of a stinging nettle have been exposed to hot liquid for a couple of minutes or finely chopped in a food processor, the needles and stinging chemicals are neutralized and they’re safe to eat. They are often used as a substitute for spinach, and, in fact, have a taste similar to spinach with cucumber flavor notes. There are numerous vitamins in them, from vitamin A to vitamin C to vitamin K. (In fact, they have more vitamin A, fiber, iron, calcium and magnesium than broccoli – although broccoli does have more vitamin C). Nettles have a surprising 25 percent protein content, and they’re known to be a natural blood thinner and diuretic. They’re also high in iron and have a similar nutritional profile to other green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.

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Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

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So, what makes a stinging nettle sting? The leaves, leaf buds and parts of the stem on a stinging nettle are lined with small, hollow filaments that contain a variety of chemical compounds, including formic acid. When the filaments come in contact with the skin, they break off like tiny needles and cause a stinging, burning sensation. That’s why the standard recommendation of harvesting include gloves, long sleeves and pants. Scissors are usually used to trim the leaves and leaf buds from the plant, and they are typically collected in plastic bags.

Recognizing Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles have a unique, heart-shaped leaf with serrations along the leaf edge. They are typically a deep green and are often harvested in the spring and early summer. Once they flower, they develop some hard deposits that some believe will irritate the urinary tract. If in doubt about a plant, you can always run your finger along a leaf from the tip to leaf stem. If it stings, you’ve found a stinging nettle. Hopefully you only have to do this once or twice as you familiarize yourself with the plant.

Cures for a Sting

It’s inevitable that you’ll get stung if you regularly collect stinging nettles. Common remedies include the external application of apple cider vinegar, a paste of baking soda and water, over-the-counter sprays like Bactine or Solarcaine, aloe vera, ice cubes and cold water.

Initial Prep for Stinging Nettles

Most recipes for stinging nettles recommend an initial preparation step that involves immersing the nettle leaves in lightly boiling water, broth or sautéed in butter or oil for at least 2 minutes up to 5 minutes.  The leaves are then squeezed dry for addition to some recipes, or left in the broth for a soup or stew.  Some people simply add the raw nettles to a food processor but I prefer blanching them for at least 2 minutes before any food-processor step.

Countless recipes for stinging nettles can be found on the Internet, and we’ll feature some of them here, but a basic rule of thumb is that any green, leafy vegetable or herb can be substituted with the leaves of the stinging nettle. Examples include replacement of basil with stinging nettles leaves in a pesto, or any recipe that calls for collard greens, kale, spinach, mustard greens and others. You can even make a green pasta with a processed paste of nettles leaves and flour. What’s important is to precede any usage of nettles with the initial preparation step in gently boiling water or hot oil.

Nettle Pesto

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup of blanched nettle leaves
  • ½ cup of nuts (pine nuts or your choice or mixed nuts)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper
  • ¾ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup of olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

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Add all of the ingredients except the olive oil to a food processor and pulse until the nettles are a smooth paste. Drizzle the olive oil into the processor while it’s running. You can add more oil to the consistency you like. Use to top pasta or any other dish that calls for pesto.

Nettle Soup with Noodles

(Makes four one cup servings)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 carrots sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 cups of fresh, raw nettles
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup of rotini or other spoon-sized noodles

DIRECTIONS:

Sauté the onion and carrots in a saucepan in the olive oil for about three minutes or until the onions are translucent. In a separate sauce pan, bring water to a boil and cook the noodles. Deglaze the carrots and onions in the other pan with the chicken broth and bring to a gentle boil. Add the fresh nettle leaves and simmer for four minutes. Strain the noodles and add to the soup broth. Serve with crusty bread.

Nettle Greens with Bacon

(Serves 4)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 4 cups of water
  • 6 cups of fresh nettle leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Fry the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Reserve the bacon drippings in the frying pan. While frying the bacon, bring four cups of water to a boil and add the nettle leaves and cook at a gentle boil for four to six minutes. Drain the leaves and try to press out some of the moisture and toss in the warm bacon drippings. Serve on a platter and sprinkle crumbled bacon over the top.

If you’ve never tried stinging nettles before, this may be the year to give them a try.

Do you eat stinging nettles? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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The 7 Healthiest Vegetables You Can Plant In The Garden This Year

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The 7 Most Nutritionally-Dense Vegetables You Can Plant In The Garden This Year

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If you are looking to become more self-sufficient while boosting your nutrition at the same time, there is no better choice than with a home vegetable garden.

Homegrown veggies are superior to store-bought veggies in terms of freshness, taste and nutrition. When you add in their lower cost, and the pride you feel in growing your own food, it is a no-brainer. Plus, many veggies are easy to grow and do not require large amounts of space.

It makes sense that fresh-picked vegetables taste better than store-bought veggies, but why are they more nutritious? It has to do with that freshness. Supermarket produce usually has traveled many miles over a period of a few days to even a few weeks to get to your store. That long trip from farm to table allows nutritional content to degrade, especially if the vegetables have been exposed to heat. According to nutritionists, temperature is the top factor in keeping fruits and vegetables in the best condition.

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The 7 Most Nutritionally-Dense Vegetables You Can Plant In The Garden This YearIf you are looking to pack the biggest nutritional punch that you can with your garden this year, here is a list of seven veggies – based on government nutritional data (see chart) — that are the healthiest you can grow.

1. Kale – You’ve probably read about all the health benefits of this superfood, but did you know it was easy to grow, too? It likes sunny, cool conditions of the spring and fall and soil that has a neutral to slightly alkaline pH.

Kale leaves are rich in fiber, iron, vitamins A, K and C, and new studies link kale to lowered LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Add it to salads, soups and stews for its hearty taste and nutrition.

2. Spinach – This super healthy vegetable does well in spring, fall and even winter in some locations. Leaves will turn bitter tasting, so it is a good idea to harvest them promptly.

Spinach contains the antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that are good for eye health and for digestion. Spinach also is high in iron, calcium and vitamins A, B and C.

3. Collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens — You can mix these greens — which are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants — or eat them separately. A Harvard University study concluded that people who regularly consume dark green, leafy vegetables are about 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Eating these greens may also protect against certain types of cancers, according to studies by the American Institute for Cancer Research.

These greens are hardy in the garden. They don’t need much space, and they can thrive in partial sunlight.

The 7 Most Nutritionally-Dense Vegetables You Can Plant In The Garden This Year

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4. Carrots – You probably grew up hearing that eating carrots was good for your eyes. It’s true. Carrots are loaded with beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A that gives carrots their orange color and helps the retina and other parts of the eye to remain healthy. This root vegetable, which is at its most nutritious in its raw state, also is a good source of fiber, antioxidant agents, vitamins C, K and B8, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, potassium, manganese and copper. Bugs Bunny was definitely on to something!

Carrots grow best in the cool temperatures of early spring and late fall. They can do well in small spaces and do not mind a little shade.

5. Red bell pepper – High in nutrition and low in calories, red bell peppers taste great raw in salads or cooked in pasta dishes. One medium pepper can provide 150 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C. At only 32 calories, that’s quite a boost. Red bell peppers also help combat atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease.

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Red bells come in many different varieties. They prefer full sun and soil of at least 65 degrees that drains well. As the plants grow, you may need to stake them, depending on the size of the peppers you are growing.

6. Bok choy – One of my new go-to-favorites, bok choy (aka Chinese white cabbage) is loaded with more beta-carotene and vitamin A than any other type of cabbage. It also contains vitamins C and K, potassium, magnesium and manganese. Additionally, the Harvard School of Public Health calls bok choy a better source of calcium than dairy products.

The 7 Healthiest Vegetables You Can Plant In The Garden

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Bok choy is low in calories – one cup contains about 20 calories – yet its high fiber content will help you feel full. You can use bok choy in place of other cabbages or eat it raw.

Bok choy requires rich, loose soil, and it will need fertilization not long after planting.

7. Sweet Potatoes – Many nutritionists place sweet potatoes first in their list of healthy veggies. They contain high amounts of vitamins B6, C and D, iron and magnesium.

Unlike other types of potatoes, sweet potatoes prefer hot weather, so they grow best in the South. If you live in a colder climate, you can have success with raised beds with covers. Either way, sweet potatoes like sandy soil and plenty of sunshine.

According to 2015 research by the National Gardening Association, 35 percent of all American households are growing food either in a home garden or in a community garden. This percentage is an overall increase of 17 percent over the last five years.

Another advantage of growing your own vegetables is that you avoid the dangers of chemicals. When you plant and care for your own garden vegetables, you know exactly what has been sprayed – or has not sprayed – on them.

What are your favorite healthy vegetables? Share your advice in the section below:

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4 Frost-Hardy, Early Spring Vegetables You Can Plant In The Ground Right Now

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4 Frost-Hardy, Early Spring Vegetables You Can Plant In The Ground Right Now

Lettuce. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

While it may be a few weeks for much of the country before we can plant any warm-season crops like tomatoes, beans and peppers, we can start planning cool-season crops right now.

Cool-season crops are those plants that can take a bit of frost and don’t do well in hot weather. These plants are typically done growing by June, just when the warm-season crops are beginning to take off. Examples of cool-season crops include lettuce, broccoli, radishes, turnips, carrots and onions.

For these cool-season crops, you should plant them as soon as the soil is workable.

1. Chives. This plant is a perennial herb that can be harvested as soon as the leaves appear in early spring. The leaves impart the classic chives flavor, but the edible late spring blooms taste more like onions. Chives do well in containers and also in perennial garden beds.

Plants can be propagated by seed or by division, and planted 8-12 inches apart. They are great for attracting birds and bees, are deer resistant, and make a great low-maintenance garden plant.

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Culinary uses for chives include salads, used in egg dishes, as a garnish in cream soups, and, of course, on baked potatoes.

2. Spinach. Spinach is packed with essential nutrients like iron, calcium, protein and beta-carotene.

4 Frost-Hardy, Early Spring Vegetables You Can Plant In The Ground Right Now

Spinach. Image source: Pixabay.com

Spinach is easy to grow, and if you place it in shade, you may be able to keep it growing throughout the summer months. Where winters aren’t very harsh, spinach can be grown in late fall to allow for harvesting early in the spring, and it can also be overwintered in a cold frame. It can be grown both in partial sun and in full sun.

The small baby leaves can be harvested for salads 20-30 days after sowing, and the larger leaves can continue to be harvested until the hot weather leads to bolting. The larger leaves are quite tasty when briefly sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Whole spinach plants can be harvested 25-50 days after seeding.

Propagate spinach by direct seeding as soon as the soil is workable, about 4-6 weeks prior to the last frost date.

3. Lettuce. Lettuce comes in a wide variety of colors, shapes and flavors, and if you start growing your own, you’ll likely develop your favorites. Growing your own lettuce produces much fresher and tastier lettuce than you typically can purchase in grocery stores. Lettuce is a plant that really does best in cool weather, and one that bolts and tastes bitter when it gets too hot. You can find a number of more heat-tolerant varieties on the market. It also grows successfully in containers, as it does not require much space to grow.

Directly seed lettuce seeds as soon as the soil can be worked, at spaces of 2-12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Harvest can be extended by seeding every three weeks until late spring, and then again in late summer for a fall harvest.

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Warning: Some lettuce varieties cannot tolerate hard frosts. Choose your varieties wisely. Romaine can tolerate a light frost but not a hard one.

4. Kale. A nutritional power green, kale seems to be all the rage these days. Kale bestows many health benefits to those who consume it, including iron, vitamin K, antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavonoids, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium and anti-inflammatory properties. Kale can be used as a garnish and added to salads, stir-fries, steamed vegetable dishes, soups and stews. The flavor and the color of kale are improved when the weather is cool and frosty.

Kale can be propagated from seed and grown in partial sun or in full sun. Be sure to plant kale plants at least 12-36 inches apart from one another.

Baby kale greens can be picked 20-30 days after seeding, and the mature leaves can be harvested 30-40 days later. Individual leaves can be selectively harvested and the plant will continue to produce more of them. Older leaves can be cooked and used in recipes.

What would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:

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How to Dehydrate Spinach

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If you purchase fresh produce in bulk it can be sometimes be hard to eat it all before it goes bad. Learn how to dehydrate spinach and always have a supply | PreparednessMama

…and why you should. We are trying to eat healthier at our house by having a salad every day at lunch. We are also trying to do this on a budget, which can sometimes be problematic. I’m sure you’ve noticed that fresh, organic produce just costs more. I get around that by purchasing our food in as big […]

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5 Super-Fast Indoor Vegetables You Can Grow In About A Month

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5 Super-Fast Indoor Vegetables You Can Grow In About A Month

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Winter gardening is good for the mind. It keeps us thinking and learning new things, which helps our brains stay alert, healthy and young.

But gardening can be hard when there is a foot of snow covering the garden. Have you ever thought about growing vegetables indoors? Indoor gardening helps us grow fresh produce until our outdoor gardens are ready to be used again. Incredibly, there actually are vegetables you can grow and eat within about a month.

Let’s take a look at five quick-growing vegetables that thrive indoors.

Setting up for Indoor Vegetables

Vegetables simply need air, nutrients, water and light. Windows are a perfect place to sit your vegetables, especially in south-facing window, although grow lights can be beneficial if you don’t have the right set-up. During the winter, indoor vegetables need at least five to six hours of sun, as well as good quality air circulation. Put your vegetables in pots, or have a mini-garden.

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Mini-gardens can be made from large containers with proper drainage. Each vegetable will need a space of about four inches. Plastic dishes and pans have worked for many. Growing flats also works for indoor gardening. When using pots or containers, make sure the pots drain well so your vegetables don’t become waterlogged.

Most potting soils works well, but look to see what kind of soil your vegetables do the best in. Remember to use potting soil and not gardening soil. Gardening soil often gets packed down in containers.

Note: Do not overwater, but at the same time, don’t underwater. Once they grow, harvest from your plants often to encourage regrowth. Stay away from drafts.

Which Vegetables Should You Try?

You can grow pretty much any vegetable, but if you are pressed for time, or don’t like waiting months during winter before tasting your produce, you may want to take a look at the quick-growing varieties. (Baby greens are quick and easy to grow. They add color and a fresh taste to the usual winter dishes.)

Here are five vegetables you will be able to enjoy within about a month.

1. Radishes. This vegetable is known to be one of, if not THE, fastest growing vegetable. Radishes only take 25 to 30 days to grow after being planted. They are fresh and colorful, adding a little zip to salads, or even to use as a healthy snack.

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Radishes take up very little space and are very convenient. They come in an endless list of varieties and colors.

5 Super-Fast Indoor Vegetables You Can Grow In About A Month

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2. Green onions. The stalks of green onions can be harvested after only three or four weeks. Most onion plants can take around six months to fully mature, but green onions are an exception. They take up little space indoors, and can frequently be used for cooking. They like rich soil, often a mix of compost and potting soil.

3. Lettuce. Lettuce is easy to grow indoors, and does especially well when grown in containers. This vegetable can handle its seeds being sown close together and still grow well. Most leafy lettuces, especially romaine, can grow to the harvesting stage in about 30 days. Let the leaves grow to about three inches before cutting to eat.

4. Baby carrots. Keep in mind: These are baby carrots, not regular carrots. Baby carrots are quick to grow. They take up to 30 days to mature, where other regular varieties can take 50 or more days. You can sprinkle the seeds on the top of the soil and moisten the surface. You can thin out the seedlings to the amount you want when you see the growth. They love the sun.

5. Baby spinach. This plant grows very similar to lettuce. It doesn’t require a lot of space to thrive, either. Spinach only takes four weeks to grow once planted. It is super healthy, and adds color and distinct flavor to any dish. Spinach can be used in salads, sandwiches, omelettes and other endless dishes.

Growing your own winter vegetables is a healthy and entertaining way to spend your winter. You will know where your fresh produce is coming from and you can have their freshness throughout the colder months. There is no need to suffer the winter “blahs” or boring, plain dishes. So try your hand at these five indoor winter vegetables you can grow in a month.

Related:

The Right Way (And Wrong Way) To Garden Indoors With Grow Lights

What vegetables would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below:

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