"Growing your own veggies at home can lower food costs, increase your fresh food consumption and boost your nutrient intake," says Melissa Hughes, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Sharp Rees-Stealy Center for Health Management. "Vine-ripened veggies have more nutrients than those picked early and forced to ripen during transportation to your local grocery store."
Beyond nutritional benefits, gardening can improve your mental and physical health, too. Planting, digging and pulling weeds is good exercise — and gardening is a natural stress reliever. Plus, there's nothing better than soaking in sunshine and getting in touch with nature.
Want to get growing? These five veggies are tasty, easy to plant and grow — and perfect for the current SoCal season*:
1. BroccoliBest time to plant: September or October.
This nutritional powerhouse loves to grow in cooler temperatures, but still needs plenty of sunlight. Broccoli needs space, so it's not ideal for smaller gardens. Space your plants 12 to 24 inches apart, with 36 inches between each row.
Most broccoli is heat-tolerant, but still needs regular watering. Take care when watering not to get the broccoli heads wet, as it can cause rotting. Harvest broccoli when the buds of the head are firm and tight, just before they flower.
Fun fact: You may think bananas win the potassium game, but broccoli beats it. A surprise source of potassium, one cup of broccoli contains 460 milligrams.
Cool recipe: Meatball sheet pan roast
2. CarrotsBest time to plant: Anytime.
Carrots hate being transplanted, so it's best to sow them right where they'll grow. They also prefer loose, light soil, so make sure your garden is free of stones and well turned over.
Water regularly and clear any weeds, as carrots need all the soil and nutrients around them. Knowing when to pick your carrots can be tricky, as we can't see them — and carrot varieties have different harvesting rules. Your best bet is to consult the seed packet, and pull the carrots at the recommended time. However, most carrots are ready when the shoulders are 1/2- to 3/4-inch in diameter.
Fun fact: Steamed carrots are a great smoothie ingredient. They add fiber and volume without boosting the calorie count.
Cool recipe: Lemongrass chicken banh mi bowl
3. Brussels sproutsBest time to plant: September or October.
Brussels sprouts are part of the cabbage family, which includes kale, collards and broccoli. They are susceptible to soil-borne diseases, so don't grow Brussels sprouts where you've grown other cabbage varieties in the past.
Sow seeds 4 inches apart in rows, and keep the crop continuously watered. Dry soil will cause the sprouts to shrivel, failing to develop. Brussels sprouts take a long time to grow, and usually ripen from the ground up after 80 to 90 days. When the sprouts are 1 to 2 inches in diameter, snip them off the plant, starting at the bottom and working upward.
Fun fact: Brussels sprouts are one of many foods that boost heart health. They are rich in fiber, which can help lower your cholesterol.
Cool recipe: Balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts with grapes and figs
4. BeetsBest time to plant: Anytime.
Want a bigger bang for your buck? Beets are a root vegetable that come in a variety of colors, and also have leafy greens. Though small, beets like room to grow, so leave 4 inches between seeds. Keep them well-watered, and consider using mulch to keep in the moisture.
It takes beets between 50 and 70 days to mature, but you can pull them when they reach your preferred size. Know that the larger the beet, the tougher and woodier it will be — so harvest depending upon how you'll use them. But if the greens have grown higher than 6 inches, you've waited too long.
Fun fact: Don't forget beets when dying Easter eggs. They are a great DIY option when you're looking for a natural egg dye.
Cool recipe: Breakfast avocado toast
5. LeeksBest time to plant: September or October.
Leeks need lots of sun, yet their white, underground stems need darkness. To achieve this, sow seeds 6 inches apart, and 8 inches deep. As your leeks grow, mound up the earth around them to keep the stems from sun exposure.
Water leeks regularly until the plants are established. After that, they require an inch of water a week. Begin pulling the leeks when the stalks are about an inch across. If you're eager to add leeks to a recipe, you can cut leaves before the plant is ready to harvest — just know that cutting too many leaves will stunt the plant.
Fun fact: While many recipes call for just the white and light green parts of the leek, the tough, green stems are great for making (or adding flavor to) stock.
Cool recipe: Hearty North African bean stew
*Dates are based on seed planting. When buying plants, adjust for age (about 1 to 2 months).