One thing you may have noticed about a plant-based diet – it’s expensive! Growing your own Keto garden and these five low-carb vegetables can save money while providing you with fresh, local produce for your family. After all, you can’t get more local and fresh than your own backyard! Tips for growing in container-growing, too, for you small space gardeners.
Five Low-Carb Vegetables to Grow
There are a lot of Keto diet approved vegetables we could discuss as we find the best low-carb vegetables to grow, but we’re going to stick with just five. If you’re new to growing your own food, I don’t want to overwhelm you. If you’re a seasoned gardener, you may already be familiar with these crops but are getting used to thinking of them as low-carb vegetables for your new eating plans.
The five low-carb vegetables we’ll be covering here are:
- Swiss Chard
Some of these low-carb vegetables you may never have even heard of yet. Don’t worry; these crops are all relatively easy to grow and tasty to eat.
The veggies listed above are grown as annual veggies – meaning the are planted, fruit and complete their life cycle in one growing season. If you’re looking for perennial veggies – those that produce year after year – please read this article on Edible Perennial Plants from Schneider Peeps. Not all are considered low carb, but there are many fine choices here – including herbs!
The Small Space Gardener
If you have limited space and/or prefer to grow in pots, you’re in luck! These low-carb vegetables are simple to grow in containers. Both Kholrabi and tomatoes will require the correct size container, but that can be said of all vegetables grown in pots.
PLEASE NOTE that all of these low-carb vegetables can be planted directly into your garden beds. To learn more about growing in garden beds, please click here. However, we’ve included container size information for those growing in pots.
To help you get your ducks in a row when it comes to container gardening (including growing indoors), we share this snippet from our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead (which has an entire section on growing vegetables in pots):
Grow Food in Pots
To grow food in pots you MUST follow the rules of container growing, even indoors, which include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Each food producing plant must have 6-8 hours of light per day. For example: you may have one spot on your patio or in your bedroom that gets that much light so you place the plant there, turning it once a day to expose both sides to the same amount of sun.
- Each plant must be fed according to recommendations for that plant. For example: a tomato will usually need to be fed once a month during production, depending on what kind of food you choose to use. Food producing plants are typically heavy feeders themselves—think of how hungry a pregnant woman is. Since potted vegetables aren’t planted in the garden, their roots are limited in food and water to what you provide in their container.
- Each plant must be given adequate water for its own growing requirements. For example: tomatoes like a long drink that dries out in between watering sessions; but greens like to stay evenly moist.
- Each plant must be provided the correct temperature. For example: tomatoes really do love some heat to ripen well and quickly and do not tolerate frost.
- Air circulation must be maintained and fresh air must be introduced from time to time. For example: don’t overcrowd your plants in their pots; this increases the chance that you might avoid fungus and bacteria problems. Be sure to open a window now and then.
To learn more, including how to plant herbs, cook from scratch, tend livestock in small spaces and even how to grow your homestead family and finances, be sure to get your own copy of The Do It Yourself Homestead. To learn more, click below:
Low-Carb Vegetable #1 – Spinach and New Zealand Spinach
Leaf Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) – the most common type of spinach and the one you see in the store. This crop does best in cool weather, so plant it in the spring and fall gardens. Plant New Zealand Spinach (below) in the summer garden. Harvest leaves often by pinching them off or cutting with scissors. To eat, rinse and wilt or saute over low heat. Both varieties can easily be planted from seed.
Pot size: Any container you have on hand will work as long as it’s 6-8″ deep. Plants should be 3-5″ apart while growing.
Sun: Full sun except in heat when it prefers some shade.
Spinach, like leafy greens of most types, is a cut-and-come-again crop. Cut a few leaves from each plant every day and the plant will reward you by growing more. Never take more than one third of the plant at any time.
Watch for slugs and snails with this crop. Rabbits can cause devastation, too, if they’re wild in your area.
New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes) – Also known as Botany Bay spinach, this tender perennial green is grown as an annual due to its sensitivity to frost. The plants grow vigorously and produce seed easily, meaning it will reseed quite often on its own. New Zealand spinach isn’t intimidated by heat and pests rarely bother it.
The texture of New Zealand spinach is completely different from the spinach you’re probably used to, Spinacia oleracea. New Zealand spinach is a bit rough on the surface and the dark, green leaves have a slight rubbery texture and a triangular shape. The plant has a cascading growth habit in pots, meaning it will spread over the edge of your container.
Like true spinach, New Zealand spinach is digested best after it’s been rinsed and wilted under low heat. For the mildest flavor, pick young leaves. Dry the leaves and powder to add to smoothies, homemade pastas and soups.
Pot size: A five gallon pot will hold one to two plants.
Sun: 6-8 hours, but it can take partial shade.
New Zealand Spinach is drought tolerant, although the leaves won’t be as tender if they’re dehydrated. For best results, keep the soil mulched and damp. Unlike true spinach, New Zealand spinach is not frost tolerant and must be planted when the temperature is at least 65 degrees. However, true spinach won’t perform well in the warmest months of the year, unlike New Zealand spinach. To stay in spinach all year round, plant true spinach in the early spring and late fall; alternate with New Zealand spinach in the late spring and summer garden. In areas with intense summer heat, provide some late afternoon shade for your New Zealand spinach.
You can go ahead and direct sow your seed right into a pot; be prepared for it to happily cascade over the sides of containers and troughs with its sprawling growth habit.
Low-Carb Vegetable #2 – Radish
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) – I don’t like radishes and I can’t make myself like them no matter how many varieties I try. So why do we grow them?
- they’re a great low-carb vegetable
- they grow so easily and quickly from seed
- neighbors and livestock love them
- because they can be direct sown into the garden or pot
And because they’re absolutely gorgeous. So many colors, kinds and shapes. The French breakfast radishes have been the most palatable at our house but taste is such a relative thing that I suggest you try whatever variety sticks out to you and your family.
Because radishes are so small, they are particularly well suited to container growing as long as there’s space to develop the bulbous radish beneath the surface of the soil.
Radishes are great crops for inter-sowing. Inter-sowing is the practice of planting quickly maturing plants alongside slower producing plants so that by the time the slower paced veggies are ready for more space, the quicker ones have already been harvested. When you’re growing in pots, you want to be sure to use all of your space as best you can.
Pot size: Really anything will work as long as it’s deep enough to accommodate the length of the variety you’re growing. Radishes can be inter- and under-planted with many veggies. You can plant them alongside slower growing veggies like beets and they’ll be ready to harvest before the beets get big enough to be annoyed by the closeness of the radishes. You should plan for 2-3″ of space around each radish for optimal results.
Sun: 6-8 hours but can take partial shade.
Radishes are cool season vegetables that produce smaller, sweeter globes in the spring and larger, stronger flavored globes in the fall. There are early and late season varieties so feel free to try several. Since radishes develop so quickly, it’s important to harvest them right when they’re ready to avoid them becoming pithy and losing flavor.
Radishes don’t much care for high temperatures so plan to plant them in the spring and fall, missing the intense heat of summer unless you’re growing them in the shade of another plant. Make sure your containers don’t over-heat or dry out because the radishes won’t thank you for that.
Low-Carb Vegetable #3 – Swiss Chard
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) is a good substitute for celery in the beginner Keto Diet garden. Celery is also a low-carb vegetable but it’s a little trickier to grow. Start with gorgeous Swiss Chard and you’ll be happy you did. The lower half of each stalk resembles celery and can be used as such; the leafy tops are tasty raw in salads, as well as sauteed or baked. It comes in a variety of colors and is simple to grow from seed.
Pot Size: Any container 4-6″ inches deep will work for Swiss Chard, though you’ll need the plants to be at least a foot apart for good air circulation. Swiss chard is very pretty and can be planted with flowers and herbs and put on display.
Sun: 6-8 hours of sun, though it can take partial shade.
Swiss chard doesn’t ship well, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see it outside of the farmer’s markets and your own backyard. It’s a rare green that is both heat and cold tolerant. It doesn’t bolt (go to seed and turn bitter) in the summer garden as quickly as something like arugula (another low-carb vegetable you can grow), but it can also take some light frost in the spring and fall garden. Harvest the outer leaves regularly and it will continue to produce.
Low-Carb Vegetable #4 – Kholrabi
Kholrabi (Brassica oleracea) is very similar in growth habit to turnips and even beets and, like them, prefers cooler weather. It is a root vegetable with a strong, turnip-like flavor. Kholrabi is a low-carb vegetable substitute for potatoes as it can be boiled and mashed in the same way as everyone’s favorite comfort carb. It is not as mild in flavor as potato, though, and can benefit from being mixed with cauliflower if mashed is how you prefer to eat them.
Harvest kohlrabi when the first stem is about an inch in diameter for the mildest flavor. The bigger they get, the tougher and more bitter they become.
Pot Size: Any container 6-8″ in depth. Space each plant 3-5″ apart.
Sun: Full sun (6-8 hours), but protect from heat.
As with all the aforementioned crops, you can learn to start kohlrabi seeds indoors and transplant them outside when the weather is just right. Learning to start seeds indoors on your own can be a big step in learning to produce your own food, but it will save you time and money once you learn how to do it well. Like anything, it just takes practice and you CAN learn to do it.
To learn to start your own seeds indoor, please visit this post from Tenth Acre Farm.
You can also access a Seed Starting Schedule from Grow a Good Life here.
Family Food Garden can help you troubleshoot any problems that might come up – click here.
Low-Carb Vegetable #5 – Tomatoes
Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) – Everyone’s favorite veggie!
Tomatoes are perennials in their native habitat which is why their root systems are so strong and why, at the end of the season, you give yourself a hernia pulling them out of the ground or even a container. This also results in them being harder to kill than, say, a cucumber. Tomatoes are also in-credibly satisfying to grow—there are hundreds of different shapes, sizes and colors to choose from. If you have a heated greenhouse or live where winter temperatures are warm, you can grow the same tomato plant indefinitely, but most of us grow them as annuals due to their high sensitivity to frost.
Pot size: Determinate varieties (plus their support) will fit in an 18 inch pot; an indeterminate tomato (plus its support) will fit into a 24 inch pot.
Sun: 6-10 hours or full sun.
If you want to harvest tomatoes from the garden as soon as possible, an early variety that produces well for me is Early Girl. It’s not the tastiest tomato around but at that time of year I’m so starved for fresh tomatoes, anything tastes fabulous. (I usually get tomatoes by mid-July in zone 5 with that one). Two favorite mid- to late-season ripeners are Cherokee Purple (heirloom) and Jet Star (hybrid). I’ve grown literally dozens of tomato varieties and have found something to love about each one so don’t be afraid to experiment.
You can also experiment with producing tomatoes in grow bags with Attainable Sustainable – please click here.
Do you have a favorite low-carb vegetable that I missed that you’d like to learn to grow? Just leave a comment and we’ll get you going.
Determinate Vs. Indeterminate Tomato
Determinate tomatoes will grow to a certain height and then begin to produce tomatoes. Typically, determinate tomatoes ripen all at once (or close to it). For this reason, home preservers will often prefer determinate tomatoes so that they can plan on a large harvest all at once to put up for the year.
Indeterminate tomatoes will, in some measure, continue to vine and grow throughout the season – often producing many offshoots and running vines that take off in various directions. The vines will produce tomatoes all season and ripen them at varying times during the growing season. Indeterminate tomatoes are great for the backyard grower to stay in tomatoes all season.
Indeterminate tomatoes can often benefit from pruning, however, so that they produce fruit as well as vine. They’re sort of like a hyperactive kid if they don’t get pruned at least a few times. To learn how to prune indeterminate tomato vines and whether or not you should, please click here to read this article from Northern Homestead.
Get Your Free Sample
If you’re interested in learning more about the self-sufficient lifestyle explained in The Do It Yourself Homestead, be sure to email me for a free sample from the book. Let me know what topics are of most interest to you – healthy cooking, small livestock, gardening, etc., and I’ll get you set up.
Just email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com.
Watercolor cover graphic gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user.