Planning a Protein-Providing Garden

Quinoa in my polytunnel.

One of the key things to think about when trying to live a more sustainable life is where the protein in your diet comes from. One key strategy for reducing your carbon footprint is to eat less meat.

Whether you give up animal-derived altogether or source only local, sustainable meat and dairy, plant-based protein sources should be an important part of your diet.

Most of us won’t have space to ‘grow’ animals for meat at home. ( I personally keep chickens for eggs, but don’t have the space for larger livestock.) But we may well still have the space to provide for many of our protein needs from our gardens.

As you may or may not recall from high school science lessons, protein is made up of amino acids, nine of which must be obtained from the food we eat. A ‘complete’ protein source is one which provides all these essential amino acids.

All meat, seafood, eggs and dairy are compete protein sources – but you can still get enough of all the essential amino acids through a vegetarian or vegan diet. Even if you are unable to rear your own livestock or keep any animals, you can still make sure your home-produced diet is rich in protein – doing a service to our planet by eschewing (or reducing) meat and dairy while you are at it. Complete (or almost complete) protein sources include quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed and soy beans. 

Quinoa is one plant I can grow here, in my polytunnel. Quinoa is relatively easy to grow at home and the good news is that it will grow in a wide range of climatic conditions. It is related to chard and beetroot and it will produce a quantity per plant, so require far less space to grow than common grains like wheat. Space your quinoa seedlings around 2ft apart and expect the plants to grow up to almost 6ft tall (when they will require staking). Quinoa can be used to replace rice in a wide range of recipes. 

Though most plant-based protein sources are not ‘complete’, you can easily combine two or more vegetarian foods to make sure you are getting all the amino acids. One easy to remember combination that gives all a combined complete protein is a grain, such as rice, wheat, or any other wholegrain, plus a pulse such as any dried peas or beans.

Potatoes are one vegetable that is surprisingly rich in a number of amino acids. Anyone can grow potatoes and they are probably one of the best vegetables for beginner gardeners to try. Combine it with a range of other sources of other amino acids and it can help you reach your protein requirements for each day. Leafy greens are also excellent sources for certain amino acids. Kale and broccoli are fantastic for cooler climates, for example, while collard greens and amaranth are fantastic leafy greens for hotter climes. 

Tomorrow, we’ll explore growing high protein nuts in your garden, and talk about some of the options if you want to grow a nuts where you live.

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