Protein from the Garden

Annual edible kale (this is ‘Lacinato’) planted next to a walkway for easy grazing also contributes texture and color to a landscape.

If you’re wanting to cut meat from your diet or reduce your consumption of it, for health reasons or environmental ones, you might have wondered if you can then turn to your garden for some of your daily protein intake.

Your garden can supply a surprisingly diverse array of protein sources. Consider this list:

  • Vegetables: Leafy greens are great protein sources. Kale has hogged the nutrition limelight lately, but don’t discount its relatives (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) or that old Popeye-popularized standby, spinach. As for starchy vegetables, a baked potato contains a whopping average of 5 grams of protein. Also fairly high in protein are sweet potatatos, beets (and their greens), and squash. Asparagus may take the prize simply because it’s a perennial plant.
  • Nuts: They grow on bushes or trees and contain protein along with brain-healthy fatty acids. If you are starting with young saplings, the initial investment is small; however, the wait for that annual or biennial bounty is measured in years.
  • Seeds: Annual protein-rich seeds include sunflower seeds, corn, popcorn, and pumpkin seeds. For perennial seeds, grow pine nuts (the relatively large seeds from the cones of a Korean pine tree or a native American pinyon pine).
  • Weeds: One of the best protein sources is lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album). Whip up a tasty frittata or green custard.
  • Honey from your own bees: Though its protein contribution to your daily diet will be small, honey can be swapped for less nutritious sweeteners that contain only empty calories. If you are keeping bees, check out these self-serve hives.
  • Locusts, ants, and other insects: Being entomophagous is fairly taboo throughout the US, though it’s routine in many other cultures. It might be tough to find enough insects in a pesticide-prone neighborhood or where you want to rely on them for pollination, bird food, and balancing the populations of other insects. On the other hand, eating insects could be an effective part of your integrated pest management strategy. Read about the top ten tastiest insects here, and how/whether to cook them.
  • Dairy products from your own goats: Goats make affectionate pets and may browse on your weeds/lawn for much of the year, in addition to giving you fresh and nutritious milk. Check your city or neighborhood zoning laws first. Read one urban farmer’s guide to raising & milking goats.
  • Eggs from your own chickens: Many urban areas have relaxed zoning laws to allow keeping hens. Clever design (a chicken moat, for instance) is needed to ensure that your birds can coexist with your garden.
  • Mushrooms: The easiest way to ensure your mushrooms are edible is to grow them from purchased spores, available from a source such as FungiPerfecti.
  • Beans, peas, and other legumes: Important staples — particularly for vegetarians — these are mainly annual plants. Some have short growing seasons, allowing staggered planting to lengthen the harvest period. Some (lentils, peanuts) require little or no processing to store long-term.
  • Fruits: Guava contain more protein than most fruits and can be grown indoors if you garden north of Zone 8. More winter-hardy fruits for protein include mulberries, blackberries, and apricots.

Look up the protein content of various foods at the USDA National Nutrient Database.


  1. Moved into my ca. 1900 American farmhouse late summer, and now harvesting ripe pecans.

    Eating them this fresh have discovered a surprise. 6-7 fresh pecans are enough for a filling lunch.

    Who knew?

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  2. Thanks Evelyn for such a great summary of protein in the garden/homestead. I will definitely consider this in planning my garden. I had no idea so many fruits had protein in them. Also really loved the chicken moat–looks like a pretty big project though!

  3. Very informative article. Thanks for sharing this fact to us. I been growing nuts in my garden and it frustrates me because i was unsuccessful for producing enough for harvesting. Can you give me tips how to grow nuts properly?

  4. It is good to diversify and eat lots of veggies, nuts, seeds, etc. To be complete, proteins needs all of the amino acids (in meat and in soy), so it takes some research and a lot of combining to get enough. The USDA database referenced is very difficult – need to look up each ingredient in each food. I didn’t see a listing for ‘protein’.

  5. While I love chickens and especially love the idea of using them for pest control, the chicken-moat article made me worry about food safety. A heavy rainstorm could contaminate nearby veggies with chicken fecal bacteria, which cause food bourn illness. In my garden, I make sure my chickens are far away from raw veggies, and I only put chicken litter on beds that won’t be harvested for a while.

Comments are closed.