Is gardening simple? Yes and no. It’s simple enough that children can do it. And it’s complicated enough that once you start, you will never stop learning how to do it better. And although an understanding of the science of plants helps, this isn’t, as they say, rocket science. Don’t think of what follows here as an instruction manual. Think of it more as a tour guide to your own garden and what lives there. Tours aren’t complicated, but there may be some unexpected twists and turns, some sights you never thought you’d see, some advice from the locals that ensures a better time. It’s time to get on the gardening bus!
In a recent early summer garden trends survey, the Garden Writers Association reported that 43% of households in the United States were adding vegetable gardens. Growing edibles is definitely in vogue, but surely there are better reasons to do this than “everybody’s doing it.” I’ll give you nine of them:
1. You’ll redefine what “fresh” means
Some edibles lose a lot of their nutrients and much of their flavor by the time you purchase them at the supermarket, store them in your refrigerator, and then cook and eat them. In most cases, consuming vegetables as soon as possible after harvest means that you get their peak nutritional value with more flavor than you’d have thought possible.
2. You’ll try something different
There are varieties of fruits and vegetables available to home gardeners that you will never see on supermarket shelves. Many heirloom varieties can’t be commercially grown because they just don’t ship or store well. But with a few packets of seeds, you’ll be able to explore a whole world of edibles in colors and flavors you never knew existed.
3. You’ll know what you’re eating
Some store-bought produce has enough contaminants on them to give you nightmares (or worse). When you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you know exactly what’s gone into growing them. You can grow them completely organically or at least with a bare minimum of inorganic materials.
4. You’ll save some money
Seeds, water, maybe some soil amendments. That doesn’t add up to much. Garden writer Rosalind Creasy recently grew $750 worth of organic produce in a 100-squarefoot garden at a cost of just $65. Granted, she’s more experienced at this than most of us, but even a novice gardener can save a lot of money.
5. You’ll be able to avoid the next food scare
E. coli in spinach and sprouts. Salmonella in tomatoes and cilantro. Listeria in cantaloupes. These are some of the recent food safety issues that have affected fresh commercially grown produce. And you can bet there will be more to come. Your garden-grown fruits and vegetables are much less prone to these problems with healthy gardening practices. (And remember, you should cover fruits and veggies in the fridge.)
6. You’ll get a healthy workout
While you’re out in the sunshine gardening, your body will be soaking up much-needed vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and general well-being. You’ll also be giving your muscles a workout and burning calories at an average rate of 272 per hour.
7. You’ll feel better with dirt under your fingernails
There’s a bacterium in dirt called Mycobacterium vaccae that has been found to increase the production of serotonin and stimulate the immune systems of mice. Scientists are now studying how this bacterium, which is already used as a vaccine for tuberculosis and a treatment for cancer patients and asthma sufferers, may be used to treat mood disorders. The theory is that the bacterium prompts the body’s immune cells to release cytokines, which activate sensory nerves stimulating the brain. The brain responds by activating serotonin neurons, which, again, lift the mood. Scientists further hypothesize that prolonged exposure to M. vaccae could benefit us by maintaining healthier immune systems.
8. You’ll teach your children
School gardens have demonstrated that kids learn broad lessons from gardening lessons about science and nature, about home economics and self-sufficiency, about nutrition and healthy living. Bringing those lessons home in their own gardens will only make them more real and more valuable. They’ll thank you later.
9. You’ll be able to share
If your gardening efforts are rewarded with a bumper crop, you don’t have to worry about how you’ll possibly be able to get it all preserved. You can simply pass it on. Thanks to the recent recession, food banks across the country need to feed more people than ever. AmpleHarvest.org will point you toward a food bank near you that will happily take some of that zucchini off your hands.