In today's world of ever-changing technology – computers, iPads, smart phones, etc. – our culture has become increasingly plugged in even as we lose touch with nature. Publicly available data show healthcare costs are the highest they have ever been, and they continue to increase. 33% of U.S. adults are obese, incurring $148 billion in medical costs annually and contributing to 18% of adult deaths. Our population spends more than 90% of their time indoors, leading a sedentary, disconnected, unhealthy, and unnatural lifestyle.
These figures are sobering, but there is good news, and it's right outside your door. It turns out growing your own vegetables is good for your physical and mental health, and it can whittle your waistline! Here are just a handful of the known benefits of gardening:
- Gardening can reduce your risk of stroke.
- Gardening burns calories.
- Digging in the soil has actual mood boosting benefits.
- Gardening adds meaning to your life.
- Gardening makes an ideal family bonding activity.
- Gardening yields safer, healthier foods.
- Gardening relieves stress.
- Gardening can fill emotional needs and aid your spiritual well being.
- Gardens play an important part in overall well-being, serving as a tranquil retreat or escape from the demands of everyday life.
Where to begin, you ask?
To create your garden, start with planning, not digging. How large do you want your garden to be? What would you like to grow in your garden? What part of your yard or patio gets the most sun? Where do you have easy access to water?
When does planting season begin?
After the last frost (late April into May, depending on where you live), is usually the best time to plant vegetables; however, there are some plants that can be planted sooner. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, leeks, spinach, radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce, and cauliflower are all vegetables that can tolerate cold temperatures and survive 25 – 28-degree weather. Beans, corn, cucumbers, and melons are good choices for May planting. Tomato plants should wait until the end of May.
Most vegetables need six to eight hours of sunlight. If they do not get enough sun, they won’t bear as much fruit and will be more susceptible to attacks by insects. Make sure you give your plants a drink if Mother Nature is slacking on the job. And remember, a thorough watering once a week is better than a sprinkle every day! If you are concerned about the soil, stop by your local garden center and get a testing kit – believe us, it is worth the cost and your plants will thank you. If you need to add nutrients to the soil, you can pick up some compost while you’re at the garden center and next year make your own. (It’s not as hard as you think!)
If you are new to gardening:
- Start small so you don't get overwhelmed.
- Read the instructions on your seed packets - every plant has different requirements for growing conditions.
- Start with hardy plants such as lettuce, squash, beans, peppers, beets, carrots, or onions.
- Before you dig, make sure the soil is damp. Water your garden area a day before and again after you plant.
- If you do not like to weed, dissemble cardboard boxes, spread them over the weeds and cover with mulch. The cardboard will decompose naturally and become compost.
- Pick vegetables when they are ripe, even if you don’t plan to use them. This practice will keep the plant healthy and producing.
One of the most satisfying things about growing your own vegetables is the knowledge that you are providing healthy food and a fun activity for you and your family. Gardening is an activity we can do at all stages of life, learning along the way. There are no gardening mistakes - only experiments! In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “All I need to know about life I learned from gardening.”
We're challenging all Liberty HealthShare members to grow a kitchen garden – whether you grow a full garden, plant in pots, use hanging containers on a patio, or simply grow herbs on your windowsill. During the summer, take photos of your garden and share them with us. We want to see them! We at LHS would love to share in your gardening success. At the end of the growing season, we will feature the best vegetable gardens.