Garden Your Way To A Healthier Lifestyle
Why not start a garden as a way of improving your health? There are so many reasons that gardening is good for us, including, of course, the harvest of our own organically grown vegetables at a fraction of the cost of supermarket prices. One of the main reasons that people garden is that vegetables from the supermarket cannot compare in taste, quality, or freshness with vegetables grown in the home garden.
But without simply focusing on all the nutritional benefits of the “fruits of our labor”, gardening in and of itself is a great form of exercise, increasing heart rate, muscle strength, and flexibility. Gardening allows us to de-stress naturally, and gives us the opportunity to observe and connect with nature on a deeper level.
Without planning a huge garden, or having to spend a lot of money on seeds, plants, compost or tools, you can add fresh vegetables and herbs to your meals with small pots, windowsill planters, or by integrating vegetables and herbs in your existing flower gardens. The vegetable garden has traditionally been located in an area separate from other parts of the landscape because it was considered unsightly. With proper planning, however, the garden can be both functional and attractive. Landscape designers today often incorporate the home landscape and ornamental plants such as flowering annuals into the vegetable garden.
If you are a beginning gardener with an average-sized family, you will not need a lot of space for a vegetable garden. An area 25 feet square should be adequate. According to Larry Bass, Extension Horticultural Specialist at NC State University, regardless of size, there are five factors to consider in selection a garden site.
The first is sunlight. All vegetables need some sunlight. The garden should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Eight to 10 hours each day is ideal. Vegetables should therefore be planted away from the shade of buildings, trees, and shrubs. Some leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, spinach, and lettuce tolerate shadier conditions than other vegetables, but if your garden does not receive at least 6 hours of sunlight daily, you will not be successful growing vegetables.
The second consideration is nearness to the house. The closer the vegetable garden and the easier it is to reach, the more you will probably use it. You will be likely to harvest vegetables at their peaks and thus take maximum advantages of garden freshness. It is also more likely that you will keep up with jobs such as weeding, watering, insect and disease control, and succession planting if the garden is close by.
The third consideration is soil. You do not need to have the ideal type of soil to grow a good garden. If possible the soil should be fertile and easy to till, with just the right texture — a loose, well-drained loam. Avoid any soil that remains soggy after a rain. Heavy clay and sandy soils can be improved by adding organic matter. Of course, gardening will be easier if you start with a naturally rich soil.
The fourth consideration is water. Including rain and irrigation, the garden needs at least 1 inch of water per week. Therefore, it is essential to locate the garden near a spigot or some other water source.
The fifth consideration is good air drainage. Avoid locating the garden in a low spot such as the base of a hill or the foot of a slope bordered by a solid fence. These areas are slow to warm in the spring, and frost forms more readily in them because cold air cannot drain away. Vegetable gardens located on high ground are more likely to escape light freezes, permitting an earlier start in the spring and a longer harvest in the fall.
The first step in planning your garden is selecting the vegetables you want to grow. With a few exceptions, you can plant what you like. Dark leafy greens, like spinach, kale and collards, are both easy to grow and a delicious source of chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Tomatoes, carrots, and various varieties of squash provide color to our meals, an indication of valuable anti-oxidants and carotenoids. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, known as cruciferous vegetables, provide us with a valuable compound known as Indole-3-carbinol (which is currently the subject of on-going biomedical research into its possible anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant, and anti-atherogenic effects). Only a few vegetables may be unsuitable because of space limitations, improper climate, or unusually poor growing conditions. As you plan your garden, keep your health goals in mind and be planning your meals for the upcoming seasons.
The second step is to draw a diagram of the garden site. The diagram should show the kind of vegetables to be planted, the distance between rows, and the time of planting. Including dates will help you remember tasks that might otherwise be put off until too late. Most plants do better in spring and summer gardens if they are started indoors rather than being planted directly into the garden soil. Seedlings started in containers indoors can be transplanted to the garden when the weather is warm enough and danger of frost is past. You may start your own transplants in containers early in the season or you may prefer to buy them from a greenhouse or garden center at transplanting time. If you choose to grow your own, you will need to provide suitable containers, a sterilized growing medium, adequate light, fertilizer, moisture, and proper day and night temperatures. There are many excellent sources of information on starting and maintaining your vegetable garden, including numerous on-line publications and also references like: The Old Farmer’s 2012 Almanac and numerous other magazines and books.
We all know that spring is a glorious event, and that farming and gardening is the perfect way to improve our lives in multiple ways. So while your garden is growing, or for the vegetables that you weren’t able to get in the ground this spring, the Farmer’s Market is an excellent way to find the freshest locally grown produce. For a list of Farmers Markets and other sources in your area see our page on organic and local sources. Use your visits to plan your meals for the week, combining fresh greens with locally grass raised beef, eggs, and cheeses to create delicious and nutritious whole food meals for you and your family.