One of the best ways to improve your health is to garden, and especially to grow your own food. I’ve always had some tomato plants and peppers, but at other times I’ve grown many of the vegetables my family likes to eat. When the economy goes south, we all get interested in growing food to supplement and relieve our grocery bills, and I’m no exception: I’ve stepped up my vegetable garden efforts again.
A Few Truths and a Few Myths
Everyone tells you the same thing: “Home grown produce tastes better and is better for you”, and that is largely true. What isn’t often emphasized is that your produce is only so good as the care you give the plants and the soils that grow them. Organic gardening is more than not using certain chemicals, it is also methods of building the soil for healthy fruitful plants.
Insect and disease problems often develop when the plants are stressed and from challenging conditions (such as too much rain or too dry). There are amendments that help fight the problems once they start and some that help prevent the stress on the plant in the first place. Just as in our own health we use more organic products for prevention (which is always worth it), so we should do that in our gardening methods.
Remember the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure“. After taking the time, effort, and expense of putting in a garden, not to mention the expectations that have been building, the onslaught of bacterial wilts or cutworms, or any of a host of threats can really be a disappointment. That can have you looking at the garden stores for solutions. Start out right, instead, and take the advice of a little care to put in the effort at the beginning. It saves a ton of work later, and delivers results more dependably. Organic methods start building the resistance of the plants through their nutrition. And attempting to create balance in the garden …which includes allies in nature.
It might be the choice of whether to build raised beds, or try lasagna layering, or whether double dug beds are best. It might be amending the soil with leaf mold, or seaweed, or whatever your soil and area best benefits from. Not being one size fits all, but basics that any gardener can manage. Even if you have only pots on the patio, you can get soil recipes to boost your plants health, and information on how to best grow your produce in that condition. No one website or book has everything, but combining the information from a number of sources, including your extension agents (see, the government does some things right!) will help you to start out on the right foot. You also learn by trial and error- everyone does some of that, so don’t be worried about a mistake here and there. In fact, the natural world will fool you sometimes- try something important a couple times. Like a pea pod story I heard, where one year critters ate the pea planting and it was a total loss, and after fencing, the next year was a bonanza of pea pods. Keep at it.
When Can I Start Planting?
For a cold climate zone like Ohio’s 5 or 6, vegetables that are hardy can be planted 2 to 4 weeks before the last killing spring frost. Very hardy vegetables can be planted around 6 weeks before.
Cold Hardy Vegetables
Can be planted before last frost date.
Very Hardy / Hardy
You save money. Sometimes. That can be a real myth, especially at first, but if approached like a business, where the input depreciates over time and there is income and outgo, you can very well save money and eat better, too.
OUTGO: Gardening takes equipment from hand tools to whatever helps get the job done. The soil amendments, too, although many are free sometimes must be purchased. Hoses to keep things watered and other peripherals, are considerations in the cost, but usually we have some of these things when we have a landscape to take care of, and a vegetable garden just better utilizes what we have already invested in.
INCOME: Revitalized soils produce more nutritious foods. More nutritious eating produces better health. Better health saves on medical expense and increases life quality. Food costs are going up, but at the same time your efficiency and ability to produce and preserve your own food is increasing.
BOTTOM LINE: You and your family win: better food, outdoor exercise, improved health.
Self-sufficiency is one factor that doesn’t get as much press time, but is certainly one of the benefits of growing your own food. Just remember there is a certain price in sweat equity for fresh, juicy, flavorful tomatoes and tender green beans. But I like to be judicious about that, for my own choice – I leave the sweet corn growing to the local farmer market. Again, growing your own can be as limited or broad as you have time, space and effort to expend. The reward is that you have some nutrient rich veggies fresher than any store can provide, but that feeling of having provided for yourself is a mental benefit that isn’t easy to quantify.
Get Fit in the Great Outdoors
First, yes, there are bugs and mosquitoes…. but that doesn’t stop you from having picnics or going to the beach does it? Same thing here, no more excuses! Gardening allows you to get some Vitamin D from the sunshine, it also involves lots of workouts for different muscle groups.
Walking, pushing a hoe, or mower… digging, bending, then taking a rest in the convenient lawn chair… all part of getting a garden growing. Why aimlessly work out on gym machines when you have simple tools to work with in your garden? Confession, I do both- but the garden is more interesting. It also tempts me to do more on some days than I should. That is just not necessary- consistency and smaller efforts spread out over time actually result in a better garden result, and is easier on the bones. No need to overdo an effort to get your garden in good shape. Or yourself! (I need to take my own good advice here….)
Getting fit through exercise also helps prepare for generally improved accomplishment of garden tasks. Warmups, stretching, using weights, all help you work with less likelihood of pain and injury.
A good garden cart, or a simple child’s wagon saves lots of sweat and labor, and getting fit hauling leaves to the compost bin and turning the compost so it breaks down into the “black gold” for your soil is just one of the diverse ways to get the cardio exercise you know you need. There is no lack of diversity in the garden…. a hundred ways to build yourself up while you build your garden plot. You might want to do some warmups before hitting the garden chores. Weekend warriors wear themselves out, while the weekday faithful win the day (and the harvests). Just like other workouts, spread it out with some time to enjoy the results.