Believe it or not, now's the time to start planning your garden for this year. In the midst of all this snow and ice, visions of delicious, fresh vegetables provide a cheery contrast. There are very few endeavors, aside from growing more of our own food, which can provide so many benefits to our health, our well-being and the environment. The latest dietary guidelines which suggest eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and getting regular exercise are practically a mandate to garden.
Our gardens connect us to the healthiest and tastiest food as they provide enjoyable and productive exercise. Gardens also connect us to some of the most important things on earth: the fertility of the soil, the wonders of seeds, green plants and the exquisite workings of ecosystems.
Gardens and local farms are essential if we are going to reduce the energy and material waste, and the widespread health and environmental damage caused by our current food and agriculture system. Although you can get a burger, a soda or fried potatoes almost everywhere these days, fresh, organic vegetables are most easily obtained from a garden near home.
The wonderful thing about gardening is that we can begin to reap the benefits no matter how small we start. A four-foot square bed of greens in the front yard, a sweet 100 cherry tomato plant in a plastic bucket on a fire escape, or even sprouts growing in a jar on the kitchen counter begin to improve our diets.
The rewards of nurturing the plants which feed us, in flavor and for our health and spirit, are enormous. And, once we begin, we try to grow more and better each year. As we garden, our knowledge and skills increase along with the soil's fertility and the joys we experience in such a beautiful and elegant system. In our gardens, we capture sunlight in delicious flavors. That sunlight in the vegetables then powers us to live and love, work and play, act and contemplate as well as to grow the garden. Once our gardens are established, the recommended 30 minutes a day of exercise expended there will also produce an amazing abundance of food. What a healthy combination!
If you haven't gardened before, you can start small. Be sure to grow something you really like, say sugar snap peas, large juicy tomatoes, great quantities of basil or frilly-red lettuce. Take good care of your crop using hand tools and organic methods, of course. They are less expensive and better for you and the environment. You can't enjoy the smell of the earth and the sounds of birds over the stink and roar of a rototiller. If you are growing vegetables for your health, it doesn't make sense to use toxic substances, like pesticides. It does make sense to have a compost pile to turn organic wastes into the fertile soil that you need.
Carol, a listener from Hamden, plans to have her first garden this year in a neighbor's yard. She asked what she could do now to help her garden this spring. The most important activities this time of year are studying and planning. Books by Eliot Coleman and John Jeavons contain a wealth of information in a style that is useful to novices and seasoned gardeners alike. Good seed catalogs have lots of helpful information about when to plant, and if the seeds need to be started inside or whether they go directly into the ground, before or after the last frost.
Starting seedlings in the next few months is fun to do. Besides the joy of nurturing new little vegetable, herb and flower plants, this activity provides a tangible connection to the time when we'll put those young plants into the garden. We like to start onions, for example, indoors in February and set the seedlings into the ground in April, in order to produce good sized bulbs by July.
Carol also said that she was going to garden with her neighbor's children. That seems like a great idea.
I will send Carol the names of books that are useful for a beginner and a list of some of the interesting seed sources in this region. If you'd like this information, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Garden, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
Plan to garden this year.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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