Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Garden?

I was recently asked, “Why are you going through so much just to have a garden? It’s so much work, you need so many supplies, and you can get all that stuff you want to grow at the grocery store”. This lead me to contemplate why I want to garden.

There are many reasons to garden some are highly personal and some just plain make sense. Yes, it is work. Yes, as a first timer I needed supplies. Yes, I can get all that stuff at the grocery store. All that is very true but so are the following. Gardening can be a community or family activity—no one is too old or too young to take part. Gardening helps you to be healthier it provides physical activity-- bending, stretching, twisting, turning, lifting, pushing. Gardening provides a food source you can be sure of—if you grow it you know exactly what is in it. Gardening provides fresh foods free of preservatives and other harmful chemicals without taking a huge bite out of your grocery budget. Have you ever noticed how something labeled at natural or sodium free nearly always costs more? Gardening can also do a few things for your city, state, country and planet.

It can lessen the burden on your local infrastructure, the more folks who do it, the smaller the burden. Growing produce locally reduces the need for shipping and leads to less use of fossil fuels. Growing in your own yard requires no travel at all. This combined with the fact that plants produce oxygen leads to cleaner air. Cleaner air and fresher foods lead to healthier people. Healthier people have more energy. More energy means greater productivity and less illness. It is my belief that this leads to higher production and better quality in other areas of our lives.

In addition for me gardening provides peace of mind, a creative outlet, and a way to connect with the natural world we live in. I look forward to the changes in seasons, to planting, growing, and harvesting my garden. I even look forward to the winter months in which I plan next year’s garden. I enjoy the feel of the soil in between my fingers, sun on my face and the wind in my hair. Our garden nourishes not only our bodies but our lives. For us gardening is an activity we do together, as a family. Everyone gets a say in what is planted and works at making it productive. My children know the value of food and the farmer who grows it. It cuts out trips to the store, allows for a selection of fresh high quality foods at a moments notice, and saves us valuable time and money. As I stated previously many of these reasons to garden are highly personal and some just plain make sense. There are probably also twice as many excuses as to why you are not gardening.

As for the excuses, it is hard to see the big picture sometimes, my suggestion is to find a simple reason to garden that resonates with you. For me it is the fact that it saves money and helps us eat healthier foods. If you don’t think you can have a garden, stop right there. All of the following are excuses--- “I don’t have a yard.” “I don’t have time.” “My apartment is too small.” “My HOA won’t allow it.” These are things that are true only if you agree they are. There are a thousand other excuses as well but these are the major ones so we’ll go over them.

“I don’t have a yard.”
You don’t need a yard. Just about anything you could want to grow for food can be grown in a container of some sort, even fruit trees (most will only grow as far as their roots will allow). I even had a friend a few years ago who had a corn stalk growing in a ten gallon bucket in each corner of her living room. You can grow herbs in mini-greenhouses in your kitchen and tomatoes hanging from the ceiling. All you really need is an acceptable amount of soil for what you are planting. It will say on the packet usually—look at the final thinned spacing for the plant and how it grows (is it short, bushy, tall or a vine). Other than that all you need is light and water.

“I don’t have time.”
Sure you do. It really takes no time at all to take care of a plant. Of course that really depends on how many you want to have but that’s solvable by just a few to begin with. Start off with the example above. Grow a few herbs and a tomato plant in your kitchen. An hour on a weekend to plant your seeds and less than five minutes each day to water them is all it takes.

“My apartment is too small.”
Once again, see the above suggestions. A plant here and there throughout your place will not take up a huge amount of room. In our last place we had plants on the fireplace mantle, one on the balcony, a couple others on the tops our six foot book shelves. If you put out knick knacks you could always replace one or two with a plant. You can also hang a few from the ceiling in the corners of a room. This works particularly well with things you see advertised as hanging already such as strawberries and tomatoes.

“My HOA won’t allow it.”
There are several ways around this. Most HOAs will allow some type of small ornamental gardening space for flowers and maybe small bushes, instead of doing this use that space for edibles. There is actually a huge selection of edible ornamentals and a whole industry surrounding edible landscaping. Kale is sort of a loose leaf cabbage. It comes in a few different colors and you can actually see it used in the small growing plot in front of almost any courthouse in America. Carrots make wonderful border plants and can be mixed in with some flowers.

Another solution to any of these problems would be to look for a local community garden. They exist in almost every city. Sometimes they are small and sometimes they can be quite large. I’ve seen huge ones upwards of three to five acres. If you don’t find one perhaps you could start one yourself. Find a friend or two to help you out, put up requests at some of your local stores, community centers, and internet sites; approach businesses that may have an empty lot or even your local government to see what they may have available.

There is one excuse I won’t accept and refuse to go over in detail however, because if you use it, it means you have no desire whatsoever to actually have a garden. That is “I don’t know how.” I cannot accept this one as an excuse, only laziness, as I didn’t know how either but there are a multitude of resources available. My number one resource has been public libraries. They provided access to not only written materials but to the internet as well. Taking the time to visit a local nursery for an afternoon can give you more than enough information to get started. Then there is also the path of simple experimentation and just going for it. All you need is the desire to get started.

Simply put, in my opinion, as a society we cannot afford to ignore this almost free resource. It is one of the first baby steps that need to be taken in order to help ourselves and our planet. If you’ve never had fresh produce go out and find your nearest farmer’s market and buy a few tomatoes, some string beans and some lettuce. There is nothing in the world like fresh grown vegetables and you’ll be glad you did. However, the long and short of it in a nutshell, is that gardening can not only give you a healthier diet but it can also save you money and give you a sense of accomplishment.

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