Gardening Can Make You Live Longer
Research shows that people who garden live an average of 4 years longer than those who don’t garden. There are numerous physical health benefits as well as mental health benefits to gardening. Vegetable gardens also produce added nutritional benefits, contributing to even better health overall. Regular gardening has also shown to be a cost effective form of preventative medicine, and the health benefits of gardening are often overlooked by most. Private gardens also allow you to spend less at the grocery store, which has an added economical benefit.
Gardening Can Improve Your Mental Health
Gardening requires regular contact with nature, and recent studies have shown its positive impact on overall health. Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living centers, and nursing homes have noticed the medical cost savings, and are beginning to implement gardening into their facilities or encouraging participation in community gardens. In a study of 76 older adults, there was overall improvement reported of physical health including an increase in physical exercise, decreasing high blood pressure, increased vitamin D levels and calcium levels. Mental health improvements were also reported including a reduction of stress levels, reduced anxiety, and lower depression and fatigue episodes. In addition to improving mental health, gardening has also been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly. In this study, there were no negative outcomes reported.
Gardening Makes Your Kids Healthier (or Future Children)
Recent studies suggest that gardening benefits people of all ages, including young adults and children. Kids born to mothers who organically garden have healthier birth weights, have lower risk for developing diabetes, lower obesity rates, and lower risk for heart disease (and heart attack). Young children who have regular exposure to dirt also have a stronger immune system and less risk for developing allergies, as long as there are no pesticide residues in the soil. The recommended daily vegetable intake for children is 420 grams. However, the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that the average daily vegetable intake for 6-11 year olds is 148 grams. In the United States, the “Farm to School” program was started, allowing kids to plant, harvest, and prepare vegetables at school. The kids would take information about the program home, allowing parents to encourage vegetable intake at home. 84.4% reported positive changes in their children’s eating behavior with the Farm to School program.
Gardening Can Be Easy
Starting your own garden at home can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. There are 4 main things your garden will need: soil, seed, sunlight, and water. It can be as simple as picking a sunny spot in your yard, planting the seeds, and watering it when it is dry. It can also be as complicated as building a greenhouse structure, building raised garden beds, installing a smart irrigation system, testing the garden dirt and adding nutrients, purchasing specialty seeds, insulating with hay bales, etc. I recommend starting off simple, and figuring out what works best for your home garden.
Start Your Garden With Easy Perennials
The easiest garden you can start with is to plant perennials. Many landscape flowers and bushes come in “garden starts” and are fairly inexpensive to buy. Edible perennials include fruit trees and bushes. I love perennials because they are a hands-off, set it and forget it mentality. As long as they survive the first year, your maintenance for these plants are almost non-existant.
Planning your garden should start in the winter. This is the best time to look at seed catalogs, and order any plants you want shipped in the spring. For the least expensive plants, check your state’s forestry service. You’ll often find landscape and fruit plants, bushes, and trees for a fraction of the price of a store. You can also prep containers for the winter sowing method, if you choose. (Winter sowing is a great way to grow your own starts, without having to harden them off before planting. I choose this method because I am HORRIBLE at hardening off plants before transplanting outdoors.) You can also look for a gardening group to join, either in the community or online. Experienced gardeners are a wonderful resource to have available your first few years of gardening.
You can read this article to learn more about the pros and cons of starting seeds indoors vs outdoors vs greenhouse vs winter sowing.
Preparing your garden beds in the spring will force you to go out and enjoy those first warm days after a long cold winter. There are a number of plants that can be planted before the last frost date of the year. Once the ground thaws enough to work the soil, the growing season begins. This stage is where you execute your winter’s organizational plans. You will immediately feel the positive effects of going outside in the spring, and you will thoroughly enjoy the fresh air and warmer weather as it comes.
Once the last frost date passes, and you get everything planted, you can sit back and enjoy all of your hard work. Whether you have a flower garden or vegetable garden, watching your beautiful garden grow is fun for the whole family. Soon, you’ll be able to eat your own food, or share your garden harvest with friends and family. My family enjoys getting some of my cut flowers, veggies, and fruits from my garden, especially since I usually grow an abundance to share and preserve for future use.
Throughout the summer, flowers can be dead-headed to stimulate new growth. For gardens with fresh vegetables, you’ll soon start noticing that they are becoming ready for harvest. For me, the first harvest is usually peas. For those that want to try canning or preserving, this is when the real work begins. Before you know it, your harvest will start producing fresh produce like a dam that breaks free. Plan on dedicating time every week to preserving healthy food. Luckily, most gardens will produce a batch of some sort of fresh food about every week. Some weeks more, some weeks less. Harvests will rotate, and some plants continuously produce small amounts over longer periods of time.
After your first frost date, most of your plants will start to die off or hibernate. You can finish collecting your harvest, and begin your fall prep, and plant any bulbs for spring (flower or herb). If you want to expand or move your garden, you can till and prepare your garden bed in the fall (or wait until spring if you choose).