I’ve always found a sense of peace and relaxation from gardening. There’s something about getting out of the house and digging in the dirt that helps clear my mind. It’s a very physical task that can be exhausting at times, but the satisfaction of pulling a giant zucchini from your own yard more than makes up for it.
35% of American households now grow some of their own food, either in their backyard or a community garden. That number is up 200% since 2008!
It’s easy to understand why as more people are demanding locally grown, organic, non-GMO fruits and vegetables. One of the best ways to control the quality of the food you eat is by producing it yourself.
Despite the increasing popularity of home gardening, many men are still unaware of where their food comes from. Are you one of them?
No need to worry if so. Here we will discuss some of the benefits of gardening, as well as some actionable steps to begin growing your own fruits and vegetables at home this year.
Why Should You Start a Garden?
Gardening has many therapeutic benefits for your body, mind, and also your wallet! Here are just a few of the positive impacts that starting a garden could have on your life:
It relieves stress and improves self-esteem
A study in the Netherlands showed that 30 minutes of gardening lowered cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that has significant effects on your risk of heart disease and obesity, as well as an impact on your memory.
Another study by the University of Westminster in England showed a boost to self-esteem as well as reduced feelings of anger, tension, and depression after a gardening session.
Your immune system could see benefits
Getting out into the sun will boost your Vitamin D levels which can help fight off colds and flus.
Garden soil also commonly contains beneficial bacteria such as mycobacterium vaccae which can help reduce the severity of allergies, asthma, and other medical conditions. Getting a little dirty can actually improve your health!
Gardening is great exercise
Gardening involves a wide variety of movements. All of the bending and lifting is good for your heart and improves flexibility, stamina, and strength. As someone who spent last weekend removing a layer of grass and creating a raised garden bed, I can confirm that it’s quite the workout!
You’ll get higher quality food
Growing your own produce is better for your diet. You’ll naturally consume a higher amount of fresh foods with better nutrition content just because it’s readily available.
You also gain complete control over which pesticides and fertilizers come into contact with your food (if any).
Gardening also allows you to choose when to harvest your food for maximum ripeness. All you need to worry about is getting that juicy tomato from your garden to your kitchen. Meanwhile, grocery stores need to optimize for transportability and shelf life as opposed to flavor and ripeness. In many cases this means picking produce before it’s ripe and using ethylene gas to artificially ripen your fruits and veggies once they reach the store.
Your wallet will thank you
Gardening can help you save money! According to the National Gardening Association, a garden can yield as much as half a pound of produce per square foot each growing season. So with an investment of $70 into a 600 square foot garden, you can produce over 300 pounds of fresh produce. That will save you about $600 off your grocery bill during the warmer months.
You can grow varieties that you can’t find in stores
Do you want to grow purple carrots? What about beets that are striped inside like a candy cane? Maybe some lesser-known or exotic root vegetables like jerusalem artichoke or jicama? No problem!
Have you got a favorite type of veggie? There are likely dozens of heirloom versions for you to try that aren’t commonly sold in stores.
Many of these varieties aren’t well suited to large-scale industrial farming but thrive in a home garden. Different colors of vegetables contain varying levels of micronutrients and phytochemicals, so your body will thank you as well.
Gardening is great for kids
Some schools have incorporated gardening into their curriculum or as an after-school activity, and the results have been remarkable. Students who take part in gardening see their standardized test scores rise by 12 – 15%! And 73% of the students who take advantage of a school garden also report an increase in the amounts of fruits and vegetables they consume. A garden can make your kid smarter and healthier? Seems like a no-brainer.
Letting your son or daughter be a part of your home garden will have other benefits too. They’ll learn a bit about biology and where their food comes from, as well as potentially meeting some fascinating insects.
How to Get Started
Now that you know some of the significant benefits that gardening can provide, where do you begin?
Growing food yourself doesn’t need to be intimidating and anyone can learn how to do it. I’m not going to discuss hydroponics or any fancy new growing techniques. I believe some things are just better the old-fashioned way, and gardening is one of them. With some basic tools, some soil, and a few seeds, you’ll be producing your own vegetables in no time.
1. Decide where your garden will go. You’ll want to pick a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Almost all plants require at least partial sun, and most—like tomatoes and peppers—prefer as much full sunlight as possible. Set aside one sunny Saturday or Sunday where you will be home most of the day and note which areas of your yard are receiving direct sunlight every couple of hours.
You’ll quickly get an idea of the areas constantly covered by shade to avoid, and the bright sunny places where plants will thrive.
2. Start small and plant things you’ll actually eat. During the excitement of starting your first garden it is easy to become too ambitious. If you try to take on too much during your first year as a gardener, you’ll likely get overwhelmed and give up.
Think of the top 3 or 4 vegetables that you’re already eating on a regular basis and try growing those to start with. Sure growing eggplants looks cool, but what’s the point if you don’t enjoy eating them?
Here are some crops that are both easy to grow, and that most people also enjoy eating:
- Lettuce – Use the “cut and come again” harvesting method to keep getting repeat harvests off the same plant.
- Tomatoes – If you accidentally grow more tomatoes than you can eat, you can always learn how to can them.
- Potatoes – Planting just one piece of a potato will produce a whole bag’s worth by the end of the season.
- Carrots – Just make sure to give them lots of water early on for good seed germination.
- Radishes – These spicy roots grow super fast and are ready to harvest in just 4 weeks!
3. Talk to other gardeners or farmers in your area to figure out what grows best and when. Lots of people in your city already have experience with what works and what doesn’t, so use their experience to avoid learning the hard way.
4. Consider creating a raised bed. Growing in a raised bed (or any other type of container) gives you better control over your soil and nutrients. In areas with extremely sandy or clay-filled soil this is definitely the way to go.
You can easily put together a raised bed with some planks of wood and deck screws. Your new bed can then be placed directly on top of existing grass without any digging. Just fill it with bags of store-bought soil or compost and you’re ready to grow.
If you aren’t using a raised bed, you will want to remove all grass from the area you want your garden to go, and use the double digging gardening technique to loosen and prepare the soil for your plants.
5. Buy the basic supplies. When it comes to tools, you don’t need to go overboard and spend hundreds of dollars on the fanciest gardening equipment in your first year. I’ve included a list of the bare minimum supplies you will need in the “What Will You Need?” section below.
6. Keep up with it. After you set up your garden and get everything planted, it will still require ongoing maintenance in the form of watering, weeding, controlling pests, and more. If you neglect your garden it can get out of hand and become an unproductive mess, so set aside some time to check up on it at least a few times per week.
7. Don’t stop learning. Don’t expect your garden to be perfect in your first year. A lot of gardening comes down to trial and error to find out what works in your climate and soil, so don’t be discouraged if some types of plants grow great while others don’t produce anything at all.
Thanks to the Internet you can keep learning different gardening techniques and have any questions answered relatively easily. If you come across any specific plant diseases or pests in your garden, a simple search engine query will generally help you figure out how to fix it.
What Will You Need?
A basic garden spade and bow rake – these will cost you around $20 each and are really the only tools you need to start your first garden. You will need these to loosen and prepare your soil, including removing any large rocks or roots.
When it comes to tools, you do get what you pay for, so it might be worth paying an extra $5-10 for a sturdy shovel that will last for years, instead of buying something that looks thin and flimsy.
Packets of seeds will set you back about $2 per type of vegetable you plan to grow. Each package likely contains more seeds than you’ll need, so you will have some left over for next year as well.
Seed packets have valuable information including:
- How deep and how far apart to plant the seeds
- What time of year to plant them
- The number of days until the plant reaches maturity
As for additional nutrients your garden might need, simply buying a couple of bags of pre-made garden soil mix and adding it to your existing dirt will do the trick in most cases. That way you don’t need to worry about mixing compost, manure, perlite, and other soil additives.
Reading fertilizer bags can be confusing as well. The different numbers on the label show the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium the fertilizer contains. Choosing the wrong one or using too much can actually harm or kill your crops and ruin your soil for seasons to come, so I would recommend just trying to grow your plants without it the first year and see how they do.
A composter just makes sense for anyone with a garden. Collect your vegetable peelings, grass cuttings, teabags, egg shells, cardboard and more instead of throwing them in the trash. Over time, they will produce a rich black soil that your garden will love. One composter generally provides enough new nutrient-rich soil that you won’t need to buy it from the store ever again.
Need somewhere to sit and admire your work after your long day in the garden? Your next project might need to be a DIY flagstone patio.
Time to Put That Green Thumb to Work!
There are so many great benefits to your health and well-being that come from gardening, so it’s time to get started if you don’t have a garden already!
Even if you live in an apartment, you can easily start by growing herbs and smaller plants in containers. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, you can create your own garden with very little setup cost. Even a modestly-sized garden can produce free food for your family all summer long.
Best of all, you’ll know exactly where your food comes from. You’ll cut down on your carbon emissions associated with food transportation, and can rest assured that the food you’re providing to your family is free of pesticides and chemicals.
Just make sure to start small and plan ahead. You’ll be on track to be eating your own home-grown veggies in no time!
Once your fresh vegetables are ready, be sure to check out the video below to learn about some great cookbooks. Many of them feature recipes that will allow you to transform your fresh ingredients into scrumptious dishes.