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I recently wrote a blog post about The Top Mistakes I Made as a Beginning Gardener. Now, I certainly want you to read that one and heed the advice so you will be much better prepared than me. However, even if you skip the article or completely ignore everything I said in that post I want to encourage you to plant the garden anyway!
#1. Even if you are a terrible gardener you will probably grow some food
Green thumb or not, you can grow some basic produce and experience the joy that is eating food you grow yourself. The best piece of advice is, if you are just starting out, choose at least a few easy crops so you can have a gardening ego boost right off the bat.
Herbs are ridiculously easy as they are basically just tasty weeds. You can grow them in the ground or pots. If you simply water them, you should be able to add basil to pizza, lasagna, and even strawberry basil water infusions! Mint will try to take over if not potted, but can garnish everything from iced tea to chicken.
Tomatoes, even if you only get a few, will forever change the way you think of store-bought tomatoes. You will turn into an insufferable tomato snob, guaranteed. Trucked-in big box tomatoes can’t hold a candle to vine-ripened deliciousness. I think the little cherry ones are the easiest to grow, and produce prolifically even if you don’t do everything perfectly. Trust me, I didn’t do it all perfectly, and we still had more than we could eat.
Until the squash bores got my zucchini, they produced like wildfire and literally grow overnight. I felt like a gardening goddess once they were in their prime!
#2. It’s important for kids to learn food comes from nature- not the grocery store
As a culture, we have really lost touch with where our food comes from and how it’s produced. I think some of this is improving with farm-to-table movements and general awareness, but we tend to keep the hows and whys of food production away from the forefront of our minds. This is especially true with meat production, but that’s a whole other blog post in and of itself, so we’ll stick with fruits and veggies today. In order for children to both appreciate food, and the hard work that it takes to produce it, they really need to see it in action.
Science lessons abound around gardening, and even little kids can grasp that plants need sunlight and water to grow. (Ugh, as I type this, I realized I forgot to water mine last night.) “Even little kids know this, blah blah blah.” Yeah, well, maybe adults should also write this stuff down so as not to forget and check the garden daily… I digress, but everything from the plants themselves to garden pests is a learning opportunity.
If you are lucky, they may even be more likely to eat the veggies if they participate in growing them.
Last year we planted potatoes and got what amounted to a single serving of potatoes for everyone at a single dinner. Paltry at best, but the kids LOVED planting and digging them up to harvest. They had no idea prior to this experience that potatoes grew in the ground, and despite the lack of potato production I would encourage you to try it. I’m certainly going to try potatoes again with a better plan and hope for higher production.
Corn is a crop that can be more challenging to grow without pesticides but the stalks and tassles give maximum impact for kids even if you only get a few ears to eat. Most kids like corn, and seeing it on the stalk is impressive. The stalks also make great fall decorations. I personally find it striking how such a big plant only produces a few ears each, and you really get a sense of how much has to be planted to produce all the corn products that are included in animal and human foods produced in the US. Not to mention ethanol production for gasoline blends. You’re pumping some of this stuff into your tank every time you fill up at the pump as well! Unless, you have a plug-in electric or diesel vehicle.
#3. The first season or two is going to be rough so you might as well suck it up and just get on with it.
Like just about everything else in life, it takes time to get good at gardening. If you keep waiting until you’ve perfectly researched it and have everything planned out you will end up never gardening. Especially if you have little kids and a job and everything else going on, it’s easy to forget to not let perfect be the enemy of good! And if you get even a few lettuce leaves instead of the gorgeous ones in the picture, that’s okay and totally a win!
Some of the problems you will encounter you won’t even know they are problems you need to research until you get started. Soil conditions, parasites, how much is too much water. Your techniques will improve with time and practice, you just have to dive in and do it.
Fortunately, there are multiple resources that can help you as you go along. There are several apps that will help you identify pests and give gardening tips. I would also encourage you to find Facebook gardening groups local to your area. Experienced gardeners are so helpful and want to share information to help you improve your garden and produce yield. Oftentimes, some of the members that have gardened in your area for years can offer location-specific advice more relevant to your locale, that can be difficult or impossible to find in some generic gardening articles or books.
I consider the book Square Foot Gardening to be a sort of gateway drug to organic and homestead gardening. It makes growing food accessible and easy even in a suburban setting. I don’t think you necessarily have to go all out with the soil mix in the book but conceptually it provides a framework to build off of for your gardening dreams.
#4 Gardening is a form of meditation
I wonder if it’s just the act of being quiet by yourself – which if we are being honest is a rare commodity these days – that allows you to slow down and rejuvenate your brain. I’m a huge fan of listening to books or podcasts while doing other tasks, but it is also worth considering the garden time as a time to practice being mindful and solely and wholly focused on one activity, or to allow your mind to wander to creative pursuits. I’m super guilty of pulling my phone out while waiting in line at the grocery store or any other mundane activity trying to fill the moments, but unplugging from the chaos really allows you to open up to the creative streams in your head. If nothing else, you get to be quiet and reflective if even for a little while.
On the mornings that I’ve been out in the garden before the kids are awake, I find that I already feel like I’ve accomplished some tasks for the day and my brain is better able to handle the chaos that awaits. Putting your hands in the dirt centers your brain.
#5. It’s addictive
An addiction that the more you do it the better your results and the healthier you become because of it!
If you can get just a little bit growing, the desire to plant more is like a drug. Once you experience the wonder of planting a tiny seed in the ground, watching it sprout and then continually producing vegetables, you get hooked. I’m pretty sure I was getting major dopamine hits every time I picked a veggie out of the garden! You start thinking about all the possibilities for your garden and how you can grow more of your own food. How much food can I possibly grow? What are the best ways to store it? How can I get greater variety in my garden? It’s also a great feeling when you can give produce away to friends or take to work to hand out. People always want fresh home grown food even if they don’t want to grow it for themselves.
I think that whole dirt-brain-centering thing is addictive, too. Starting your day from a better place is helpful for everyone in the family- and who doesn’t want to have a better attitude? I think whether we like it or not, the tone that we as parents set for the day has a trickle down effect on our kids. Whether we project calm or frustration, they will go along with it. If they are having a hard time for whatever reason, our calm responses help to bring them back to a better place much faster. If anything will help my patience and general well-being as a parent, I’m in!
Now, if free food, teaching children, self-improvement, better mental health, and a general increase in happiness with a new hobby can’t convince you to put in a garden, I don’t know what will! Good Luck and Happy Gardening!
Don’t forget to check out The Top Mistakes I Made as a Beginning Gardener