Every spring I look forward to planting my garden. I prepare the soil, plant seeds and starts, water and fertilize and then watch the magic. When I can prepare an entire salad from my garden, or eat jam year-round from berries I grew in my yard, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. If you need more convincing, here are six great reasons to plant a garden.
Go green, literally
Gardening is good for the environment. It's fairly easy to grow an organic garden. Transportation costs are minimal, as your garden is just a few yards from your kitchen. You can use compost from your own food waste to grow more of your own food, and saving rainwater to use on the garden is easy and efficient. Plants clean the air and make it healthier as well. Beyond vegetable gardening, you can plant beds with native plants and those that require little water or reduce soil erosion, making your yard an oasis of green living.
There's nothing like weeding or pruning to get rid of negative emotions. The repetitive nature of planting and watering is also quite soothing to the soul. My husband and I playfully fight over who gets to go water the garden after dinner and who gets to stay inside and supervise kitchen clean up. If I'm feeling tense, working in the garden improves my mood. Plants can definitely make people happy.
The health benefits of gardening are plentiful. First, working in the garden gets you outside in the fresh air, soaking up vitamin D. Next, gardening can be a form of mild exercise because digging, planting, weeding and hauling all burn calories. More obvious benefits include those that come from eating vegetables and fruits. Take leafy greens for example. Right now I have romaine lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach growing. These greens pack a punch of iron and antioxidants to help me and my family be healthy.
Backyard science lab
If you have children, a garden can be a way to continue learning and pique interest in biology and botany. My daughters recently collected earthworms and made a habitat for them. I told them everything I knew about worms, and they were fascinated with trying to figure out which end of the worm was the head.
Kids can also measure the growth of plants, dissect blooms to learn their parts, and chart fruit yield using different watering techniques. It's great for kids to get outside and dig in the dirt.
It's pretty satisfying when I don't have to buy lettuce or tomatoes for a few months in the summer. Some of my herbs produce year round, making my dishes flavorful even in winter. We eat as many blueberries, peas and beans as we can grow. As you get better at gardening, and learn what you like to grow and eat, you can feel more self-sufficient from the grocery store. Freezing and canning are ways to store your produce to use in fall and winter. Websites and extension agencies can help you learn proper techniques.
Fresh, delicious produce
The best benefit of getting your hands dirty in the garden is the fruits and vegetables you produce. Many people say a homegrown tomato tastes so much better than store bought. I find my kids in the garden eating peas, beans and tomatoes right off the vine. Just thinking about picking a bowl of succulent strawberries or collecting perfectly ripe produce for grilled veggies makes my mouth water. Visiting a farmer's market is good, but walking barefoot to fresh produce in your own backyard is the best.
If the promise of truly vine-ripened tomatoes or tender lettuce leaves intrigues you, it's time to plant a garden. You don't need a green thumb, just determination, seeds, water, sunlight and dirt. Soon your family will be enjoying home-grown produce at every meal.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.