Thinking about starting a vegetable garden, but not quite convinced yet? Let me give you a nudge with my top 12 reasons to start a garden. Once you start having your own garden, you’ll be hooked!
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In no particular order:
It’s a produce stand right in your back yard (or balcony)! No need to run to the store to pick up vegetables and/or herbs for dinner after a long day at work. Not sure what to make for dinner? Your garden will tell you with what is ripe and ready to pick and eat.
My herb garden is right at the base of the back steps. Perfect for running outside quick to snip some fresh chives or parsley. Or oregano, sage or thyme. And some spearmint for a mojito!
You will save TONS of money by growing your own food – and even more if you buy organic produce. Read about how much I saved just on acorn squash alone here. A packet of seeds cost around $2-3 and usually contains at least 25 seeds (more if they are tiny seeds.) At the highest price of $3.00 for 25 seeds, that’s 12¢ a plant! Twelve cents for 20+ slicing tomatoes. Or a bajillion cherry tomatoes. (no lie, those plants are prolific.)
Look at the prices of what you are buying at the store, and the quantities you buy regularly. For instance, those plastic clamshells of cherry tomatoes go for about $2.50 on sale, and are enough for about 4-5 salads. One cherry tomato plant will produce hundreds of tomatoes throughout the season. A few years ago, I grew three plants, and had so many tomatoes, that I was giving away about 10 bags of 25 tomatoes about once a week. Now I plant a single cherry tomato plant, and still have more than I can use.
Freshness & Quality
Since we’re talking about cherry tomatoes, have you ever gotten one in the middle of the clamshell that is all puckered? Or worse – a ball of mold? Ewwwwww. No more of that nonsense and wastefulness. Go outside; pick what you need; cook and eat! The produce you grow yourself will be fresher, and of much better quality than anything in the grocery store. And fresher produce will have more nutrients than that dull, lifeless stuff in the produce department.
Have you ever eaten a homegrown tomato fresh from the garden? Best flavour ever!!! No matter what you grow, it will taste better than what you buy at the store. Or fresh herbs rather than that dried stuff in a jar? Whoa. What a difference!
No plastic clamshells! No plastic bags! Or those stupid stickers!
Reduce your carbon footprint by using less gas going shopping.
Plus plants are good for air quality.
When you grow your own produce, you get to choose what you like best. I prefer purple pod beans over regular green beans – although I do grow both. The purple beans are perfect for blanching and freezing, because they are at the exact stage of being blanched when the purple turns green. That’s my signal to scoop the beans out of the boiling water and into a ice water bath prior to freezing. How perfect is that? They taste the same as green beans, and the dark purple makes them so much easier to see when I forget to bring my glasses out to the garden.
I tried some white eggplant from the farmer’s market, and now I am hooked! The skins are thinner than the purple variety, and have no bitterness. That means less time in prepping when I make eggplant parmesan.
So that’s just two different varieties that save me time in the kitchen.
Another hard-to-find herb that I love is opal basil. It’s a deep purple, and I use it for making herbal vinegar. The purple leaves turn the vinegar a beautiful raspberry colour, and add a wonderful basil flavour. I’ve never seen it in the store or the farmer’s market, so it’s one of my “must plant” items every year.
Have you ever tried English cucumbers? They are about a foot long, have teeny tiny seeds, and the thin skin has no bumps or little prickers. I can grow a ton of that variety in comparison to the smaller, regular cucumbers, and get more yield in the same amount of space.
This is the size of the heirloom plum tomatoes I grow for making up to 32 quarts of sauce each season. I buy the plants from a local nursery, who has been growing them for years and years. As far as I know, they are the only source for these plants. The tomatoes are about the size of a softball! That means less tomatoes needed per quart of sauce, and more sauce per season. At $3-5 per jar at the store, that’s a LOT of money saved.
One of the benefits of gardening is plenty of time to have some peaceful moments to gather your thoughts. Weeding and watering doesn’t require much concentration, so my mind wanders off and thinks deep thoughts. Even if you don’t use the time to daydream, it’s a great way to escape social media, TV, and all the noise and intrusions of daily life.
People wonder how I stay so thin, and I just say “I have a yard and a garden.” Seriously, who needs a gym when there is digging, lifting and bending to do from spring through fall. Yes, the first spring day out in the garden is usually felt the next morning, but it’s a good ache. You know you’ve worked muscles that haven’t been used in a while, and as the season progresses, so do you! You will feel the aches less and less, and watch your body get stronger and stronger. And tan too! (Just use some sunscreen, okay?)
Make friends with the neighbours!
The picture above is just an idea of a daily harvest. That’s a 5-gallon bucket filled with slicing tomatoes and acorn squash. When you grow your own produce, there will always be more than enough. And if you grow zucchini, you will soon find out what “more than enough” can mean! Give some away to friends, neighbours and family and still have plenty for yourself.
If you have kids, the garden is an excellent classroom! I’ve taught programs for kindergartners through high school, and kids love gardening!
Every day in the garden is a learning experience – even if it’s only to appreciate where your food comes from.
I started learning about gardening at age 4 – literally at my father’s knee. I remember him teaching me the difference between carrot leaves and the surrounding weeds as we weeded the rows. At the end of my “lesson”, we pulled up a carrot and washed it off with the hose, and I stood there chomping it with the greens still hanging off the end. I was hooked on gardening from that very moment. You can give your kids and yourself some fond memories just like this!
Another funny memory is when my dad took me with him to the local nursery. (the same one where I get my special plum tomato plants.) The farm was run by Mrs. Perry – and she and my dad were old friends. The two of them would talk (for what seemed like hours to my little 6-year old self) . To keep me out of their hair, Mrs. Perry would send me to the in-ground cold frames to go pick out a pansy plant to keep. During previous visits, she had already taught me what to look for in the “perfect plant” – no yellow leaves, lots of buds, sturdy stems…everything.
So off I went to the cold frames, which were basically 2 feet deep, 4 feet wide trenches lined with concrete blocks, and black plastic lining the bottom. She kept hundreds of 3″ pots of pansies out there where it was cooler than the greenhouses. (pansies like it cool.) I spent hours searching for that perfect plant. And there it was! Right in the center of the cold frame. I stretched and stretched as far as I could from the edge of the trench, reaching to grab my prize.
And landed face-first into the middle of all those plants.
The good news is, I survived; the plants all survived; and I didn’t get banned from the farm! Actually, I still go there every few weeks during the growing season. But to this day, I still can’t look at a pansy plant without thinking about my little adventure. And I still like pansies too. 🙂
Years later, I taught organic vegetable gardening to groups of high school students. We had two plots in the local community garden, and the kids raised vegetables to donate to local families in need. The kids were asking so many good questions about gardening, so while teaching that program, I took a course through the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, and became a certified Master Gardener.
And in conjunction with my former job, I spent a day observing a program at Riker’s Island where the inmates learned gardening skills in order to gain employment upon their release. James Jiler, who developed the horticultural therapy program, wrote a book on it, called Doing Time in the Garden.
Pride & a sense of accomplishment
See that garden in the photo above? That was a patch of grass earlier that year. Now it is brimming with free groceries! It gives me so much pride and feeling of accomplishment to look out my kitchen window and see it every day throughout the summer.
When friends and family visit, we always take a “tour” to see what’s growing.
Gardening is so enjoyable! Digging, planting and just being outside in the sun feels so good and relaxing.
As a direct result of gardening, I also enjoy another hobby – photography. It started with me wanting to document the plants that I grow. Now I have a macro lens, and head out to the gardens to see what I can capture. The farm (where I fell into the pansies) is one of my favourite places to go – and not only for plants. I always bring my camera along, and take shots in all the greenhouses. It’s my “happy place”.
Another fun thing that is a result of gardening, is going to the annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show. I bring my list of seeds that I am searching for. It’s also a great place to see new varieties of plants, interesting landscape designs, and best of all – get an early burst of spring, since it is held in February.
So, what are you waiting for? Start a garden! And download my free 56-page Garden Journal where you can keep records of your garden.