Harvesting Healthy Habits

Today’s practices in regards to food have been questionable. Most of the time, the food we buy is waxed, genetically engineered, contaminated, flavorless or “fake organic.” Instead, opt for home gardening, which is proven to be a great alternative for a healthier diet.

When you grow your own food, you don’t have to worry about its quality or contamination that may occur during the manufacturing process; you can trust that your food is safe and healthy to eat. For many people home gardening is a hobby, while for others it’s a great way to spend time surrounded by nature, increase physical activity and promote mental health as you grow quality food. Throw in fresh, pesticide-free fruits and veggies filled with health-promoting antioxidants, fiber, and great taste and you have all of the reasons you need to get your hands dirty building your own garden.

Home gardening lets you choose organic fertilizers, natural pesticides; you can harvest foods at their peak too, allowing them to accumulate nutrients that might otherwise be lost that when they are picked unripe for easier shipping. Also, when you put the effort into choosing, growing, and harvesting your own fruits, vegetables and herbs, you are likely to eat more of them.

Some other benefits associated with caring for a home garden include better level of cardiovascular fitness and reduction of osteoporosis. Studies have that the risks associated with Diabetes can be decreased through active gardening. Other studies show that when children were exposed to gardening, they tended to eat what they grew, resulting in better and healthier food choices. Outdoor activities like gardening can boost your mood and make you a happier person. So, if you normally turn to pricey habits like shopping to help boost your mood, try gardening instead.

Growing fruits and vegetables may seem overwhelming to some people, but it’s actually much simpler than it sounds. You can start growing food in your own backyard with only a few square feet, a water source and a little time. Start small. Plant things you like to eat. Pick a spot with at least 3-4 hours of good daytime light and access to water. Look at the space you have. If you’re working with limited space, you should consider container and vertical gardening. For instance, you can build outdoor shelving and have several layers of pots on your deck or use the backyard fence to grow climbing veggies like peas, passion fruit and cucumbers. It is recommended to use a contaminant-free soil or a raised garden bed, to control the soil and nutrient blend. Many vegetables grow well in partial shade with at least 3 hours of sun or consistent dappled sun, throughout the day. The vegetables that grow well in partial shade are: lettuce, arugula, endive, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beets, brussels sprouts, radishes, mustard greens, spinach, kale and beans. These vegetables, however, grow best in full sun: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash and corn.

The ideal place for your herb garden is near the kitchen, so if you have a sunny spot in well-drained soil, that’s the place to plant the herbs. Put drought-resistant herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage in a spot that won’t get too much water. Other plants such as dill, basil, cilantro, and parsley need more regular watering.

Gardening can be an enjoyable activity, but keep in mind that excess sun, heat, and unwelcome insects can make it not so enjoyable. Always be sure to wear a hat, gloves, and sturdy shoes; use sunscreen, be prepared for mosquitoes and other insects, stay hydrated, and take breaks as needed—especially when first starting out.

Whatever your reason or motivation to grow your own home garden, there’s a good chance that you’ll take pleasure in this new healthy hobby. Your wallet, body, taste buds, and the environment will thank you!

By Dr. Iris I. Mercado, EdD, CDN