Get up early. Two year old still asleep. Open the back door and tip toe through the chilly wet grass to the edge of my small but fruitful garden. Watch quietly as a goldfinch sweeps down for a bite to eat at the feeder. Soak up the beauty that is red and yellow ripening tomatoes, long dark green cucumbers, slowly climbing pole beans, long stretches of red and curly kale, round crispy heads of cabbage and fragrant basil and oregano. There is nothing quite like a healthy garden at the peak of productivity!
I grew up in a household that always had a garden. I have strong memories of my mother watering, weeding and waiting for the beautiful vegetables that would end up on our dining room table as soups, salads, home-made pickles or vegetarian Sheppard’s pie. Planting, tending to and harvesting the garden is an important (and fun) part of family summer activities. Also, the food was delicious (and nutritious)!
Now that I keep my own garden, I can no longer imagine not having one! Gardening with my two year old son, Tristan has been so rewarding. He loved watching the seeds sprouting and growing each day. Tristan helps me water and loves to pick the beans. But I have to say, his favorite garden activity involves roaming up and down the aisles in search of ripe cherry tomatoes. Even a hardly ripe, slightly green tomato is a gem in his world and he often picks them and gulps them down shouting “tomalo!” before I can even begin to explain that it is not quite ready!
One of the most rewarding aspects about gardening with children is that it teaches them to connect with and respect the environment. From explaining the importance of bees and worms, to talking about how water is good for the plants, gardening helps children experience the magic that is our natural world. My hope is that this love and respect for the garden, nature and wildlife will evolve into a deep appreciation for and desire to protect our environment as a whole. When I see Tristan standing quietly in front of the phlox, watching a bee travel from flower to flower, silently observing for 10 minutes (which is a VERY long time in toddler minutes) I feel like we are well on our way.
Another great reason to grow your own: you save money! Organic vegetables are costly. Even at the peak of the growing season, purchasing organic kale, tomatoes, beans and cabbage can quickly add up. When it comes to your own garden – plant your family’s favourite foods! At this moment we have so many cucumbers that I am searching for new friends just so that I can give them good homes. I am about to start handing out kale bouquets as gifts for my yoga students!
Picking food directly from your garden also means that it is at its peak nutritionally! Fruits and vegetables purchased from the grocery store are often picked while unripe and forced to ripen using ethylene gas. While the food may taste fine, it may be nutritionally deficient because it was not picked at the proper time. Also, because the priority of large scale farmers is not our nutrition but rather harvesting the largest yield possible, the soil is often devoid of important trace vitamins and minerals. Instead the soil has been pumped up with synthetic fertilizers consisting of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These fertilizers provide neither the plant nor the person consuming the plant with complete nutrition. Growing your own means that you can boost the soil naturally using compost, grow your food organically and GMO free, and eat it when it tastes is best and provides you and your family with the most nutrients.
Finally, growing your own garden is good for the planet! Organic gardening means fewer pesticides dumped into our already fragile ecosystem. Also, compared to shipping produce long distances across the country or around the world, the short trip from my squash plant to my kitchen requires no fuel, produces no pollution, and requires no packaging!
Don’t have a yard? Not to worry. Search out old baskets, rain barrels or buckets. Fill them with high quality soil and compost. Place around the entrance to your house or apartment, drop one or two on your balcony or porch, or line your driveway with a few. Bush beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions and a ton of other veggies do well in containers. Every little bit of effort will be worth it when you are sitting down to a meal that you prepared AND grew yourself.