Why grow your own vegetables

Why Grow Vegetables?

I grow most of my own vegetables, including enough to freeze for eating all winter.  When the fall harvest arrives, I’m often overwhelmed by all the work.

Is my time really worth so little that I should spend it growing vegetables when I could just buy them from the store?

Why do I eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring planting every year if it’s so much work?

Here are seven reasons I grow my own vegetables:

Why grow your own vegetables

It’s a total body workout in the fresh air

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood

Gardening uses just about every muscle in your body.  This is especially true if you avoid power tools, a key to getting all the benefits of gardening.  

To care for your garden you must reach, stretch, squat, walk, crawl, kneel and carry.  Sure, you could do crossfit and work all those same muscles, but you won’t have stepped in a hole or pushed a wheelbarrow over a lopsided bump in the path.  Gardening is true real life physical training. 

Besides there’s the fresh air factor – how you feel after an hour of working outside in the fresh air is far better than how you feel after an hour running on a treadmill inside a building.

If you haven’t ever had a garden, just know that the way you feel at the end of the day in the spring is similar to how you might feel after raking leaves in the fall.  Yes, it hurts, but you also know you are alive.

Plus, there’s that smell of dirt.  You are likely to be good and dirty at the end of a day gardening.  Good dirt.  Full of good microbes.  You will know you’ve done something productive and that shower will feel like heaven.

Being in nature soothes you

You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.

Unknown

Ever heard of forest bathing?  There are reputable studies that show that being in nature can make you feel better – in physical AND mental ways.  Although most of these studies involve people going out for walks in the woods, I have found that weeding, either in a forest of tomatoes, or just a patch of lettuce, has the same effect.  Being right there in the dirt literally grounds you.

This is one of those cases where avoiding power tools is crucial.  I do not get the same soothing results from wielding the rototiller as I do from pulling weeds by hand.  Thankfully, the rototiller rarely has to be used.

It produces food to eat

Flowers look beautiful, but fruits and vegetables nourish the body and the soul.

Janelle McCulloch

So yes, you can get both exercise and a connection with nature by growing flowers.  I do grow some cutting flowers myself.  I like to look at them in the garden and then bring them into the house to add some natural beauty. 

But really, a vegetable garden can look at least as lovely as some suburban flowering shrubs, and also provide something delicious to eat.  Vegetables are where most of the critical vitamins and minerals needed for a strong healthy body come from.  You aren’t getting that from looking at the pretty flowers.

You get to share it with friends

You don’t have a garden just for yourself.  You have it to share.

Augusta Carter

While I plan my garden as carefully as I can to minimize the dreaded zucchini overload, there’s always something extra – from tomatoes to beets, eggplants to peppers.  There’s only so much that will fit in the deep freeze. 

What better way to get to know your neighbor than to share, just a few, lovely peppers with them on a July evening?  

I find that once people are in my garden, they don’t leave.  They start out curious about everything I’m growing, but then we continue talking about all sorts of things while standing among the veggies.  

Having someone over to pick your excess tomatoes is a great way to get to know them.

It takes care of the earth

If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just miracles of technology.  We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Most of suburbia has transformed the land from a diverse collection of forest, field and wetland into a static display of lawns with the same collections of trees and shrubs from the nursery center.  Although a vegetable garden does not attempt to recreate what was there before we showed up, it does provide a diversity beyond the suburban lawn.  This benefits the insects and birds still trying to live there.

We lived on a farm before we moved to suburbia in 2020.  My established farm garden was filled with honeybees and strange exotic looking bugs.  These insects did not bite or sting us, but they did provide great pollination and attracted birds.  I was shocked to see only a few honey bees and hear so few birds singing in the first year of my suburban garden.  However, I am sure with time and patience it will support a wide variety of insects and birds. 

In addition, by growing your own vegetables you are decreasing the amount of field grown vegetables. Farmers growing vegetables for the packing plant must grow huge fields of just one type of vegetable at a time to make harvesting efficient.  A field of just one kind of plant not only limits the diversity of the insects and animals that field, but allows bugs that love that vegetable to flourish.  This leads to greater pesticide use.  A field full of one kind of plant also can deplete the soil of nutrients faster and require more synthetic fertilizers.

I have a garden full of different vegetables.  I am also able to grow varieties that don’t meet mechanical harvesting standards for even greater diversity.  Using just simple crop rotation, I am able to grow all my vegetables without using any pesticides.  I only occasionally use an organic fish fertilizer (once in 2020, none in 2019, none in 2018).  I rely instead on homemade compost.  

Besides adding to diversity and reducing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growing your own vegetables also reduces fossil fuel use.  The average vegetable in a grocery store travels 1500 miles.  That’s a lot of diesel fuel.  The tomato from your backyard doesn’t even require the gas to get you to the grocery store or the farmer’s market.

Homegrown tastes better

It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.

Lewis Grizzard

A warm tomato eaten while standing in the graden certainly is one of the greatest pleasures in life. But there’e more than just the fresh tomatoes that are more delicious from your garden.  Even frozen peas taste better if they are from your garden. Part of this great taste is because the vegetables have been allowed to ripen fully and are eaten fresher.  There’s a reason that so many top chefs work directly with local farmers to supply their kitchens.

But another part of this better taste comes from better nutrition of unique plant varieties grown in the healthier soil in your backyard garden providing.  Yes, the varieties of plants grown and the actual soil health (as opposed to chemical fertilizers) affect not only the taste but also the nutrition of your vegetables. 

And don’t forget the fact that you can grow and freeze all sorts of vegetables not found in grocery stores. I absolutely love Swiss Chard.  I can have it in the middle of winter.  I also freeze zucchini and yellow summer squash to eat during January snows.  What unique vegetable do you love that could be growing in your backyard?

You know where your food comes from 

There are two dangers in not owning a farm: the belief that heat comes from the furnace and food comes from the supermarket.

Aldo Leopold

Back when we had our farm and chickens, we heard of people who would not eat eggs from a farm.  They would only eat eggs from the grocery store. I don’t think they had ever visited a commercial egg farm, or they would have never eaten an egg again.

Much (deserved) attention has been given to the treatment and the health of the animals who produce much of our food.  We want to know where our meat and dairy products come from.

But this interest has not been extended to vegetables yet.

I’m not really sure why.  There are numerous spinach and lettuce recalls every year due to field and processing contamination.  

If you’ve grown your own vegetables you know exactly what has been put in the soil and on the plants.  You know exactly how long it took to get from table to plate and where it was in between. You know whether it’s truly organic or not.

It’s comforting to know that what I am putting in my body is exactly what I expect it to be.

Growing things teaches you

A garden is a grand teacher.  It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

Gertrude Jekyll

If you have children, a garden teaches them not only that potatoes grow in the ground, but that french fries take a lot of work and a lot of oil. They learn that green beans are really yummy raw, and that shelled peas should be treated like gold.  They will appreciate the vegetables on their plate if they had to participate in the work that put them there.

But there are things to learn every year even for seasoned gardeners.

My garden is different every year.  I plant the same sorts of things every year, but due to weather or bugs or rabbits I get different results.  There are years when I have more cucumbers than can be pickled and given away and years where every cucumber is a treasure.  

Whether I watch a plant grow from a tiny seed into a giant carrot, or see a pea plant that struggles through the whole season to produce just a few pea pods, the process is amazing.  That I can rely on the earth to produce for me what I need to eat, with just a little bit of effort is a miracle.

I have learned to work with the plants, to trust that if they look like they are failing not to panic.  Often they will come back with just a little space and mulch.  I have learned that if the tomatoes aren’t doing well, I will probably have plenty of squash.

I have learned if I am having a bad day that 30 minutes thinning carrot seedlings will have me put back into the right frame of mind.

I have learned that even when it seems like I’m going to be drowning in tomatoes forever, that the frost will come and then I will miss the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato until the next summer.

But I have also learned that next summer will come.

What do you that isn’t ‘worth it’?

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