By Catherine, the Herb Lady
“Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden."
Orson Scott Card*
The simple pleasure of growing edible vegetables, fruits and herbs and experimenting with new-to-me varieties and even species is what drives me to garden. Yet then there is the practical, the sense of accomplishment, a kind of ‘soul satisfying I did it’ nurturing, a search for healthier alternatives, and empowerment – an overused word but appropriate to the subject – Why Garden?
There is peace within a garden,
a peace so deep and calm
That when the heart is troubled
it’s like a soothing balm . . .
– Rosamond, Lady Langham**
At a time where much of what we have to purchase, use, or need is in the hands of someone else, gardening brings us full circle back to what my grandmother considered commonplace. I have long considered gardening as practical, satisfying, healthy and economically viable.
• Learning how to grow edible plants where you live is as practical a piece of knowledge as learning how to properly build a campfire, change a light bulb or fix a flat tire. You may forever be able to call on someone to do it for you, but what if . . .
• Do not let a fear of words deter you from thinking practical thoughts. Growing some or much of your own food is no longer just the focus of "green" environmental folk, those with a low-income people or the ‘preppers’. It is a time to make it your own.
• My grandmother would have said to be practical, learn everything you can so YOU can take care of you and your family if the need ever arises, be prepared.
• Gardening in your backyard or large containers does not have to be the story of the $200 tomato. Learn, build your knowledge base and experiment - there are many ways to inexpensively grow your own food. Gardening is simple: Sun, soil, sow, water, nurture, harvest.
• A $2 package of seeds can supply you for years, or can be shared with neighbors to spread the gardening around. Plus, saving seeds is easy.
• A "community garden" does not have to be a bed in a designated community space - it can be large pots on balconies at dormitories or apartments, or neighbors growing single produce beds and coming together to share the harvest.
• There is nothing more satisfying than picking a fresh ripe juicy tomato or sugar peas right off the vine (they do not usually even make it into the house) and eating them on the spot - or, better yet, making a meal we grew ourselves.
• The garden is also a quiet and peaceful place as Lady Langham wrote. On tough days I connect with my heart and soul in the garden. I can sit on a bench and listen to the birds or watch the bees visiting the flowers and feel the tension release from my body.
• While I can pull weeds and check for pests to nurture my garden I am at the same time nurturing my inner child.
• There is something so special about sowing a seed, watching it germinate, and grow into something useful while being lovely to view at the same time.
• Most edible plants have a gorgeous presence equal to any ornamental.
• Naturally growing your food without chemicals is safer, healthier and in the long run cheaper than what you can get at a traditional grocery store.
• It is pretty well-known that much of the produce in stores is picked green so it can be shipped long distances and not deteriorate. The problem is that picking unripe food is less nutritious and as soon as it is picked the nutrients in it begin degrading. This means less vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
• Corporate foods are also less healthy overall because of the chemicals used in traditional ‘factory’ farming operations.
• THE most practical of all reasons. Growing some of your own food can be cheaper.
• Many folks do not know that qualified recipients for the SNAP (used to be called food stamps) program can use their EBT card and coupons to purchase seed or plants, which produce food!
• When growing your own you do not have to worry about where some of your food comes from. That is empowerment!
• If you are doing just dandy, perhaps you can work with some of the above groups and learn yourself while helping them take control of even a small part of their lives and budgets.
Where To Get Help
• In the US, local extension services are there to help not only farmers but the backyard gardener too. They are eager to help you succeed.
• If you have a neighbor who is growing a garden ask for advice— this helps build your community. There may be grouches out there, but I do not personally know a single gardener who would not be delighted to tell you how and what they do and offer advice.
• The internet is the world’s library – search for groups in your area with words like sustainable or permaculture.
• Visit your local farmers market and talk to the vendors - they usually love to explain how they got there and tell stories about their produce. Many vendors at our local markets began as backyard gardeners who found success – grew an abundance of produce they could not use or share – so they joined a market to sell the extra.
• And, finally it does not have to be expensive to set up large containers. Any good-sized (5-gallon or bigger) container with holes in the bottom will suffice. Make sure there was nothing toxic stored in it in the past. Soil should be ‘fluffy’ to allow for proper drainage. Place in sun, sow and water as needed.
Growing food is easy, practical, satisfying, healthy and can save you money. So get out and get growing – the only thing stopping you is – you!
*Orson Scott Card is novelist and professor of English at Southern Virginia University.
**Some years ago I went looking for the author of this famous poem - often quoted but never properly attributed. I wound up connecting with the Granddaughter of Lady Langham and received a gift of the book Lady Langham wrote in which the poem appears – a truly precious gift which I will always cherish.
Catherine, The Herb Lady gardens and cooks from her home in Arizona. Check out her blog for interesting garden, cooking and greening topics.