27 Benefits to a Veggie Garden; Benefits 15-21

April 20, 2011

Continuing with the good things that come from a home vegetable garden.
Benefits: 1-7 8-14
15.    Learning Tools for Children
Growing up in an urban setting, our only "nature" school project (that I can recall) was an assignment to place a small piece of wet bread in a covered glass jar, keep it in a warm place at home and bring the fuzzy mass back to school for show-and-tell. Ick!
Fortunately, my mother's parents had a small farm in southern Illinois, so I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy homemade soup simmered with veggies that were picked, washed and chopped just minutes before encountering the pot. I can still taste in my mind my grandmother's apple pie made with fruit plucked from the single tree that constituted their "orchard" and provided a lovely shade to escape the summer heat.

That little kitchen garden taught me how food grows from seed to plant and back to seed again, magically producing the freshest veggies for daily meals and snacks. How can a child not like something that he or she planted and nurtured through maturity? These are "acquired tastes" that will last a lifetime of healthy eating!

The mounds of green beans, beets and other assorted veggies that the little garden produced offered new lessons: the huge quantities that were reaped needed to be cleaned and then snapped, sliced and diced for the canning process that would provide for us throughout the winter.

Nowadays, most people don't can anymore, as freezers are faster and more efficient for storing food over the winter than pressure cooking. However, the canning process offers valuable lessons about the dangers of bacterial contamination. If the can bulges or liquid seeps out from a jar's rubber gaskets -- don't think twice. When in doubt, just throw it out!
16.    Lessons in Patience
From seed to bean takes 2 - 2 1/2 months. Dig a trench, plant, cover, water, watch, wait. Watch and wait some more. In between watching and waiting, there are weeds (which you can do something about) and weather (which you can't, except to water during dry spells).

And then there are pests: insects, rodents, deer in some areas and the occasional filching by persons unknown. A host of natural remedies can usually take care of insects and rodents, and probably less-than-natural remedies (fences) can bar deer from your doorstep (gardenstep?). But while Robert Frost suggested that "Good fences make good neighbors," I suggest you consider Benefit 8 and leave the "persons unknown" to help themselves to an occasional treat.

17.    Small Effort (Input) = Large Value (Output)
We've not needed to buy leafy veggies between May and October for quite a few years now. Nice! And having a stock of frozen cherry tomatoes (picked mostly green in early November) for soups  the entire 2010-11 winter season...Cool!

18.    Raw Ingredients to Make Your Own Processed Foods
A half jar of home-made salted cucumbers is the only one left in the fridge from 2010. Neat! (Full disclosure: one jar became a casualty of my "When in doubt..." instinct, except the white fuzzy stuff left no doubt). We've also tried salting and pickling mustard greens and other assorted leafy vegetables to mixed results. While tasty, the results were not exactly  culinary delights to behold.

19.    From Heirloom to Hybrid - A Vast Array of Seeds Await
 Once you scan a couple of good seed catalogs, the mundane, plain-vanilla  supermarket or garden center's seeds that are generally available probably won't capture your imagination, although they will produce perfectly fine plants. For example, we recently picked up a box of wildflower seeds at a dollar shop to scatter around a couple of bare spaces. If they come up, fine. If not, no big deal.
As for the catalogs, I like Territorial Seed, but there are plenty to choose from. Just search on "seed catalogs." If you're a beginner on a budget, start this year with dollar shop or supermarket seeds to try out your green thumb.

Tomatoes are my exception to starting garden plants with seeds. Their time to maturity is simply too long for the normal Chicago growing season, even using a cold frame. Our neighbor starts his seeds under growing lights in his basement in February or March. As for me, the 4" or 6" tomatoes from any of our local stores suits just fine. We planted "patio" tomatoes in our garden last year (removing them from the pot) and they yielded more fruit than the traditional varieties.

A word about hybrid plants - they are NOT the same as genetically modified (GM) plants, a topic for an entirely different post. Hybrid plants are produced by cross-pollinating two different plants that take advantage of the best qualities of each variety. Think Gregor Mendel and his experiments with peas memorialized in an 1865 paper.

20.    Appreciation for farmers
I admire how successful, long-time farmers cope with the unpredictabe variations in growing seasons from one year to the next (last spring was awesome in Chicago; this year, not so much). Weather, insects and other pests, hail damage, tornadoes, too wet, too dry, decisions on fertilizer and  pesticide types and use, commodity pricing, storage, regulatory and seed patent issues...it's hard to wrap my brain around all that as I consider my own little garden hassles.

21.    Be an Inspiration to Others
We can never know the extent of our influence on others. Research tells us that people who exercise with a buddy generally will stick with it longer than those who go it alone. I think the same is true with gardening. You share with a friend a few veggies or tips on improving your yield and next thing you know, your friend transforms into an avid gardener.

Who knows? Maybe I'll even follow my neighbor's practice of starting tomatoes in our basement next year. Hmm. Maybe not.
Benefits 22-27
Category: Now You Know
Filed under
: Gardening, Food/Nutrition, Simple Experiments