Organic Gardening…for exercise, health and big nature love!

By Deborah Kates

Ah, Spring-birds tweeting, sweet soft breezes, flowers unfolding and worms poking their heads up in the dirt? Oh be still my heart, because that’s my call to get down and dirty with my favorite force of nature-Organic Gardening. Done without synthetic fertilizers and often toxic pesticides and herbicides that mess with the plants, the soil (aka good dirt), the water, and the air, gardening is not just better; it’s great, and loaded with benefits. So let me count the ways.
Stress. It increases bad cholesterol, knots you up, and generally can shorten your life. Getting outside is a simple way to put it aside and b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Most of us know this, but it’s finally being examined scientifically. A British study indicates that spending time with nature does help handle stress and creates the happiest people. This is because being in the garden allows you to pack away troubles, be centered, dream a little, and feel nature communicating. Really, plants actually do talk to each other. It’s called allelopathy. Plants and trees use chemical stimulators, repressors and hormones to directly influence their surroundings by attracting other friendly plants and bugs that help growth, pollination, and provide reciprocal
nutrients. Simply summarized they chemically blow off botanical bullies that can hog available sun, moisture or nutrients as well as discourage pests looking for a snack. So why not get in on the gossip? It may sound crazy, but I talk to my vegetable and flowering plants all the time, feeling their leaves and flowers, thanking them for just being, and while I’m at it helping them out by checking for unwelcome insects and their eggs. The beautiful produce and blooms are thanks a-plenty.
Stress relieved-check. Improved mental outlook-check.
Gardening can be an outdoor gym. Burn 250 to 350 calories an hour digging (with the knees of course, not the back), lifting, weeding, raking,
squatting, and hauling two gallon watering cans like sloshy barbells-it’s a real workout. And it’s
guilt-free. The mind loves to play tricks on the sometimes reluctant body to keep us from those planks, walks, lifts, runs, etc. when we’re not in the mood. But the mind gets fooled into enjoying
tending to the living things that will provide your perfect diet of fresh stuff as well as bloomin’ eye candy. Because it just doesn’t seem like work!
You are what you eat. A good organically grown garden provides all you need for what any good nutritionist knows: to eat a rainbow and eat it ripe. Red peppers have some of the highest Vitamin C content of any vegetable. Kale rates at the top for overall nutrition and fiber. A cup of lettuce is six to thirty calories, contains a good count of Omega 3 fatty acids, and has a low glycemic index to lower blood sugar. Carrots, tomatoes, and spinach are especially high in beta carotene, which the body converts into Vitamin A. Put some blueberry bushes in a sunny spot in your growing space, and get the bennies of one of the best boosts to the immune system out there, plus a good fiber percentage. In fact, most fresh vegetables are high in fiber and cellulose, which help with digestion and general cleansing. Fiber helps the body deal with the LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol in two ways: It is utilized to remove spent bile salts; then more LDL cholesterol is used to create fresh salts.
Want more benefits? There’s optimism (can’t be a gardener without that), patience, saving money, and feeding the soul. And it’s a wonderful activity to share with kids. Calming, problem solving, basic math, and sharing time, as well as seeing veggies grow and handling them helps replace the fear of trying new tastes with
curiosity. My Dad had a big garden when I was a kid. He had his own business, and had to drive into Philadelphia at all hours and he was stressed a lot. But once in the garden, I could see it melt away. He paid my sisters and me a-penny-a-row to weed and they were long rows but we did it, and got the love of a terrific and loving tradition and the expanded taste buds that I carry today.
Organic growing is holistic, embracing many approaches to influence your growing area-be it a back yard, balcony or back deck containers. It is a reciprocal relationship -the plants work for you, you work for the plants. As part of that bargain:
w Provide good organic soil, air circulation, sun, water.
w Plant flowers and flowering herbs near or around your vegetables. These will attract birds, butterflies, beneficial insects and bees which pollinate and/or eat or otherwise discourage and destroy garden pests. A prime reason to go organic: Pesticides and herbicides are definitely not their friends.
w Mulch Madness! Make those earthworms and other beneficial soil critters happy, keep nutrient-stealing weeds at bay, and preserve moisture in the soil by using organic mulches such as straw (not hay), newspaper or pine needles around plants. Wood chip mulch is fine for paths and flowers, but not for vegetables.
w Soil is a living thing! Keep it fabulous by adding lots of compost. Create your own with plastic cylindrical bins available through many sources online or buy bags of good quality compost available these days in any garden supply stores. Add only organic fertilizers, which are also available just about everywhere due to increased consumer demand.
To get started at this time of year with something easy, try
easy-to-grow leaf lettuces, spinach, and radishes. Dig up a small area, for instance 2ft. by 3ft. or 3ft. by 4ft., after removing the sod (put it in the compost bin if you have one). Mix in some compost, in a compost to soil ration of 3:1 ratio. Or buy some bags of good organic garden soil. As an alternative, fill a larger container with drainage holes in the bottom.
To create a productive and easy way to grow a lot in a contained space such as a raised bed:
w Measure out size you want then lay down some newspapers or uncolored cardboard thickly. Any length is fine, but no wider than
4 feet so you can reach in easily from either side and not strain
your back.
w Add 6 to 8 inches of soil or more. Add some sides to your raised bed of cut lengths of 2″ thick x 6ft. or 8ft. wide pine, cedar, or oak and attach corners. Or use bricks, straw bales, cinder blocks, pavers, or just leave it a mound. You can also buy raised bed kits.
w Follow the seed package instruction for planting width and depth – usually depth is three times the width of the seed. Water well, then water again for the next few days if no rain until seedlings emerge. Then water every few days deeply. Gently thin the seedlings and don’t throw them away. Rinse well and add to salads for a micro-green nutrient boost. Once you taste what you’ve grown, there’s no turning back. You’ll want to try more.
I hope I’ve inspired readers to get outside and get dirty, and grow or polish up a green thumb.
Can ya dig it? I knew that you could!
Deborah Kates is the founder of the Let’s Get Dirty! Learn To Love Organic Gardening a health and wellness program for business, government and hospitals as well as libraries, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, senior centers, farmers markets, and other groups. She gets help from her teammate and longtime main digger, main squeeze and main eater Greg Layton. She is a third generation gardener, Certified Master Composter, and has been an organic
grower for forty years. They live in Wagontown, Chester County.

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