There is a huge growing trend in people wanting to become more self-sufficient, where living off your own garden can provide enormous health and environmental benefits. Give it a try for a cleaner, healthier, more environmentally friendly and cheaper way of living. The following is a beginner’s guide, informing on the benefits, how to get started, and a few tips and tricks to make growing your own food easy!
Health and Environmental Benefits
1. Growing Your Own Food Without Pesticides.
Pesticides are toxic substances used to kill living things. In the garden the most common ones you will come across are herbicides, which kill weeds, and insecticides which eradicate insects.
Over 40 years of research has linked pesticides to a wide range of health problems in adults and children, including temporary issues like nausea and headaches through to long term problems such as ADHD, reproductive difficulties and many forms of cancer. Children are particularly at risk as they are more sensitive to chemicals, plus they often play in areas which have been exposed to pesticides. By using organic methods of gardening and natural forms of pest control you can negate these issues. This is why it’s important to wash your fruit and veg you get from the shops!
2. Exercise Benefits Through Gardening
Gardening entails a wide range of movement and this helps to build muscle and strengthen joints. It is also good for flexibility as you are often extending legs and arms to get to hard to reach areas. As with any form of exercise, to see any real benefits, you need to garden for at least 30 minutes at a time. This will burn calories and in the process help to lower your cholesterol levels; reduce blood pressure; decrease your risk of diabetes; and slow osteoporosis, which is particularly important for women.
Physical exercise also has a positive effect on the mind. It helps to alleviate depression and decrease stress levels. You are also working outside in the fresh air and this too has been shown to strengthen mental health.
3. Benefits of Eating Fruit and Vegetables
We are all aware we should eat more fruit and vegetables. In the UK we have the ‘5 a Day’ campaign and in the USA dietary guidelines recommend that half your plate should comprise fresh produce.
Fruits and vegetables are good for us for several reasons. First, they contain dietary fibre and this lowers the incidence of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Second, they contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents which combine to keep us healthy and ward off disease.
4. The Environment
The biggest benefit for the environment, when you live off your garden, is the short distance the food has to travel from where it is grown to your plate. We are all being advised to reduce the ‘food miles’ of the produce we consume and the best ways to do this are to buy locally and eat seasonally. When you rely on the fruits and vegetables you have produced yourself you can only eat in season and it is always local. Furthermore, you will decrease your plastic wastage. Buying from the shop also entails bringing home with you a large quantity of plastic the food is packaged in.
A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables
Deciding Where to Grow
Vegetables grow best where it is sunny, so choose carefully when you are deciding where to plant. You can always add shade for more delicate crops such as salad and fruit bushes.
The majority of soil found in gardens will suit vegetable growing. However, if your soil is shallow, full of stones or clay rich, which will be cold and wet in winter, build raised beds or plant in large pots.
Dealing with Pests
One advantage of growing your own produce is the avoidance of pesticides and therefore you will want to deal with slugs and snails naturally.
Keep the plot clear of weeds and leaves and put a paved or soil path between beds, so you or the birds can spot pests easily. If you are having particular problems you could always lay down organic slug pellets.
Preparing the Soil
Before you start planting you should turn the soil over and remove weeds, roots and stones. This helps to prevent weeds returning and improves drainage. Some gardens will suffer the blight of perennial weeds and in this case cover the soil with newspaper and add a layer of compost about 5cm in depth.
Getting the Best From Planting
Follow the instructions on the seed packets as closely as possible, especially when you are new to vegetable gardening. Compost can be hugely beneficial to your garden so collect your lawn clippings, organic kitchen waste and anything you prune from the garden.
While you may read to let your ground lie fallow for a period, such as with crop rotation in farming, this isn’t possible in a small space. However, what you can do is grow different crops in a bed in subsequent years.
Easy Fruit and Vegetables to Grow
As a beginner you will want to choose crops which are easy and provide a wide range of nutrients.
Vegetables: Many people start out with courgettes and runner beans as these are particularly easy to grow. Broccoli, kale and spinach are excellent choices nutritionally and varieties of beans can be filling and protein-rich.
Root vegetables: Potatoes can be used in a wide variety of ways in cooking and are easy to store. Beetroot, carrots and onions are also good choices.
Salad: Salad vegetables and herbs are expensive and in the summer most families will consume large amounts of them. Tomatoes, peppers, radishes, cucumbers and spring onions are fast growing and plentiful. Herbs will add flavour to any dish and in the winter months can be grown indoors.
Fruit: Don’t forget about fruit as yields are high and will last through the season. They are easy to freeze and to turn into jams. Apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are wise choices for beginners.
Extras: It is best to keep in mind what you like to cook with when you are planting. Garlic and mushrooms provide health benefits and spirulina, although less well known, is a great nutritional addition if you have relatively little space.
A Vegetable Calendar Will Help You Plan
One of the biggest helps to you as you plan your growing cycle will be a vegetable calendar. This tells you exactly the steps you need to take to live off your own garden. Highlighting when you need to plant each vegetable and care instructions until it is time to harvest. For example, if you want to grow radishes it tells you to plant them in the first week of April under cloches and that they will be ready to eat by the end of May. Gooseberries need pruning in the first quarter of the year, mulching in early April, watering in June and are ready for picking in July.
Once you have a plan and start working in your garden, you will soon enjoy the many benefits of living from your own land.