Five reasons to have a vegetable garden

Rather than simply post a weekly update photo of my garden, I thought it would be useful to persuade others why growing your own vegetables is the way to go.  Here is why I garden:

1)  Almost everything tastes better from a home garden than it does from a market, even a high-end one.  Store-bought tomatoes don’t compare – not even close.  Supermarket tomatoes and garden tomatoes are almost different vegetables.  Even the “on the vine organic” tomatoes from the market can’t compare.  Fresh lettuce is so much crisper that all store-bought lettuce is wilty by comparison.  Supermarket carrots lack flavor.

I can't find chiles this good in my local market.

2)  You will learn something.  All vegetable gardeners know failure.  From failure comes knowledge and appreciation.  We learn what it takes to make a plant grow, what kills it, and develop an appreciation for those who farm for a living.  We learn how much water a plant needs, and how to be more efficient with our watering.  We learn about soil, nutrients, insects, and the items used to control all three.  This knowledge often creeps into our social and political views.  It also makes us skeptical of claims – from all sides.

The first year I grew cucumbers, I had more than I could eat. Since then, I have had low yields due to soil parasites.

3)  It’s the only way you truly have control over what you eat.  In a general sense, if I was to rank order vegetables from least nutritious or healthy to most nutritious and healthy, it would be like this (my personal opinion here):

Canned-non-organic <<< canned-organic <<fresh-non-organic<fresh-organic<<<<home-garden

I tried to show how much better I think the next category is by the number of < I used.  As you can see, I don’t think very highly of canned food.  It has its place, but for most vegetables the canned variety seems to lack flavor, so I assume it also lacks nutrients.  I also feel the container itself is wasteful.  The canned-non-organic could slide further or closer to the canned organic based upon what other ingredients are added. Many canned items contain a list of ingredients that you don’t need or aren’t good for you to compensate for the lack of flavor that results from the canning process.

In all cases I feel fresh vegetables are better, mainly because one has much more control over their selection and preparation, and the nutrients have had less time to break down.  I feel that organic fresh produce is better, sometimes it is much better, in other times it probably makes little difference (at least from a personal health/nutrition standpoint).  But organic is almost always better quality.  This probably has less to do with the organic growing methods and more to do with the care expressed by the grower, the shipper, and the retailer.  If organic products are premium, people want them to look or taste premium.  From an environmental stewardship angle, though, I feel organic produce is a huge improvement over more conventional methods, and I am encouraged to see the organic/natural trend growing (pun intended).

But, store-bought organic produce still falls short of your home garden because you still have no control over what is in it or was placed on it.  Organic produce is regulated, but that means an agency is responsible for regulation and enforcement, and there is always potential that some people are willing to cheat and bribe in order to maximize their return.  Unless you know the grower personally, you simply have to trust the regulatory agency, as you do for any food or drug product.  All my garden vegetables show some degree of insect damage.  I don’t see that in the organic produce at the market.  While trying to learn of natural ways to reduce insect damage, I learned that organic or natural does not always mean pesticide free:

http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html

or, an NPR source:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/06/18/137249264/organic-pesticides-not-an-oxymoron

I guess Rotenone is considered natural enough to use for organic farming.  Shockingly, that is also the substance our Game and Fish Department puts in streams to kill non-native fishes!  Just because it is natural does not mean it is good for you.

If you truly care about what you are ingesting – the only way to know for sure is to grow your own.

peas

4)  For physical and mental health.  Gardening is an outdoor activity that gets one off the sofa and moving a few muscles.  It requires gardeners to think about what they are doing, and to think about things other than what they are doing.  And that’s much different than sitting and listening to the words and opinions of someone else, whether those be your boss, your spouse, the television, or a customer.  Perhaps it is the pride of delivering a bag of fresh vegetables to your office break room, or to your friends and family at the next get-together.  Creating and accomplishing something is the best way to fight depression and doldrums. My neighbor says gardening keeps her sane.  And I suspect gardening kept the Alzheimer’s at bay in my grandmother for a few more years.

Gardening makes me happy. Look, it's almost November, and I can garden barefoot and in shorts!

5)  Some things are hard to find at the store.  How often do you find okra, fresh beets, or kohlrabi at the store?  What about pickling cucumbers at a price cheaper than a jar of pickles?

Sometimes, you have to look hard to find endive at your market.

So find a corner of your yard, or place a few large pots on your apartment balcony or patio, and get growing!

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