by Jan Cashman
What can save you money on your grocery bills and make you fitter, mentally and physically? Want an activity in which the whole family can participate? How can you get your grade school child to put down his computer game and eat his vegetables? Want to reconnect with nature and learn more about plants and growing things? Today, more than ever before, planting a vegetable garden can help you accomplish all these things.
Remember your mother telling you to go outside and get some fresh air? Well, I think mothers were right. Working outside under the blue sky and sunshine relieves stress and puts me in a good mood. Gardening also keeps us physically fit. I’d put the fitness of the members of the Gallatin Gardeners Club against any other group their age. I can testify, however, that, as we get older, kneeling and getting up is more difficult, but there are ways to make gardening easier. Garden benches and pads save our knees, along with long-handled weeding tools. Weeding can be reduced by mulching between the rows of vegetables.
Jennifer Weiss has a gardening business here in Bozeman, so she has limited time to spend on her own big vegetable garden. To minimize weeding, she places a giant sheet of black plastic over the whole garden and cuts holes for the plants and slits for rows of carrots or lettuce. She holds down the edges of the plastic down by covering them with soil.
Raised beds make gardening easier, because you don’t have to bend down so far to care for them and harvest the vegetables. Raised beds can even be built to accommodate a wheel chair. Combine your raised bed with “square-foot gardening”. Because the vegetable plants are planted close together in this gardening method, production per square foot is higher and there is less room left for weeds to grow.
Gardening gives us a feeling of accomplishment. One small package of carrot seeds easily can produce enough delicious carrots for the whole winter. Learn more about gardening by taking the Master Gardener’s course, reading books on gardening, talking to your neighbors who garden, or joining a gardening club. You can jump into vegetable gardening with both feet and start your own tomato, pepper, and broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seeds on your windowsill in early April. Or, if you’re not so ambitious, buy a tomato plant and plant it in a big pot on your deck.
Of course, gardening saves on your grocery bill. It’s not hard to grow enough carrots, potatoes, and onions to last the whole winter stored in your refrigerator. Corn, beans, and peas from the garden are good blanched and frozen. I freeze tomatoes by simply washing them, cutting out any brown spots and the stem, and putting them in freezer bags. Growing your own vegetables saves the huge shipping costs of fresh vegetables from as far away as Australia and South American. Be part of the green solution stressed in Kingsolver’s interesting book, Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle, a Year of Food Life, about producing your own food.
The biggest benefit of growing your own vegetables is the taste and the nutrition of the vegetables you grow. Most would agree that tomatoes and other vegetables from the grocery store are bland because they have been bred, not for flavor, but to hold up during shipping. There is nothing like the fresh taste of a tomato or ear of corn that you picked a few minutes ago from your garden. Maximum nutrients are still present. Organic gardening practices can eliminate any unhealthy pesticides and herbicides that may be present in vegetables you purchase. You know what you’re eating when you grow the vegetables yourself.
Gardening can be a fun activity for the whole family. It gets parents and children together, outside, away from cars, cell phones, and video games. Our daughter, Anne, has been gardening with our 8 year old grandson for years. He’s a fussy eater, but he will eat the carrots, corn and beans that he grows himself. What a way to entice a child to like vegetables!
If you think you have a black thumb because your tomatoes and sweet corn never ripen before the first frost, check out new varieties that do well with our short season. Try Parks Whopper or Oregon Spring tomatoes and Quickie or Kandy Kwik sweet corn. John Austin, a member of the Gallatin Gardeners Club, experiments in his large garden with tomatoes and other vegetables for high elevations. His knowledge about growing tomatoes is extensive and his enthusiasm is contagious. If you want to learn about these tomato varieties, he teaches an adult education class on gardening each spring through the Bozeman Schools. And, in April, he gives a Saturday morning seminar here at Cashman Nursery.
Vegetable gardening has always been popular here, and its popularity is growing (no pun intended). Large or small, vegetable gardens improve our lives and our world in many ways.