Gardening, especially growing your own food, has many benefits that can positively impact your family’s health. Not only can it improve physical health, but by creating a tranquil garden retreat, you can also improve the mental health of your family and visitors.
Here are some of the ways that I have found gardening to be beneficial to our family’s health and overall well-being. I hope that at least some of these ways provide you with the motivation to get out into your garden often, grow as much of your own produce as you can and work towards a more tranquil garden.
This is probably the first thing that comes to mind if you grow your own vegetables and fruit. Produce grown just steps away from your kitchen will be fresher than anything you can buy at the store or even a local farmer’s market. And fresher means that it generally is healthier.
Vegetables and fruit that are ripe deteriorate the moment they are picked which is why many large scale producers pick unripe produce to ship to stores so that when the produce is ready for sale it will be just ripe instead of overripe. Most produce is better if it has had a chance to naturally ripen on the plant.
You can also control what goes on your plants. Even when buying certified organic produce it may still have been sprayed with biological pesticides. Ideally you want to avoid spraying anything on your plants – there are other ways to deter pests and disease and to manage it if you are too late to catch it in time. I’ll be posting more info on this in the future.
If you do have to spray a biological pesticide, you at least know how long to wait before you can safely harvest and can better control where it is sprayed.
When seeding your own vegetables you can also avoid genetically modified seeds and pick varieties that are naturally pest and disease resistant.
The impact on your family’s health of eating clean food is huge.
Produce kids will eat
Children generally are more willing to eat produce grown at home. Maybe not every vegetable – our pre-school age daughter really doesn’t like Swiss chard even though she has seeded some and helps to harvest it.
Have them help in the garden and you will see them become interested in how produce grows and the care it requires. Just a few ways you can involve children in gardening:
- Browsing through seed catalogues – our daughter loves looking at the colourful photos of the vegetables and helps to pick out the ones she thinks she will like (with the aforementioned aversion to Swiss chard being made clear to me each time we reach the ‘s’ section!)
- Going with you to the nursery to pick out seeds if you are not ordering them through the mail
- Planting seeds – see my 1000 words: Seeding Day post
- Watering – yes, they’ll get water where you don’t need it and overwater things but they learn that plants also need to drink water to grow and feel good
- Helping to transplant
- Weeding – kids are good at this with their small fingers
- And finally harvesting the produce when it is ready – give them a basket of their own or have them hold bags open for you to put smaller vegetables in such as peas or beans; if you are picking fruit they will likely want to snack on it as you are picking which is fine so long you still have some left for the rest of the family!
With the time invested in doing all of these tasks, I believe children value the produce more that is coming from the garden and will generally eat it. It also helps that the produce tastes better that store-bought. It is often sweeter and that’s a plus for getting children to eat their veggies and fruit.
Sense of accomplishment
This benefit is mainly mental – there is a great sense of accomplishment and reward for all the hard work of growing produce yourself. If you are a beginner gardener and have just picked the first ripe tomato or the first chard leaf, you will likely be quite ecstatic – I know I was the first time although I don’t remember now what I grew for the first time on my own.
Yes, sometimes there will be setbacks as not everything grows as well as the seed package or the seed catalogue shows. But if you grew it yourself it is hard to not have some sense of accomplishment even if you only harvest one tomato from the plant you nurtured all spring and summer.
As a good example I managed to grow three watermelons this year even though they were probably the world’s tiniest ones. Last year I only managed to grow one. So that is an accomplishment and hopefully next year I know enough to improve both the size and quantity of watermelons I manage to grow.
Same with my kabocha squash vines – they only produced one kabocha but I’m still happy about this accomplishment as it was the first time I tried to grow kabocha. We made a nice soup from it that we enjoyed.
Another mental benefit is that gardening involves lots of learning and problem solving. Not only will you learn from your successes but also your failures.
You learn what grows well in your climate, what needs extra care, what attracts wild animals and how you can protect your crops from them, how to prevent and deal with diseases and pests and so much more.
Take the time too to teach others what you’ve learned. Children especially need to know where their food comes from and how things grow. But there are adults that live in the city and rarely get a chance to taste a freshly harvested tomato or strawberry only seconds after picking them. They too can be educated in what it takes to grow many of the produce they have to go to the grocery store to buy.
Gardening is usually outside and it gets us out of our climate-controlled offices and homes for a little while. I work in an office with little natural light and not much fresh air and stare at a computer screen all day.
Some deep breathing, meditation or even yoga in the garden will be very beneficial to your overall health.
Each season’s air seems to also have a unique kind of smell and feeling to it.
- the crisp, cold air of a winter morning
- the fragrance of a spring day with all of the tree blossoms
- the cool air of a summer morning with already a hint of the warmth that will arrive later that morning
- the fragrance of fallen leaves and ripening fruit such as pears (I have a couple of pear trees in my back garden) with a crispness to the air that has a hint of the cooler weather that is coming
Note: If you have seasonal hay fever allergies like my wife you may want to wear a face mask to keep pollen out of your nasal passages. But you still will benefit from the other points made in this post.
Gardening can be a vigorous exercise depending on what you are doing. Obviously you need to be careful if you are susceptible to back injuries or are recovering from an illness or injury.
A decent day of weeding, turning compost, cultivating, mowing the lawn and other tasks that keep you moving in the garden will result in some sore muscles. However you will notice that you have more energy and feel good after giving your body a decent workout.
My article on How to make your Garden into a Tranquil Retreat for all Five Senses covers this aspect of your health. All of our five senses of sound, smell, sight, taste and touch affect how we feel physically and mentally. So if your garden can provide stimulation for all five senses, you will find you feel better, even after just a few minutes in your garden.
Environmental benefits for the whole world
The health benefit that might not be immediately obvious is that gardening and growing produce locally impacts everyone’s health globally. When there is less food that needs to travel by ship, plane, train or truck to your local grocery store and less trips you need to make by car to the store to buy food, the impact on our environment is reduced.
We are not yet at the point where electrification of our transportation systems is viable, so we are still burning fossil fuels for most of our transportation. If everyone that has a yard could grow at least part of their yearly produce purchases, it would positively impact the air we breathe, the water we drink and even our soil’s health.
Do you have any other health benefits that you’d like to add to this list? Please leave a comment below.