Four years ago, when we moved to Otaki on the Kapiti coast, my husband started his organic veggie garden. Now, after the first year, 100 percent of the veggies we use are from our own backyard (and that’s a lot of veggies for a vegetarian family of three).
Nothing tastes better than produce freshly picked from your backyard. Any gardener can tell you about the taste of a sun-warmed tomato straight off the vine or freshly picked and cooked corn on the cob. Even if you purchase “fresh” organic vegetables, you don’t know how long they have been on the shop’s shelf. If you don’t have much backyard, herb boxes are great; fresh parsley and coriander are not only good for you, but make a tasty addition to any meal.
From the ecological and economical standpoints, with your own garden, you don’t have to fill your car with gas to drive to the shops to purchase food that has been sent from halfway across the world, thus saving you money, and the environment its vital resources. Gardening is also good exercise and a great way to de-stress. In fact, a study from the University of Bristol in 2007 showed that exposure to soil stimulates the serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain—the same neurons activated by the use of Prozac!1 Happy gardening!
Moreover, as a mother, I am reassured when I can feed my daughter her first foods knowing they are free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Also, when gardening is part of a child’s life from an early age, even if one parent gardens while the kids make mud pies, they learn so much. They learn about photosynthesis, how food is grown, compost making, healthy eating, respect for the environment, and that food comes from the earth, not a plastic packet. They learn to focus on a task, 2 and they develop a love for the outdoors. When I was young, I didn’t know if a potato came from a bush, a vine, or a tree, let alone that different vegetables are grown in different seasons! My three year old loves showing off the beans she grew from seed this winter, and in the summer she was so proud she could pick cherry tomatoes from her own plant to give to her grandpa.
Often, people who have tried their hand at gardening ask, “What do you eat in October other than broad beans?” Before the summer seedlings are producing, and after the winter crop has died off, people often get caught out with just broad beans. To enjoy a variety of vegetables all year round, consider the following tips:
- Use a glasshouse to prolong your seasons; last year we had tomatoes and capsicums from late December to August.
- Grow vegetables and fruits that will store; there’s nothing better in winter than pumpkin soup or kumara wedges.
- Dehydrate, freeze, bottle, or use the ever increasingly popular and healthy process of fermenting to keep a variety of vegetables for use all year round.
- Look around for edible weeds; you may have chickweed growing in abundance, an invigorating addition to a salad, or your local stream may have some puha.
- Get to know your neighbours; so many people who have fruit trees just let the fruit fall to the ground, and they probably won’t mind you taking some.
- If all else fails and you get left with a rather heavy amount of broad beans, be creative in your cooking. Use broad bean leaves in your salads, cook leaves as you would do spinach, use young pods in stir-fries or larger beans in casseroles and dips, or as my daughter loves to do, eat them right out of the pod!
The purpose of food is to increase the duration of life, purify the mind, and aid bodily strength. Food also plays a vital role in our spiritual evolution. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna recommends a compassionate diet that excludes the needless slaughter of animals. In a world where confusion and anxiety increasingly affect the joyful act of eating, what could be more empowering than growing at least part of what you eat?
1 Josie Glausiusz, “Is Dirt the New Prozac?,” Discover Magazine, (June 14 2007), http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/raw-data-is-dirt-the-new-prozac#.Uh0iAY6G-21
2 Frances E. Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor, “A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study,” American Journal of Public Health, (September 2004), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448497/