“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
~ Margaret Attwood
My father’s garden was a small area about ten-foot by ten against the south side of the house that got intense sun early in the day, but was shaded in the afternoon. He didn’t start a garden until we moved into a new house, about the time I was in junior high. His garden flourished, an intense jumble of different herbs and veggies, which we ate as soon as they were ready. Fresh salads proliferated, (although we alternated with our standard fare of iceberg lettuce, quartered and slathered with Miracle Whip or a canned half-pear slathered in Miracle Whip on a lettuce leaf).
He became enamored of a new kitchen toy, a self-contained deep fryer called a “Fry Daddy” that he put in the middle of the kitchen table. He’d pile the cleaned veggies next to the bowl of batter and we were on our own for cooking. Using long skewers (this was before we’d heard of fondue), we deep-fried okra, squash, green beans, cucumbers – anything he could grow in his garden or pick up at the local grocery. We also fried up various game birds we had collected – quail, dove, or duck. It was messy and greasy, but we loved it.
We always had eaten lots of veggies; my mother was a really good southern/western cook. My father’s intrusion into her kitchen wasn’t particularly welcomed, but was suffered with relatively good grace. The upside was that the subsequent meal cooked by my mother would be really stupendous. I guess a little competition never hurts!
Fresh fruit and vegetables were a normal part of our meals, but the allure of canned food hit my mother hard in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s. Casseroles were an exotic new treat and we tried them all. Growing up in a small town during the depression and WWII, my mother was used to home-grown food, and with some exceptions (local yellow-meated watermelons, for example) became somewhat snobbish towards poor-peoples’ food; growing your own was a lot of trouble and something that ‘poor people’ had to do. Her small town Saturday market had all the high-quality fresh food anyone could want.
Now, in addition to being good and good for you, it turns out that home gardens are helpful in reducing greenhouse gases, too. Dan Noskowits reports on a study that shows urban gardens reduce greenhouse gases significantly compared to purchased vegetables. We already know that eating more vegetables is a good thing for your health, but helping to reduce climate change is an added incentive. Dan also reports on a study that showed childhood gardening experiences translate to increased vegetable consumption among college students, “Getting your fingers in the dirt early, it appears, is key.”
During WWI and WWII, the government in the U.S. and U.K. encouraged the creation of “Victory Gardens” to reduce pressure on the food supply and boost morale by allowing civilians to do something in support of the troops. Around one-third of the vegetables produced by the United States during WWII came from Victory Gardens.
I’ve enjoyed gardening as an adult because it gets me outside, and the garden is a puzzle to figure out and solve. The mechanical aspects — setting and adjusting the sprinklers, managing the compost, designing the planting pattern — all require me to see the future, what the garden will look like in three or four months. How do I get the most from my small space?
I like the feel of the soil, it makes me feel good and seems like a good thing to do. And yes, garden-fresh vegetables, particularly tomatoes and carrots, put anything you can buy at the store to shame. The early snap peas and greens are a tease for the soon-to-be-ripened squash, beans, cukes and tomatoes. I seldom buy greens, but I can grow far more than I can eat very easily, and then they are available all summer and into the fall. Beets and carrots are the final harvest, assuming I’ve been able to put off picking them that long.
But gardening is a challenge, too. My perennial battle with squirrels led me to stop trying to grow winter squash, since they would gnaw a hole into the fruit before they were ready to pick. (I’ve yet to find a squirrel — or a neighbor — who wants my extra zucchini, though.) My greens were invaded by snails, big round (actually pretty!) snails, and I am on a constant hunt to eradicate them. Watering has to be adjusted all season long as things grow and the weather shifts.
There’s also the feel of wet grass on bare feet, the buzzing of insects and the mystery of digging through the tangle of vines to find the ripe bean, pea pod, tomato or cucumber. The garden smells of dirt, flowers, cut grass and myriad unidentifiable enticements. Thinning the plants and weeding lets me get my hands dirty and although I’m no longer a kid, I acknowledge a desire to keep eating fresh garden veggies.
Save the planet; save your health; plant a garden and get your hands dirty. I promise you’ll feel like a kid again.
Dan Nosowitz, Are Backyard Gardens a Weapon Against Climate Change? Modern Farmer, October 3, 2016
Dan Nosowitz, Gardening as a Kid Indicates You’ll Eat More Fruits and Vegetables as a College Student, Modern Farmer, September 21, 2016
David Cleveland, Noelle Phares, Krista D. Nightingale, Robyn L. Weatherby, William Radis, Jane Ballard, Madia Campagna, Devin Kurtz, The potential for urban household vegetable gardens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, January 2017, Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol 157