Exercise, fresh air and the freshest produce available are some of the best reasons to vegetable garden, say experts
By Deborah J. Sergeant
If you’re gardening only to save money, it’s probably not worth it, according to Dennis Ouellette, owner of Ontario Orchards in Oswego.
“If you figure out your inputs and the value of your time, it’s a wash,” he said.
But he still think people should vegetable garden “if not only for the quality and freshness of it, and the varieties of it, and to really understand the production at the commercial as well as the private, residential level,” he said.
Once consumers battle pests, weather, weeds and harvesting issues, Ouellette said they have a better idea of how difficult it is for commercial growers to pull it off year after year.
“It’s a complex process,” he said, “but the rewards usually outweigh the difficult experience.”
Ontario Orchards sells both produce and items needed to grow gardens.
Area experts say gardening offers many benefits and, with a few modifications, most people can garden well into their retirement years.
“You’re in charge,” said Jim Sollecito, New York state certified lifetime senior landscape professional, who owns Sollecito Landscape Nursery in Syracuse. “The stuff you grow yourself is always healthier because you’re in charge. Physical participation in gardening can improve one’s mobility and relive stress and the stiffness of arthritis.”
Busy people may feel like they don’t have the time to garden. Sollecito encourages them to consider edible landscaping. Berry bushes, for example, don’t need the intensive care that strawberry plants require for weeding and watering.
“Strawberries are hard to grow,” he said. “You can’t put them in landscape and they require renovation every few years.”
Sollecito plants rhubarb, a perennial, in beds with other plants. Their edible stalks, complemented by large leaves, works well in landscaping. He also likes combining tomatoes in a bed with weigela for a pleasing mix of color, foliage and fruit.
He likes juneberries, which offer early bloom and berries by the end of June.
Sollecito recommends Polana red raspberries and Bristol black raspberries.
“Those are two things that just about any home could have along the border of the property because they don’t need 12 hours of sun,” he said.
He also likes elderberries, the Adams and York varieties, both for their late flowering in July and tasty purple berries.
“They’re lovely landscape plants with great, edible fruit without spraying,” Sollecito.
The buds of daylilies are also edible. Sollecito said they taste like cucumber “with a peppery aftertaste.”
Pepper plants’ shiny leaves and medium height also help them blend right into landscaped beds with full sun.
If you’ve downsized, you may not have the space to garden like you used to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy eating what you’ve grown. Sollecito said that container gardening can help people with small yards, patio homes and even apartments grow food.
“Make sure you use pots with a hole in the bottom,” he cautioned.
Drilling holes into a five-gallon bucket or a plastic bin and filling it with soil can provide a portable growing pot for a patio. Garden centers also sell pouch plants and containers meant to hook on railings or hang from porches.
Gardening Isn’t Just for Adults
Kids get excited as they watch a garden yield fresh foods and are more motivated to eat what they helped grow. It gives kids a good understanding of what it takes to get vegetables to the dinner table and teaches them about healthy food choices. Gardening is also a great way to take a break from all the technology, and get into extra exercise and enjoy being outdoors.
Whether you have a small patio bucket or can allocate square footage in your backyard, start your planning now. It’s important to know which growing zone you are in, so use online resources to determine your right climate zone and planting times.
To get kids interested, the Arizona Farm Bureau suggests looking through colorful seed catalogs together and letting them help pick out choices. But you don’t need to bore them with every planning detail.
Keep their responsibilities age appropriate. Older children can be more involved in the planning and design of the garden, harvesting and even preserving some of the yield.
Younger children can help with planting seeds, weeding and watering, but try and get them their own age-appropriate tools and gloves that fit them, according to the farm bureau. Little ones will enjoy their tasks more with gloves and tools sized for small hands.
You should also give the kids their own space and vegetables so they have a sense of ownership with a gardening space all their own, within Mom’s and Dad’s larger plot.