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Growing Your Own Mental Health Food

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Springtime means many things but to a gardener, it means, “time to get the garden ready!” There is nothing more wholesome and full of beneficial nutrients than homegrown food. There is also a great deal of gratification in being involved in the planting, growing, harvesting, and preparation of fresh food.

So many people are missing out on this experience because we’ve gotten too busy or have just become reliant on store-bought food out of habit. Of course we can buy fresh, healthy food in supermarkets and, even better, farmer’s markets. Some people have difficulty buying a lot of fresh food, especially if they have families to feed, because fresh food can sometimes be more expensive than processed food. Fresh food, especially vegetables, is so important for creating and maintaining good mental health that I thought it important to talk about how almost anyone can grow at least some of their food for much less money than it costs to buy it. Vegetable seeds are very inexpensive and can produce many pounds of food from one packet.

One of the things I hear frequently is, “I don’t know how to grow anything and, even if I did, I don’t have space for a garden”. To which I respond, “No problem!” There are many ways to grow vegetables with limited space or even no space at all. You don’t have to have acres of land to grow vegetables. Of course, the more space you have, the more you can grow. But almost everyone has at least a small stoop or fire escape or a sunny window where some pots or planters can be placed.

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Rooftops on flat-topped buildings are an excellent and often overlooked place for growing vegetables.

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Vertical gardens can be made from inexpensive materials and mounted on outside walls requiring no ground space at all.

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A single bale of straw can be used to grow a lot of food and can be placed on a sidewalk, driveway, patio or other area with absolutely no dirt!

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Even old tires filled with dirt make great planters.

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You don’t even need a planter, just open a bag of planting soil and plant directly into the bags!

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Community gardens are popping up in more places too where you have access to your own small plot and can learn a lot from other, more experienced, gardeners.

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Once you figure out “where” to grow, then you can decide “what” to grow. If you have limited space, I would say the two primary considerations would be choosing the most nutrient dense vegetables that take up the least space. For instance, zucchini would not be the best choice for limited space because the bush-type plants take up quite a lot of room and produce a vegetable that is not as high in nutrients as some others. Winter squash varieties like acorn squash, butternut squash, and pumpkins are very rich in nutrients and even though they also take up quite a bit of space, they are vining plants that can be grown against a wall on a trellis or along a fence.

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If confined strictly to “patio gardening” in small containers, your biggest bang for your buck is going to be in growing dark green leafy vegetables like kale, swiss chard (I like the “rainbow” chard where you get a variety of colors in one packet),

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and mustard greens, as well as yellow, red, and green bell peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli. All of these vegetables are super nutritious, easy to grow, and will continue producing for several months. You simply snip a few leaves at a time from the leafy greens, allowing the plants to continue growing.

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Bell peppers and tomatoes can produce an abundance of “fruits” over the course of a season, and they taste so much better and can save a lot of money over the store-bought varieties. The nice thing about broccoli is that one plant will continue producing until well past a hard frost. After the initial “head” is cut from the plant, it will continue producing smaller “flowerettes” for many months until the temperatures dip down to around 10 or 15 degrees F. Beets are another nutritional powerhouse and while the root is growing into the actual red globed beet, the leaves can be harvested like the other greens, a few leaves at a time all throughout the summer and early fall. Beets can be left in the containers until after a frost, though the leaves are pretty sensitive to freezing temperatures and won’t last after a “hard freeze” below around 29 degrees F.

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Fruit is harder to grow than vegetables because it usually grows on trees or large bushes. Strawberries are a delicious exception that are easy to grow in a small space and very high in vitamin C and other antioxidants. There are specific containers made for growing strawberries but a strawberry “tower” can easily be made by drilling holes in a piece of PVC pipe, placing the PVC pipe in a large pot and then planting strawberry plants in the pot around the pipe as well as vertically in the drilled holes.

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Strawberries are perennial plants so they will go dormant over the winter, coming back to life in the spring to produce more strawberries than the year before.

Besides being a way to grow healthy food for less than the cost of buying it, gardening is in itself therapeutic. Nurturing plants….watering and feeding them, weeding, and watching them grow can be very calming. People who spend much time in a garden know how meditative and relaxing it can be.

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Gardening is also a fun thing for the entire family.

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Children are also more likely to eat healthy food that they have been involved in growing and preparing.

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If you are looking to have a continuous source of nutritious, mood lifting food whether or not you have very limited space, experience a new meditative calm, or a way to make a new family connection, planting a garden may provide a way for more than just the garden to grow.

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3 Responses to “Growing Your Own Mental Health Food”

  1. yolanda valdez says:

    Very interesting. Got some ideas from your pictures. Extremely helpful. Thank you.

  2. Latisha says:

    In awe of that anrwes! Really cool!

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