The value that you get from gardening is much more than the vegetables your plot produces. It can be therapeutic, healthy, educational, communal, environmentally friendly, and good exercise. The vegetables you harvest are just the tip of the iceberg, gardening offers us “sow” much more.
It’s true: Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes! Here are 6 amazing benefits of gardening in your backyard.
1. The Health Benefits of Gardening
Gardening as Exercise
For those of you who have spent some time in the garden, it will come as no surprise that gardening can be a good source of exercise. Tasks like raking leaves, mowing lawns, and waging war on weeds tend to offer moderate exercise, while digging holes and shoveling compost can be far more rigorous.
In my own garden, I harvest rainwater in barrels around my house and then tote buckets of water across the yard to my garden. I like to start the season with a smaller bucket and work my way up to carrying a larger bucket near the end of the summer.
Because of my old-school watering system, it seems like every day is arm day, but gardening also includes a wide range of motions like bending, squatting, and reaching, making it good for flexibility too.
Gardeners with back problems or mobility issues may want to consider using taller raised beds. These eliminate kneeling, making gardening far more ergonomic.
After a long day of gardening, a restful night of sleep comes easily to most!
Absorb Some Vitamin D
Did you know that vitamin D is often called the “Sunshine Vitamin?” The more time you spend outdoors, the more vitamin D you absorb through your skin. Spending half an hour outside can be enough to give you all the vitamin D you need in a day.
Most gardeners have no shortage of tasks to do in the sunshine, and luckily for them, vitamin D has all sorts of health benefits including:
- Building healthy teeth and bones
- Improving immune system function
- Decreasing the risk of illnesses like heart disease, dementia, and the common flu
- Elevating your mood
2. Benefits of Gardening for Kids
Gardening Encourages Picky Eaters to Try More Vegetables
If you have a picky eater at home, you’re probably familiar with this scene: You prepare a nutritious homemade meal, place it in front of your little one, and then you watch as they push it around their plate until it’s cold, and they don’t want it anymore. It sucks. It really does.
So how do we encourage kids to eat more of those dreaded veggies?
A study conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that if a child has helped to grow the food on their plate, they are more likely to try it. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of watching those early tomatoes ripen, or maybe just curiosity around trying the efforts of their labor, but it works!
Incorporate Gardening into Your Home School Plan
This year in particular, many parents are opting to homeschool their children. Gardening is a great learning opportunity for children of all ages. There is even some evidence that kids who garden perform better in their academic courses.
Here are just some of the ways you can incorporate gardening into your home school plan:
How to Grow Your Own Food
Knowing how to grow your own vegetables is a timeless skill. Homegrown vegetables can be more nutritious and more affordable than store-bought ones. Backyard produce is often left to ripen on the plant longer, resulting in better flavor. Here are some of the easiest vegetables to start with.
Where Food Comes From
Do you know where the food on your plate comes from? Some vegetables travel thousands of kilometers to land on your plate; others can be easily grown in your own backyard. It’s interesting to learn about where different foods grow and which ones you can try to grow yourself.
How Plants Grow
The journey from seed to fruit is a fascinating one. Plants store just enough energy in a seed to produce two leaves and a small root system. This is all they need to successfully begin the process of photosynthesis, where they transform energy from the sun into sugars that they can use to grow. Try growing a pumpkin from a seed you saved yourself – it’s incredibly rewarding!
Healthy gardens don’t grow in isolation. They are connected to many life forms, and each plays a unique role in the garden ecosystem.
It is fascinating to learn how nature creates balance. Bees pollinate flowers. Spiders, ladybugs, and wasps protect plants from pests. Earthworms improve the soil. Maybe you’d even like to learn how to be a backyard beekeeper!
Many children get excited at the prospect of hands-on learning opportunities. Possible woodworking projects for your garden include raised beds, birdhouses, mason bee homes, and backyard benches.
Gardening gives children a chance to practice moving their bodies in big and small ways. Young children may enjoy practicing gross motor skills by watering, digging, and raking, while older children can test their fine motor skills through tasks like transplanting, seed sowing, and weeding.
Taking care of a garden is rewarding, but it can also be a lot of work. Beds need to be weeded. Veggies need regular watering. These tasks can be good opportunities to teach kids about responsibility. If they want to grow great tomatoes, they need to commit to doing the work.
As gardeners, they will also need to be patient. It takes time to grow a vegetable garden.
Gardening Decreases Allergies in Children
A study conducted at Harvard Medical School discovered that exposing children to gardens and outdoor play while they are young may play a role in preventing allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.
We are surrounded by all sorts of microbes and bacteria all of the time. Some are harmful, but most are not. When children are young, their bodies are deciding which microbes pose a danger and which do not.
If children are not exposed to a wide variety of microbes, they are more likely to have conditions like allergies because their body is responding too aggressively towards harmless microbes. So, let them get a little messy outdoors. It might help them later in life.
3. Benefits of Gardening for Mental Health
The Antidepressant Properties of Soil Microbes
Whether you’ve realized it or not, we owe a great deal of our gardening joy to soil microbes. They are critical building blocks of healthy plants. Microbes not only help plants take up nutrients and defend themselves from disease; believe it or not, they can have a big impact on mental health too.
A study conducted by researchers from Bristol University and University College London in 2007 discovered that one very common soil microbe, mycobacterium vaccae, actually makes you happier. The microbe enters your body through your skin when you handle dirt or through your lungs when you inhale dirt particles in the air.
Once inside your body, this lovable microbe encourages the production of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is often called the “happy” hormone because it lowers stress levels, increases happiness, and improved focus. Mycobacterium vaccae is kind of like nature’s Prozac. Neat, right?
The Joys of Harvesting Your Own Food
I work with children, and one thing that experience has taught me is: all children love scavenger hunts. It doesn’t matter if they’re three or thirteen; scavenger hunts are always a huge hit. (To be completely honest, I still love a good scavenger hunt, so perhaps age isn’t the factor here.)
The reason we love the feeling of finding that object we’ve been searching for goes back thousands of years to the hunter-gather days of early humans. Our brains have evolved to give us a little boost of dopamine every time we successfully find and harvest something of value: namely food.
That’s why every time you go out to your garden and collect veggies for your dinner, you’re also getting that little hit of dopamine; that feeling of success. There is nothing more natural than harvesting your own food, and your brain will reward you for it by giving you uplifting, mood-boosting chemicals.
On the topic of scavenger hunts, there is no better scavenger hunt in the world than foraging for wild mushrooms. To me, fall represents an entire season of romping around in the bush with my dog, avidly scanning the ground for those tell-tale indicators.
I’m a chanterelle girl, but the mushrooms you find depend on climate. As always, when you pick mushrooms, you take no chances. As they say, “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
So, get the right guidebooks, go with someone who knows the craft, and pay attention to your surroundings. When done safely, mushroom hunting is great fun!
4. Benefits of Growing a Vegetable Garden
When the Coronavirus took hold of the world earlier this year, one of the first things people did was turn to gardening. Garden supply stores quickly ran out of transplants and seed packets, seed companies acquired month-long waitlists, and soil and compost sellers never had an idle moment in their Bobcats.
With looming anxiety on the horizon around food security, people turned to vegetable gardening as a way to prepare for an uncertain future. The self-sufficiency that comes with knowing how to grow your own food is incredibly empowering.
A garden takes very little capital to begin. Most seed packets cost just a couple of dollars. You have the option of building raised beds from whatever is available to you (reclaimed cedar fence boards are my favorite), or keeping it even simpler and turning over a section of your yard and planting directly in the ground.
Growing your own vegetables means that you have a free source of food close to home, and you can vouch for the way that food was grown — free from chemicals and harmful pesticides, if that’s your wish. Food grown in a backyard garden tends to have better flavor as well because it is left to ripen on the plant for longer.
Gardening is a rare hobby because it can become exponentially cheaper the longer you do it. I often save seed from my garden, which means that I do not need to purchase certain types of seed the following year.
Radish, lettuce, beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash seeds are easy to collect. You will also want to make sure that you save seed from the best plants in your garden. This increases the odds of having strong, healthy plants next year.
5. Benefits of School and Community Gardens
Community Gardens Build Connection
Community gardens are a great place to meet neighbors and build connections. You may think that sharing a garden with strangers would be the worst. Others could take more than their fair share of the produce. Worst of all, there’s small talk with strangers.
Interestingly enough, the strangers you meet may be the best part of community gardening.
Psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago performed an experiment with train passengers. He had noticed that when most people board a train, they sit down and do not talk to each other. Considering that humans are one of the most social animals on Earth, this is sort of bizarre.
So, Epley conducted an experiment where passengers were instructed to do either one of three things:
- Group A: Make conversation with others
- Group B: Act as they normally would on their commute
- Group C: Avoid conversation with others
Consistently, participants in the first group indicated that they had had a better train ride. It didn’t matter if the people in group A were naturally chatty or shy; across the board, people enjoyed connecting, even if it was only for a few moments and even if it was with strangers.
Epley also discovered that the longer the conversation lasted, the more joy it brought the passengers.
Like the train in the experiment, community gardens provide opportunities to meet new people, share pearls of wisdom, enjoy moments of connection, and feel as though you are part of a larger community.
Detroit: How Community Gardens Can Transform a City
Detroit, Michigan is a city that has taken the community garden to the next level. In the 1950s, Detroit was a major center of industrial production, but as production has moved to other parts of the world, Detroit’s economy has changed.
Many businesses and citizens followed jobs out of Detroit, leaving the city in an unusual position where more than 25% of the city is vacant, and there is a remarkable shortage of grocery stores. The Michigan Department of Agriculture has used the term “food desert” to describe more than a dozen neighborhoods within the city that are exceptionally far from grocery stores.
As such, many Detroiters rely on convenience stores and fast-food restaurants as the main source of food. The result is that Detroit has one of the highest rates of obesity and diet-related illness in the nation.
So what is Detroit doing about its food crisis?
Because so much land is vacant, Detroit has plenty of space to create community gardens. With several key non-profits at the helm of this movement, more than 1,400 urban gardens have been created within the city.
The results are incredible. 2016 yielded more than 300,000 pounds of produce. These community gardens provide many low-income residents with access to nutritious, delicious food on a by-donation basis.
Detroit also uses its community garden spaces for community projects such as beekeeping clubs and water conservation initiatives.
Community gardens really are transforming the city of Detroit. Imagine what a community garden could do for people in your own neighborhood!
6. Benefits of Gardening for the Environment
Your Garden Minimizes Your Carbon Footprint
Gardens are more than just a place to fill your plate and revitalize your body and mind; they can be a commitment to building a cleaner planet. Did you know that food production makes up 25% of global carbon emissions? That’s 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon each year!
About half of that comes from raising, feeding, and processing meat. Of the different types of livestock, cattle are particularly bad from an emissions standpoint because they consume so many resources and produce so much methane.
Foods like meat, cheese, and eggs tend to have the highest carbon footprints whereas fruits and vegetables tend to be some of the lowest.
When you grow a garden, you are:
- Increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet, which reduces the need to eat as much meat
- Eliminating the need for the single-use plastics that would have packaged your produce
- Reducing the number of miles your food travels to get to your home
On average, most meals travel around 1,500 miles before arriving on your plate. So, backyard gardening can make a big impact on your carbon footprint for this reason alone.
Backyard gardening is also an opportunity to commit to organic gardening techniques that avoid the use of chemicals that can negatively impact your environment and harm local wildlife.
Gardening Saves Bees
Bees pollinate about 80% of cultivated crops, and they are integral to life as we know it. Without bees, plants would not be able to produce vegetables and fruits. Animals and people would have less to eat, and the results would be catastrophic.
Yet, bees are also very susceptible to chemicals, particularily neonics. Neonics are pesticides commonly used in the production of crops like canola, soy, and corn. In the European Union, these chemicals are banned, but they are still used in many places in the world.
Another challenge bees regularly face is insufficient nectar flow. They take nectar and pollen back to their hive where they transform it into honey. That honey serves as their main food source throughout the winter.
As a gardener, you have a unique opportunity to make choices that greatly benefits the lives of bees within your neighborhood.
Here are four things you can try at home to support bees in your community:
The bees will thank you for not using pesticides in your garden. While it may be tempting to use chemicals to manage pest problems, you have to remember that the chemicals you introduce into your garden can affect all kinds of beneficial insects too.
Maximize Your Nectar Flow
With a bit of careful planning and by planting a wide variety of plants, vegetables, and fruits, you can create a garden where something is always in bloom. This isn’t just beautiful. It also means that bees visiting your garden will always have something to eat.
Replacing a portion of your lawn with wildflower mix is a fun, whimsical way of supporting bees. Wildflowers tend to be drought-tolerant, no-fuss plants. They even self-sow, so you can enjoy them for many years in a row. Flowering plants also attract butterflies to your garden, with their own benefits.
Some companies sell special “pollinator mixes” that are designed to bloom all summer. I have one sown around the border of my garden. It’s a real treat to watch this mix grow because it constantly changes as new blooms appear to fill in the gaps where others have just expired.
Make Bee Watering Stations
Bees are hard workers. On a typical day, they make five to fifteen trips from their hive, and each trip is around a kilometer each direction. For a bee, that’s quite a distance!
Just as we do, they need places to rest and have a drink of water. Making a bee watering station is a simple and beautiful way to support bees on their workday.
Bee watering stations need two key features: a landing pad and shallow water. I like to use large clam shells with pebbles placed inside them. I put them around the bottom of my plants where they will be filled when I water my plants each morning.
You can also use a teacup with stones in it or a design of your own invention.
Designate Space for Native Bees
Everyone has heard of the honeybee, but the honey bee is just one of the thousands of bee species. Many bee species are actually solitary ground-nesting bees that prefer to live alone in small holes in the sand.
For years, there was an area of my yard that I referred to as “The Desert.” It is bone dry, devoid of vegetation, and I would challenge you to find a difference between my desert and the Sahara.
Interesting enough, my desert is the busiest area in my yard, in terms of insect activity. I often feel the need to hire an air traffic controller because it is almost impossible to walk through this section of the yard without dozens of black and yellow striped bugs pinging off your ankles. Although it’s a bit frightening, I have never been stung.
After attending a local beekeeping meeting, I learned that these were actually a form of native bee. In fact, many of the people at the meeting were hanging Mason bee houses in their yard to attract these little guys.
When you are laying out your garden, consider leaving sandy areas alone. They may be doing far more good than you realized. Even if these bees are not a variety that pollinates vegetables, they could be responsible for the pollination of native plants in your area.
So, now that you know gardening improves mental and physical health, provides tons of learning opportunities for kids, supports local wildlife, builds your sense of community, and reduces your carbon footprint, you’ve probably started to wonder how to start a garden of your own.
Begin with baby steps. Put some pots on your window sill and start with some herbs. Plant a simple garden with lettuce, radish, and beans. Scatter some wildflower seeds in your yard. Check out articles like this one about How to Start a Survival Garden and Vital Things to Know Before Starting a Garden.
Anyone can garden. It just takes a little patience. The rewards you reap from gardening are well worth the effort you put in.