By Megan Hammaker
Darke County Parks
Spring is a time of new beginnings and growth, in nature and in self. One thing that I have found relaxing and rewarding as I’ve reached my 30s is gardening. There’s something extremely rewarding about starting your food from seed and raising it to harvest.
There are several health benefits to growing a garden. Gardening takes work and work means movement. When gardening, you’ll do squats while weeding, lift bags, work out your arms while raking and using a shovel to dig. Being outside in nature is another benefit to gardening, as being outdoors is proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Taking in Vitamin D from the sun and breathing in fresh air is sure to improve your overall mood. Pulling weeds and feeling soil in your hands can be therapeutic. According to research, having your hands in the soil can actually increase your serotonin levels because contact with soil and some of the specific bacteria in it, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain. Direct exposure to soil and plants can also boost your immune system.
One of my favorite benefits to growing my own garden is that I know exactly what is going into my food. I choose not to use any chemical pesticides or amendments. Instead, I compost my food scraps and add it to the soil each spring to add nutrients. I plant native plants near my vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects that prey on unwanted pests. You can feel content knowing that the food that you’ve grown and eat is truly organic. Growing your own food also promotes a healthier diet and let’s be honest, when you’ve put in the work the food just tastes better!
Gardening also has a way of bringing people together. There are many groups and clubs in our area that focus solely on gardening. People in these groups can share a wealth of knowledge with others, including tips on what seeds to start indoors vs outdoors, when and how to harvest, how to preserve your harvest and more. Learning these valuable skills can help you to grow as a person, giving you a feeling of independence and boost in your self-esteem. These groups can also provide you with support through new friendships. There’s something extra special about sharing your harvest and your secrets with a close friend. Gardening friends can also come together and give you a hand when it’s time to preserve your harvest. Preserving your harvest can allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor during the off season when you may be struggling with the winter blues. If you’re interested in joining a local gardening group, you can try DCP Old Thyme Gardeners, Ladybug Gardening Club, or Wildflower Garden Club. You can also attend our upcoming “Garden Gathering” on April 29th, to get to know other local gardeners.
Growing your own food can also be very beneficial to our environment. For starters, you’re cutting out the necessity for your food to be trucked across the country, using tons of fuel and emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. You’re also getting rid of the need for most plastic food packaging. You can also make it a point to use hand tools instead of gas-powered ones to eliminate excess CO2 emissions. Yes, it’s more work but then again that’s more movement which is a health benefit to you. Chances are, once you dive into the gardening scene, you’ll pick up other things like collecting rainwater and composting. These simple, yet super beneficial practices, can help you feel a sense of good stewardship, as you strive to reduce your carbon footprint and conserve your resources.
When starting a garden, it’s important to keep in mind the time you realistically have available to maintain it. The last thing you want to do is to start too big and overwhelm yourself to the point that it’s no longer relaxing or fun. So, starting out you could try something as simple as growing your own culinary herbs in containers on your porch. If your first growing season goes well, add a little for the next year.
If you don’t have space at home for a garden, keep in mind that Darke County Parks has a community garden at the Bish Discovery Center. For just $10, you can use a raised garden plot for the entire growing season. If you are interested in registering for a garden bed or want additional information regarding the upcoming Garden Gathering, call Megan at 937-548-0165 or visit www.darkecountyparks.org. You can also visit Bish Discovery Center Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.