As parents, we made a commitment to raise our 3 boys to embrace nature and to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Luckily, our home abuts 70 acres of a dedicated nature preserve. The early years of parenting involved hikes, trips to creeks just 3 houses down and practically living outdoors while they played.
Yet the repetition of parenting life can get tedious and I needed something to do outside that could hold my attention beyond just saying, “Great job, buddy!” and making sure no one got hurt. That is when I decided to start my first vegetable garden.
It started simple, we removed the grass in a section of our sunny backyard and started turning the earth to get it ready for seeds. Gardening proved to be a great way to be outdoors with my sons after kindergarten days and to really be present with them. The boys immediately wanted in on the gardening. Each day we would walk back and check on our seedling progress and water the baby plants. We all loved the daily rhythm we fell into of seeing our progress. It connected us with the rhythms of the seasons and the sun and moon cycle. Bedtimes became when the moon came up or as the sun was setting and we looked to the skies to estimate the time of day.
I discovered the mental health advantages of gardening. It really relaxes me to get my hands in the dirt. I feel so peaceful being outdoors and listening to the sounds of our world, whether it was the cardinal chirping in the tree or the laughter of the kids while they played. It boosts my self-esteem to see tangible results from daily work. The process of planting seeds indoors, sowing the seedlings when the weather is right, and eating a vegetable I grew is very rewarding.
I grew carrots, peppers and cucumbers early on. The kids loved going into the garden and picking veggies off for a snack. They would wash them off with our hose and eat them right there in the backyard. Score one for mama! What a beautiful childhood memory!
I find so much satisfaction and peace of mind when I garden. I love that the boys grew up watching me over the last 10 years enjoying my garden. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a bad day and I just let it all go after an hour of weeding or watering all the plants. It is a stress buster. I always come back inside feeling better and then it’s time for a nice, long shower.
Our next step was composting with all of the clippings and foodstuffs that we didn’t want to add to the trash. We would walk around to the compost in our backyard every couple of nights after dinner. We were so surprised to see how much less garbage we were taking to the curb each week! After two years, we could use the compost for the first spring turning of the garden. It felt so good to be growing and learning as a family.
Then came the water barrels. Having a really handy and helpful hubby was essential with this addition. We bought five food grade barrels and he installed a system where each barrel was placed around the house at different heights with the help of cinder blocks. They would all drain through hoses to a primary barrel next to my veggie garden and another primary barrel in the front yard where I had my flower gardens. We were learning how to live a much greener lifestyle one step at a time. This all took years but we were spending time outdoors as a family. The neighborhood kids loved to come to our house, too, knowing we were always outside playing and working in the gardens.
We had a lot of successes and failures. I tried immediately to grow asparagus but found out they needed more attention and space than I could give. I tried carrots and found out my gardens’ soft soil wasn’t tilled deep enough so they grew crooked, chubby and short. Still tasted yummy though! I also learned that our decision to not ever use chemicals and pesticides meant regular creature and bug vigilance. We had to remove slugs by hand from our lettuces almost nightly and this really grossed out our youngest son. He decided he would rather have his lettuce from the grocery store and now continually asks where his dinner lettuce came from.
Gardening is hard if you want a constant variety on your plate, too. It seems like you wait all summer for those peppers or cucumbers and then you eat them for weeks to keep up with the yield. Yet, that also allows us to share with our neighbors and eat much more healthy when you eat what is in season. One year, we loaded all the extra cucumbers in a wagon. One by one, we went around to each neighbor’s mailbox and slipped in a cucumber or two. We were the veggie fairy that summer!
We grow red peppers and yellow tomatoes and lovely beet greens and dark green collards. The boys learned to judge the health of our meals by the colors on their plates. This is how we taught our boys to “eat the rainbow.”
Some days, I may not have done a great job being a patient parent or I fail to get another walk in, but then I take out the compost or weed the garden and I am feeling ok about myself again. Growing things from scratch is hard, whether it is children or vegetables. It takes care and hard work and successes and failures. I am learning as each year goes by.
This year, I am going to try asparagus again…and I am growing teenagers right now too, so I guess I will need even more time in the garden this summer!