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Gardening is Green! How To Know What To Grow


Spring is here! Actually, here in Kansas City it feels like we skipped straight to summer. But that just means it’s the perfect time to start planning a garden.

In our continuing quest to make our lives more balanced, it’s important to think of the environment and make sure we are reducing our impact on key  resources (using them conservatively) and also making positive choices that contribute to everyone’s quality of life – people, animals and plants included.

Growing your own vegetables and herbs – if you do it in an environmentally sound way – is a great place to start, since it’s beneficial to the planet and to you. Plants help prevent global warming by using carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that traps heat) to make energy for themselves. Not only do plants use carbon dioxide, but they put out oxygen, which is what people and animals need. So more healthy oxygen and less carbon dioxide is good for us and the planet.

Another consideration is the small impact you can make as part of the bigger whole. More people planting food in their own gardens means fewer trucks on the road transporting fruits and vegetables, less pesticides being used, and overall energy and fuel conservation. Everybody who plants a garden makes a difference, just as everyone who recycles or uses energy efficient bulbs or carries home groceries in reusable bags makes a difference.

If you haven’t planted a garden before (as with anything new), you can start small.  There are just a few things to consider when deciding what to grow, and then you’ll be on your way to fresher, healthier, greener food.

Location – For the most part, in many areas of the US, you can plant just about any vegetables or herbs. You’ll have more success with certain fruits in southern states where it stays warmer longer. has a terrific tool that will show you all the best flowers, trees, vegetables, fruits, and herbs based on your zip code. It’s a great place to start!

Space – There is no space too small or too large to grow a garden. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow plants! Here are some ideas that will work in different size spaces:

Large outdoor garden There are some vegetable plants that really spread when they grow, and they’re fun to watch because they grow so fast. If you’ve got the space, consider cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes.

Small outdoor garden If you don’t have a lot of space, consider vegetable plants that won’t spread out too much or vegetables that grow in the ground. Some ideas would be carrots, cherry tomatoes, beets, or scallions. There’s a great book called, Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces that has a lot of suggestions on what to grow in small spaces, and also includes details about caring for your garden, which might be a bit different, depending on how small your space is.

Along a fence This is a great area for bushes with berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Others that are less common are gooseberries, rhubarb, and (my favorite!) red currants. Depending on the type of fence you have, it can even serve as support for the growing bushes.

Front yard Yes, you can have garden space in your front yard and still maintain your home’s curb appeal! Sunflowers work great in the front, and you can also landscape with strawberries or herbs.

Indoor planting Even if you don’t have a yard for a garden, you can still grow a variety of edibles, especially if you have a balcony. Start with herbs on a windowsill. If you want your plants to double as decor, try combining them in bigger pots. There’s a great book, Grow Your Own Herbs in Pots that has all sorts of suggestions on which herbs go well together based on height, color, leaf shape, and even fragrance. You can also grow vegetables in containers such as five gallon pails, planters, or even plastic bags, as this lady suggests for potatoes.

Healthy variety – There’s a new study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicating strong evidence that a variety of berries can protect the aging brain from memory loss and other degenerative changes. Leafy green vegetables like leaf lettuce and spinach are rich in vitamins and minerals and can decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease. Carrots also help you fight disease and of course help improve your vision. Even sunflower seeds are packed with vitamins, especially Vitamin E.

Depending on what your health priorities are, you can plan your garden accordingly. The agriculture department of North Dakota State University put together this easy list of foods and their benefits that makes it easy to pick and choose. Or check out this fun chart if you are hoping to help a certain ailment (but see your doctor if it’s warranted).

Truly going green – Keeping in mind our goal of benefiting the planet, I have to tell you – it’s time to give up all your pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals. I know, they’re easy and cheap and they get the job done, right? But they’re also defeating your purpose.

By adding chemicals to your garden, you are potentially serving cancer-causing agents to your family. They also pollute the soil and water, and in general are harmful to the environment.

I’ll cover the hows and whys of natural gardening in a future post. For now, though, you might be interested in a helpful guide called The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way. It has tons of tips  and information about how to naturally avoid pests and diseases, how to maintain your healthy garden all season, and even new ideas on what to do if you still encounter problems. It’s a much healthier approach, with less impact on the environment.

Are you ready to start gardening? What are you thinking about growing this year? I’m definitely thinking about corn, but still deciding on other veggies. Maybe green beans? Let me know your gardening thoughts. I’ll see you in the comments, and you can also like One Move Forward on facebook!