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Think green — gardening tips for beginners

Published in For the Health of It Author: Anna Reinking, RD, LD

Outpatient Dietitian & Diabetes Educator
CentraCare Health – Monticello

It is that time of year when the air warms, the sun shines and the earth softens. The singing birds and buzzing bees can make even the most reluctant gardener think about digging their hands in the dirt with promising seeds.

Gardening has more benefits than just the delicious and nutritious food it produces, it:

  • reduces stress
  • promotes relaxation
  • provides exercise
  • improves mental clarity

Gardening also benefits our environment.

  • Know that you are making a difference. Whether big or small, every plant reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in our air while increasing oxygen.
  • Reduce your footprint. Growing vegetables at home reduces the need to ship food from elsewhere (and the pollution that causes).
  • Continue the cycle. If you create a compost pile to help fertilize your plants, every item you compost at home revitalizes the nutrients in your soil. It also is less waste taking up space at a landfill. And using natural compost in your garden decreases the amount of needed chemicals and fertilizer.

Before you grab your shovel and step into the sunshine, consider these suggestions.

  1. Start small. It can be easy to get too big too fast, so evaluate how much land or how many items you can realistically garden well with your other priorities and responsibilities. Some herbs in small pots or cherry tomatoes in containers may be a good way to start.
  2. Find a mentor. The amount of information about gardening online and in books can be overwhelming, so consider asking a friend, neighbor, or coworker with a green thumb for advice. Striking up a conversation at a community garden site is another way to learn from experienced gardeners.
  3. Choose carefully. Certain items are easier to grow than others. Vegetables that usually work well for beginners include lettuce, radishes, peas, beans, winter squash and kale. If you’d like to grow herbs try basil, cilantro, rosemary or oregano. Fruit can be more challenging with Minnesota’s short growing season and harsh winters, but apples, berries and melons can be worth the extra effort.
  4. Weed regularly. The quickest way for gardening to lose its appeal is to let your beautiful green space get overrun with weeds. Keep a regular weeding schedule so that the necessary task does not become overwhelming.
  5. Enjoy! Like any new hobby or skill, it takes time to learn the ropes and find your own gardening groove, but amidst any frustrations or uncertainties you may encounter, remember to enjoy the fresh air, the warm sunshine and listening to nature’s music. Hopefully, when summer comes to an end you have a food to harvest and lovely blossoms to enjoy.