By Dawn Cowles
Are you tired of paying supermarket prices? Does the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used for growing your food worry you? This is the situation I found myself in a few years ago. After doing some research online, I realised I could get around the problem by growing my food. I’m lucky that I live in Bulgaria where there’s plenty of land to go around. It’s also more affordable than buying land in my home country of England.
Before handing out any gardening advice let’s look at why growing your own food is beneficial. Even if you’ve only got a small courtyard or balcony on which to grow food, it’s an option worth considering. Keep popping back to read my articles here on Unsustainable Magazine and we’ll take a food growing adventure together.
1. Homegrown Veg Taste Much Better
Until you try them you won’t appreciate the difference. However, once you realise how much better they taste you’ll never go back to buying your fruit and veg from the supermarket. I, for one, am extremely reticent to buy anything from a big name supermarket. If I really need a particular fruit or vegetable for something I’m cooking, I’ll buy it from the local produce market.
Believe me when I say there’s nothing like biting into a fresh tomato you’ve just picked from your garden. Most times, it’ll still be warm from the summer sun. Why do home grown fruit and veg taste better? Let’s see if I can explain.
The fruit and veg you buy in your supermarket are often bred specially for commercial production. These veg are selected and bred because they have specific traits that make them better for commercial farming. There will be more fruits per plant, they’ll ripen at the same time, last longer on the shelf, be the same size and shape, and bruise less. The ripening process often finishes while the produce is being shipped which further adds to a compromise on flavour.
2. You Can Grow a Wider Variety of Crops
While there’s no denying that supermarkets have a huge range of produce to choose from, so many are grown out of season and flown half way around the world to land on your dinner plate.
Grow your own produce and you can select from so many different varieties, without the added airmiles. There are hundreds of varieties you can grow from seed. All the colours of the rainbow, different shapes, and a broad spectrum of flavours. It’s also possible to select varieties that grow well in your particular location or those that mature quickly.
For me, it’s been a case of growing veg we can’t get here in Bulgaria. Christmas time is a prime example. A Christmas dinner isn’t complete, in my opinion, without Brussels sprouts and mashed swede. Neither of these veg are commonly found in Bulgaria, therefore, I order the seeds and grow my own.
3. You Can Control the Growing Environment Without Pesticides
Pests are, well pests! They have the potential to decimate a crop. There are, however, ways you can control them without pesticides or chemicals. Spend a few minutes doing some research online and you’ll find plenty of organic remedies to deal with them. Let’s give you a few examples.
- Beneficial insects – ladybirds, for example, are beneficial for your garden. They prey on some of the pests you’d rather not have in your garden. Beneficial insects are much better and safer for you and other inhabitants of your garden.
- Water spraying – you can remove aphids and other similar species by spraying with water or a light soap solution.
- Natural predation – as well as taking advantage of insects, there are other natural predators for certain pests. Encourage birds, frogs, and hedgehogs into your garden to help control pests such as slugs.
- Companion planting – plant certain species close together and they can either attract predatory insects or hide vulnerable plants. Marigolds, for example, are good companion plants for almost anything. They are great at repelling nematodes that often attack the roots of vegetables, particularly tomatoes.
- Barriers or deterrents – copper piping or broken eggshells can be used to deter slugs. Straw around the base of a plant might also work as a deterrent.
- Hand picking – this can be time consuming, but it’s the one I revert to. I actually find it rather therapeutic getting up close and personal with my crops. A bonus is that my chickens love many of the pests I remove.
4. Less Chance of Food Contamination
You must remember the scare regarding E. coli and romaine lettuce that hit the headlines in 2018/19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert advising people not to eat romaine lettuce because there were concerns over an outbreak of E. coli.
Grow your own vegetables and fruit and you don’t have to worry about this contamination. When you grow it in your own back garden you know exactly where your food has come from and you get to eat it fresh.
5. The Veg You Eat Will be in Season
We’ve become used to eating a wide variety of produce all year round. We eat tomatoes, for example, in December when they’re really not at their peak. It’s a big learning curve and I considered it a challenge, but now eating only seasonal vegetables and fruit has become part of my life.
Eating what you grow in your garden teaches you what is in season and you appreciate that you’re eating it when its flavours and nutrients are at their highest. You learn how to best preserve any excess. Not only have I found out what produce can we can freeze I’ve also learnt about canning and preserving.
6. Gardening is Good For Your Health
Growing your own food is good for your health in several ways. To begin with it means you’re outside in the fresh air and sunshine every day. Gardening is also good exercise because it involves lots of stretching and requires strength. Weeding, planting, and digging are all good forms of low-impact exercise.
Let’s share some figures to show how beneficial it is. Gardening for 5 minutes burns and you burn the same amount of energy as running 1.5 miles in 15 minutes.
Not eating food that’s full of pesticides is also good for your health.
Physical exercise in the form of gardening can help you feel better and improve your well being. This is because it relieves stress, releases tension, and boosts energy.
7. You Save Money
This is possibly one of the most obvious benefits. You will save money if you grow your own food. It is, however, easy to get carried away and spend money on unnecessary extras. There’s no need for fancy pots, elaborate plant canes, and countless gardening gadgets.
Start with the basics and your gardening adventure will cost very little compared to the amount of food you can produce. Even a small plot producing a few basics will save money.
Take a packet or organic salad leaves you buy at the supermarket. For two pounds you have enough for two days at best. Compare that with a packet of seeds that will be a quarter of the price. Plant them and lavish them with your care and attention and you’ll have salad leaves for two months, possibly longer.
8. Less Food Waste
The figures might astound you but estimates are that in the UK alone, households, hospitality, and food service, food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors created around 10 million tonnes of food waste in 2015. They associated such waste excess with 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. 85% of the wasted food comes from households and food manufacture.
It’s highly unlikely that any of the fruit and vegetables you harvest on your own property will go to waste. You’ll either eat or preserve the vast majority of it. Any scraps, trimmings, or peelings I create are either given to my chickens or popped in the compost pile so they can be returned to the soil as nutrients at a later date.
9. Protecting Future Generations
The choices you make for your food today impact your child’s future health. Studies have found that children who eat a conventional diet have much higher levels of certain pesticides in their urine than children who eat organic diets.
Children are more at risk than adults because they eat more relative to their body weight. They are also being exposed during vulnerable periods in their development.
10. Better for the Environment
Grow your own food and you’re lessening your environmental impact in several ways.
- Saving energy – grow your own food and you’re cutting transportation and pollution costs
- Protecting water quality – you’ll be helping reduce the amount of pesticides contaminating groundwater
- Preventing soil erosion – conventional farming methods lead to significant soil erosion
- Promoting biodiversity – by helping to reduce the amount of mono-cropping
Growing your own organic food has so many benefits you’d be mad not to give it a try. It’ll bring you pleasure, help you stay healthy, and be a way of introducing sustainability to your family, friends and future generations. There will be tips and hints to follow in future articles, so please stay tuned.