Fall is here and soon after, winter, and while many of us have put away the gardening tools and supplies, picked our last harvests, and composted the leftover stalks and roots, there’s no need to wait until the spring to begin again. Growing your own food is something you can do year-round if you begin this fall. If you’ve been considering fall (and winter) gardening but haven’t done anything about it, here are ten reasons to consider it a little more seriously…
1. Commercial veggies don’t give you the nutrition you need
It’s no secret that industrial farming and the prevalent practice of monocropping (growing the same crop on the same plot of land every year) has depleted the soil of many of its nutrients. Overuse of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides also contributes to poor quality soil. Incidentally, poor soil management practices extend to conventional farming as well as organic farming. Some innovative farms have got it right, using intercropping practices, planting cover crops, and drawing from common permaculture practices like no-till techniques.
2. Easily extend your grow season with cloches, cold frame, or a hot box
You can extend your growing season in several different ways. To keep your crops producing well into the fall and even winter months, you can use a cloche, cold frame, or hot box. A cloche is a glass or plastic container that fits over the top of the plant, directly over the soil. It acts like a mini-greenhouse (and can also be used to start seedlings early in your growing season). Begin using before the first frost and while the soil is still warm, and stop using once the weather turns hot. A cold frame is a wooden frame topped with a window that is placed directly over the plant in the soil. It lets light in and keeps the plants underneath warm (at least until the heaviest cold hits). A hot box is a free-standing box, topped with a window, which contains the planting medium and plant. It is also like a mini greenhouse. You can grow some vegetables in a hot box (see below) throughout the entire winter, even when there is snow on the ground.
3. You can grow a wide variety of vegetables in the fall and winter months
You can grow many different kinds of vegetables throughout the fall and winter months, especially if you live in the more temperate or hot zones or you use one of the season extenders named above. Cruciferous vegetables like turnips, radishes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, arugula, collards, bok choy, mustard greens and kale, and leafy greens like Swiss chard, spinach, and lettuce grow best in colder weather (some of the leafy greens will bolt, or go straight to seed, if you try to grow them in warm or hot weather). Root vegetables like carrots can even grow while packed under snow, as long as they have a heavy mulch covering them underneath.
4. It doesn’t require much space
Growing vegetables doesn’t require a large yard or plot to work with; you can grow just a few things on a deck or balcony, or in a small raised bed. While it may takes some time, effort, and expense to master one of the high-yield small-space intensive gardening techniques that many gardeners are now advocating, many of the vegetables noted above can be grown in containers, and you can get bigger yields through intercropping (planting 2 complementary crops in the same small space). For example, kale (which can grow taller) can be planted alongside broccoli (which stays compact) or carrots (which root deeply).
5. Gardening is therapeutic: why not continue the therapy when it may be needed most?
Let’s face it: not all of us appreciate the cold winter months. In some places, the shorter days and longer periods of darkness can lead to feelings of melancholy or even SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). There are proven physical, psychological, and mental benefits to gardening: besides being a form of physical activity that can help us stay fit well into old age, it provides a way to unplug from the phone, tv, or computer; helps us relax; and provides an outlet to deal with anger or frustration. Because gardening helps calm the nerves and relieve stress, some scientists and health professionals have even begun recommending the incorporation of gardening into therapies for people with mental health disorders.
6. Soil contains bacteria that provide health benefits
As strange is this may sound, the bacteria in soil has health benefits and is good for you. A study published in the journal Cell last June found that the antibacterial molecule psudouridimycum (PUM) is more effective than many other antibiotics against drug-resistant bacteria, with the ability to kill both active and dormant bacteria. Also, mycobacterium vaccae, a common bacteria found in the backyards of most homes, contains properties that can reduce chronic inflammation. Clinical trials involving the use of mycobacterium vaccae have even used it to help lower allergic asthma symptoms and tuberculosis. Other studies have found that mycobacterium vaccae bacteria enable the release of serotonin in the brain, thereby relieving anxiety and elevating mood.
These benefits come simply from digging in the dirt – apparently, skin contact is enough to achieve these effects.
7. It’s easier to get the help you need at local nurseries
While many nurseries are still stocked with vegetables and herbs for you to plant, and seed packets are still available, there are a lot fewer people this time of year gearing up their gardens for a season of growth. Most of us who enjoy gardening feel an inexplicable pull towards the earth when the weather turns warm and the signs of new bloom are everywhere, but relatively few continue growing into the fall and winter months. What this means is that going to the local nursery – even on a weekend – will probably not require time spent waiting for a staff person to become available, and you don’t have to feel guilty taking time away from others who are eager for help from knowledgeable growers. You can ask questions, and you may even get extra attention from staff who are just not as pressed or in demand as during the summer months.
8. There are fewer bugs to fight
My favorite thing about gardening in the fall and winter is that there is less of a lot of the things I don’t like, or find tedious. Top on that list is fighting garden pests. The cooler weather attracts fewer insects to your garden, leaving you more time to enjoy the garden and less time spent figuring out how to get rid of unwanted guests. There is nothing more frustrating to me than finding that after all my hard work in my (apparently thriving) garden, a swarm of whiteflies has taken up residence on my kale, ants have brought their aphid farm to my eggplant, hornworms have horned in on my tomatoes, and squash vine borers need to be cut out of the stems of my zucchini and subjected to an ignominious death by impalement with stiff wire. Yes, I know bugs have their place in the natural order of things, but when unwanted pests are destroying my garden I am without mercy or sympathy.
9. There’s less need for pesticides: synthetic or natural
Along with the lack of bugs, there is another benefit to gardening in the cool and cold months: little or no need for using pesticides. Whether you use synthetic or organic pesticides, be aware: both can be harmful to human health and the environment. Most of the commonly used synthetic pesticides have been definitively linked with physical and neurocognitive disorders – illnesses that are no longer only being found in the bodies of agricultural workers who are exposed to synthetic pesticides on a regular basis, or who suffer acute exposure to them. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of chronic exposure to synthetic pesticides. But synthetics are not the only problem – many of the pesticides that are allowed for use in organic farming also have harmful effects on human health and the environment. There are a lot fewer clinical studies of these botanical and mineral pesticides, but many of them, including insecticidal soap, pyrethrins, sabadilla, diatomaceous earth, horticultural oil, spinosad, rotenone, bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and copper sulfate (a fungicide), are toxic to bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and other wildlife. People with sensitivities to these natural pesticides also presumably suffer some negative health effects from them. While these natural pesticides, overall, seem to have fewer harmful effects overall than their synthetic counterparts, it is a myth that they are harmless.
10. Organic fare tastes much better, especially when freshly picked
Need I say more here? In my opinion, there is nothing better than cutting fresh Swiss Chard leaves from their stalks and sauteeing them in a little olive oil and pink salt within minutes, or enhancing the flavor of your food with freshly picked herbs. They’re packed with nutrition and taste much better than anything you can get in a store of restaurant.
Want more information about nutrition and growing your own food? Get your copy of the newest Green Guidebook: Go Green without Going Broke at Amazon.com for $4.99 (digital edition) or $9.99 paperback.
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