There is something so therapeutic about digging in the earth and eating the literal fruits of your own labor. The garden is also where we enjoy nature and beauty, and couldn’t we all use more of that right now? Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. For the home gardener just starting out, I recommend basil, zinnias, parsley and mint. This list could go on and on, but the before mentioned are great for “average” soil and potentially neglectful gardeners.
Why basil: for adding to your home-cooked, quarantined Margherita pizzas. Pick it when you serve the pie. It provides so much flavor and color. It is also a good way to get other members of the family involved. Tell them to “go pick some basil leaves, the pizza is almost ready.”
Why zinnias: for their floral beauty that can be brought indoors as cut flowers and their ability to attract butterflies to your garden. Their beauty and ease of growing make them an easy choice.
Why parsley: for its low-growing and contained growing habits and its fresh taste (hello, chimichurri sauce). It is also a larval host plant for the eastern black swallowtail butterfly. Collect the caterpillars when they are big, put them in a mesh butterfly tent (with plenty of food, aka parsley) and watch the metamorphosis happen. Make sure to let the kids release them when they hatch!
Why mint: for its unrivalled ease of growing and its flavor for adding to your favorite beverage – perhaps to enjoy as you release your butterflies. But grower beware: Mint likes to spread, so design accordingly.
Pro tip: Use seeds for zinnias and basil, buy plants of parsley and mint.
2. For the one-stop answer to the “what do I plant now” question, follow this chart. It is a month-to-month breakdown of what to plant for our area.
3. Space requirements vary, but really shouldn’t be of much concern. Just make sure the gardens get water, get plenty of sun and have a well-worked soil with plenty of compost.
4. Organic gardening is preferred because you are eating the food, and why would you want to bring some chemical company into your Margherita pizza? Our mission is to help educate everyone how we coexist with insects and how our choices can help or destroy.
5. There are so many reasons to grow your own food! Number one is that you know it’s pure. You are involved, so it means something. You savor the flavor and you understand the ephemeral availability. Furthermore, it is a thing of beauty to grow. You have made a good decision that enhances and educates; do more of this.
6. Herbs and spices help flavor our food, but they can also offer bioactives that are healing in the body. A bioactive is a non-nutrient component in food that is responsible for changes in health status. These bioactives in herbs and spices can help fight inflammation and oxidation in the body. Examples of bioactives in foods are quercetin in onions, garlic and leeks; caffeic acid in oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme; and curcumin in turmeric, just to name a few. All of these can easily be incorporated into your garden.
Jon Bierman is the gardener for Arkansas Heart Hospital, whose mantra is “food is medicine.” The organic garden and greenhouse on land west of the Little Rock clinic provides fresh herbs and vegetables that can be spotted on the salad bar, in ramen, in crepes and on patient trays. In addition to providing food for the hospital, the garden serves as a teaching tool to educate practitioners, chefs, dietitians, patients and students on the importance of growing food organically and locally.