With spring right around the corner and the promise of birth, renewal, and new growth, it's the perfect time to consider having a garden. Gardening can be a rewarding hobby; it not only puts the freshest produce on the table, but it also has significant health benefits.

Jean Lubekis, a mental health counselor with the Franciscan Employee Assistance Program and also an avid gardener, shares the physical and mental benefits of gardening, as well as some tips on how to get your own grow on.

Gardening is considered a moderate-level exercise by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 2.5 hours each week are recommended to help achieve health benefits and reduce the risk for certain disease. Gardening gets you out into the fresh air and brings you closer to nature, “improves mental clarity and leads to tranquility,” Lubekis says.

Gardening can be a type of meditation. It’s not uncommon to become very focused on the task at hand, so those who choose to garden are more likely to get 40 to 50 minutes more physical activity than if they chose walking or biking. With this type of exercise you not only see physical results in your own body, but you see a finished product that will keep on giving.

Lubekis says that in recent years gardening has been scientifically proven to be a stress reliever. In an experiment published in the Journal of Health Psychology, “test subjects that gardened experienced a more significant decrease in stress, when compared to subjects that were assigned to read.”

STARTING A GARDEN

Ready to give gardening a try and reap the joy of growing your own? Lubekis recommends planting after the last frost, which is typically in May.

The Location

There are several options as to where you can plant your garden. If you have extra land, a traditional garden will be a good fit. Smaller container gardens require the least amount of space and time, Lubekis says. There are also garden boxes or kits you can purchase at local hardware stores that are convenient and do not involve tilling.

If you do not have space for a garden, many communities in Northwest Indiana now have community garden plots for rent at a minimal cost. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, “regular involvement in gardening or community food-growing projects contributes to improved social interactions and community cohesion.” Furthermore, working alongside other gardeners is a great way to share plant knowledge, develop new friendships, gain a greater sense of purpose and a strong sense of well-being.

The Seeds

“Starting your own seeds versus purchasing plants is a personal preference,” Lubekis says. “It depends on how much time you want to dedicate.” If you want to start with seeds, start early and plan on tending to your seedlings indoors until it is warm enough to transition them to outside. Many hardware stores sell domed trays for planting seeds indoors. Starting from seed requires warmth and many hours of light.

When planning your garden, choose what veggies and herbs fit best with your cooking style and in your favorite recipes; however, gardening can also be a fun way to introduce new foods into your diet. It’s no surprise that every vegetable and herb will have many of the needed vitamins and minerals for you and your family.

The Cost

The cost of gardening depends on how grand your vision is. There may be an initial investment to get started, but you may save in the long run when your plants keep delivering fresh produce.

The Pests

Lubekis provides some helpful hints on weed and pest control that have helped keep her garden thriving. Weeds can be controlled by using a weed barrier, which can be as simple as laying down old newspapers covered with straw or pieces of cardboard, or by purchasing a fabric barrier. “The best way to keep away garden pests is to attract birds that eat the bugs,” Lubekis says. This can be done by planting flowers that attract birds, bats and bees. Lubekis adds that praying mantis and ladybugs also help. “If that doesn’t work,” she says, “there are organic mixtures that can be purchased or made by the gardener.”

The Rewards

“Vegetable gardening is a great hobby that literally lets you reap what you sow,” Lubekis says. “You have the joy of starting plants from seed or planting seedlings, and after proper care, you get to eat your lunch or dinner knowing exactly where it came from… If you want to eat healthy, it is a way to be absolutely certain of what you are eating.” So this spring, step out into your own green space, create it with your own two hands, use your own energy, and in turn feed your body, mind, and soul.

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