I originally wrote this piece for Dr Stephanie Smith’s Create Mental Health Week blog earlier this year; it’s a personal story about how gardening helps me create mental and physical health for me and my family.
“Only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.”
It’s springtime again and my yearly obsession is in full swing: tomatoes! Every year for the past 10 years sometime in the middle of February I notice a warm breeze in the air and start dreaming. I dream of ripe, warm, luscious, juicy tomatoes picked right off the vine, sliced, drizzled with some good olive oil and a touch of sea salt. My alternate dream is of fresh, toasted sourdough bread, crunchy thick-cut bacon, a light smear of mayo, a fresh lettuce leaf, and thick juicy slices of a giant tomato from my backyard.
This year the process is particularly special. We just rebuilt our backyard and put in several new garden beds; we have been watching workmen transform a bit of the open mountain behind our house into a home for all our delicious dreams. We’re putting in fruits, vegetables and herbs, hopefully enough to substitute for the farm share we used to get weekly. Right now our garden is all anticipation, and for me is the fruition of many years of “halfway” gardening in various combinations of limited space, poor soil, pots only, unfavorable climates, or limited time. This year, we are fully committed.
Gardening for me is an invaluable asset to my mental health for several reasons. First and foremost, I love good food. Fresh, flavorful produce is one of my greatest passions in life, and the best way to get it is to grow it myself. I love to cook and to feed healthy, delicious meals to my family, and gardening helps me do just that. Secondly, I love plants. As a Naturopathic doctor and herbalist, I use plants as medicine, but even more than that, there is something amazing about getting to know the intricacies of how mother nature works. Each plant has its own ideal soil conditions, watering needs, and interactions with other living beings from soil microbes to the animals who consume it. For me to learn about and understand plants helps me feel more connected to the planet and to my spirit because it helps me understand how interconnected every living being on the planet is. Finally, gardening gets me outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body and getting my mind off of things. Somehow, fiddling around with the vegetables helps me lose track of time and lets the stress melt away.
But back to February. One of the most satisfying parts of gardening is that if you follow the process, you reap great rewards at the end. In February, I buy my seeds and starting medium, resurrect the seedling trays from the garage, and start counting down the days to planting. Mid-March, seeds go in, trays go under the grow light, and the watering and watching begins. 5 or 6 days later, we have sprouts, a couple weeks after that I transplant sprouts, a few weeks later transplant again, and a couple weeks after that we start hardening off so our baby tomatoes get used to living in the outdoors. Mid-May my tomatoes finally get to go to their home in the ground, and from there it’s just pruning, watering, and finally in August my BLT dreams come true! I’m excited about all the food we’re growing, but there’s just something about tomatoes that feeds the soul.