Your home garden can be the source of a wealth of good health. Gardening provides outdoor exercise, exposure to sunlight, an organic food source — including cardiovascular-beneficial vegetables and herbs — and even helps with the ability to sleep better.
Research consistently shows a strong exercise-mental health connection. Thirty minutes in your garden several days a week acts as nature’s antidepressant. Exercise stimulates the release of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are chemical messengers found in the brain and are associated with good health and mental well-being. Neurotransmitters make us feel energized.
Sunlight also increases serotonin production and improves your overall mood. It affects the function of the brain’s pineal gland, which produces and secretes melatonin. This hormone helps regulate circadian rhythms, which affect sleep and wake cycles. Happy gardening, pleasant dreams!
Your garden can be completely organic by having the right soil, avoiding pesticides and using organic fertilizers.
Vegetables are wonderful sources of antioxidants, which remove free radicals — molecules that are factors in causing cardiovascular and other diseases — from the body. Veggies that have high levels of antioxidants and grow well in our horticultural Zone 7 include broccoli, spinach, carrots, cabbage, beets, radishes, lettuce, squash, pumpkins, collard greens, arugula and kale.
Many fruits grown in our region have high levels of antioxidants and vitamins: peaches, figs, raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, watermelon and tomatoes.
Herbs contribute to the flavor of your meals and are loaded with antioxidants. Oregano, parsley, basil, garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, marjoram, tarragon, mints, chives, fennel, savory and dill grow well in our horticultural zone.
Nitric oxide plays an important role in protecting against the onset and progression of cardiovascular disease. The cardioprotective roles of nitric oxide include regulating blood pressure and vascular tone, and inhibiting platelet aggregation and leukocyte adhesion. Kale, Swiss chard, arugula, spinach, radishes, beets, lettuce, cabbage, mustard greens, cauliflower, kohlrabi, carrots, broccoli, celery, watercress, eggplant, strawberries, garlic and tomatoes all are excellent sources of nitric oxide.
Planning your garden is important. If possible, locate your garden near your kitchen. Your garden should receive six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Herbs such as chives, mints, oregano and parsley can thrive in partial shade. Raised beds are best for home vegetable gardens, and decorative containers are perfect for planting herbs, especially invasive ones like mint, thyme and oregano. Obtain a soil test from the University of Georgia Extension Office before planting. Soil tests will provide the pH and nutrient levels and the fertilizer requirements. Most vegetables and herbs grow best in soil that is slightly acidic (pH 6.5) or neutral (pH 7.0); however, blueberries thrive in quite acidic soils (pH 4.5). Amend the soil with home compost or organic amendments.
Perform the coffee can test to assure adequate drainage. Remove the top and bottom of a coffee can, push it 4 inches into the soil and fill it with water. It should drain at least two inches in one hour.
Plant flowers, such as coneflower, milkweed, zinnia, aster and penstemon, in or near your vegetable garden to attract pollinators, and plant yarrow, marigold, dill, fennel, alyssum and borage to draw beneficial insects that devour pests. A horticulturally diverse garden is a healthy garden where pest damage is prevented and pesticide use is avoided.
The timing of planting depends on the kind of plants and the hardiness of plants in the horticultural zone. In our region, cool-season vegetables, such as lettuce and other leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, peas, beets, cauliflower, spinach, onions, kale, Swiss chard and carrots, can be planted in late winter for spring harvest and in late summer for fall harvest. Warm-season vegetables, such as okra, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplants, melons, peppers and cucumbers, can be planted after the last average frost-free date has passed.
As for fertilization, use organic fertilizers for vegetables. Herbs require very little fertilizer.
Contact Cobb County Master Gardeners at the UGA Extension Office for additional information and to learn about horticultural programs for the public.
Happy and successful gardening!
The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County supports the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strives to improve the quality of life in our community by delivering research-based horticultural information, educational programs and projects.
– Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County is a part of the University of Georgia Extension.