Appeared in Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star on September 21, 2014
By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett
Not much compares to the satisfaction of digging into the earth, planting and growing something you can later harvest and eat right off the vine. Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are planting a garden with him in our backyard. When my kids were younger I always planted with them, even if just a small square of dirt. Their thrill at tasting the first tomato off the vine; the surprise appearance of carrots and radishes being pulled up from the earth; or the miracle of a bed of leafy green spinach covering what was formerly just an ugly weedy patch of dirt. When my kids were younger they used to put sticks with hand-written, misspelled signs labeling each vegetable and the name of the person who planted the seeds or seedlings. “Mommy’s skwash”, “Isabella’s sunflowers”, etc. It was a great way to keep these little bundles of energy entertained digging and “helping” pull weeds, plant seeds and just toddle around the garden, especially in the late afternoons when they were grumpy and needed to get outside. The neighbor kids tended to gravitate to our backyard during gardening season, many of them seeing a vegetable growing for the first time in their lives. “Try the mint leaves, and pick a handful of cherry tomatoes on your way out.” I’d tell them. I am by no means a gardening expert and have had some pretty pathetic attempts at growing corn and other backyard crop failures, but I am always amazed at how most of what we plant really does come up, and you really can eat it, and it really does taste better than store bought!
Now that the kids are older and less interested in spending time gardening with me, I have all of the excuses not to plant my garden this fall. But the other day my 16 year old son asked why my little garden plot looks so sad and empty. “Is it time to plant the fall garden yet mom?” I was flabbergasted at his interest and impressed that the hours he spent in muddy rubber boots during his early childhood actually made an impression on him. But just as fast as he brought up the subject he was off to his activities and friends. And I to my computer to slog away solving “big” stress-inducing work problems. And then I remembered a quote I had recently read. “All of the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.” (Geoff Lawton).
We’re all just too busy lately to tool around in the yard, pulling weeds and watching butterflies in the warm sun–which is precisely why I am going to plant a garden again this year. I will enlist my teenagers to help me. I don’t want to let my family’s busy routine get in the way of the reward and bounty the earth provides—not to mention the relaxation, conversation, exercise and yummy, free veggies! I am convinced that if I plant, they will come. Or I will make them help me water and weed and I just know my kids will be pleased in the end with the tomatoes and cabbage and broccoli and peppers they grow. Then we can move to the kitchen and cook some real meals with our bounty, which is the second way to solve life’s problems, or at least push through them.
We are so blessed in the Valley with weather that lets us grow year-round and the space to do so. Fall is a great time to try your hand at planting a vegetable and herb garden, or even just planting something in a pot. I promise if you’re willing to get a little dirty, you will reap the many benefits of digging and growing, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)
Here’s how you can get started. Truly, you can start with a pot and soil and buy a small seedling of an herb you use frequently in cooking, like basil, oregano, cilantro, or parsley. As you see how easy it is you can expand to digging up a small square of your yard, adding some compost and gardening soil and planting seeds or little seedlings. The Brownsville Wellness Coalition offers free Gardening classes every 1st and 3rd Thursday at the Brownsville Parks and Recreation Department building on 8th and Tyler. Get more information on their Facebook page (Brownsville Wellness Coalition), ask for tips at your local nursery, your local farmers’ market, or contact the local chapter of the Master Gardeners http://txmg.org/cameron/