For decades I have raised all my family's vegetables year round with no poisons, commercial chemicals or power machinery. In the early years my health improved enormously and my husband's significantly. In "retirement" it provides me wonderful joy and relaxation.
There are various approaches to gardening. When I was working full time and raising children, I allowed myself only a half hour a day. In the Garden State that was enough to raise vegetables for six in about 1000 square feet with no woodchucks. Now I cultivate about 300 square feet and spend much more time, partially because I revel in breathing so much good oxygen, and partially because woodchucks can be competitive.
How do I avoid commercial fertilizers? By mulching, composting, and planting winter rye wherever I don't have a crop overwintering. I allow most of my own grass clippings to nourish my lawn, but I take others' grass clippings left in bags on their curbs to mulch most of the garden. This also keeps down weeds and keeps in the moisture. I have used a hose on the garden only about half the summers I have gardened, and never in the past three years. I have never used a hose on my lawn, and it remains green throughout most summers, in contrast to those that have been spoiled by watering; my lawn sends its roots deep.
What do we eat in winter? I freeze pesto, sugar snap peas, beans, Malabar spinach, and tomato sauce in the freezer of my kitchen refrigerator. Kale goes through NJ winters without protection. Burpee's 2-season Chinese cabbage thrives in my Johnny Seeds cold frame, and gives me fresh stir-fries every three days in January and February. Collards and other greens are good through most of December and resume in March.Root crops, including parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, and lots of carrots are protected in place by plastic bags of leaves that others leave on their curbs. I shovel the snow off the bag, pick it up, harvest a week's worth of carrots, and replace the bag throughout the winter. Bean sprouts grown in the kitchen supplement winter salads. The basic green can be either fresh kale or lettuce grown in my kitchen greenhouse window or in another cold frame.
My daughter read about a study comparing British and U.S. citizens. At all income levels Britons live longer and are healthier than Americans. The writers hypothesized that this is because gardening is so popular in Britain and it provides exactly the right amount and type of exercise for mature and aging humans. Local organic gardening avoids the contagious food poisoning that has become too common in the last decade, and it is much better for the environment. It helps prevent climate change. But best of all, gardening is fun. On a beautiful day there is no better activity than puttering in one's garden, either alone or with companions.
If you want to know more, either consult my gardening website, available via a google search on "Pat Kenschaft" or email me at
email@example.com to get on my gardening/local environmental email list.
Pat Kenschaft, Professor Emerita, Department of Mathematical Sciences