The number one outdoor activity

What is the most popular outdoor activity? No, it’s not playing golf. And it’s not running. Canadians enjoy gardening more than anything else we do outdoors, followed by our love of walking. As a result, the gardening and horticultural industry does a booming business at this time of the year.

Anyone can garden, with spectacular results. You don’t have to be a green thumb to grow flowers or vegetables. Just follow the planting instructions, control the weeds and water the plants regularly. Studies show that gardening is a more effective stress-reducer than reading a good book. Gardening also promotes physical health through exercise and the production of home-grown food items. Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine – and it also gets your blood moving. There are lots of different movements in gardening, so you get some exercise benefits out of it as well. Digging, planting, weeding and other repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching are excellent forms of low-impact exercise.

A recent study in the Netherlands suggests that gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities. In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood or bipolar II disorder spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables.

After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What’s more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended. The researchers suggest that the novelty of gardening may have been enough to jolt some of the participants out of their doldrums. For other participants, exercise, fresh air and a sense of productivity helped combat melancholia.

More seeds in a cucumber

Do you remember when a full package of garden seeds cost 10 cents? Today we shell out around $2.00 for a package and you get just a handful of seeds in the bottom. I’ve been told that seed companies put more money into packaging than content. We pay for the attractive coloured package and very little for the seed.

Have you ever wondered how many seeds are in one of those smart-looking packages? I’ve counted as few as 14 seeds cucumber seeds in a package and as high as 160. There’s one thing for sure, you get more seeds in a real cucumber. Potatoes are one of the easiest and most prolific home garden vegetables.

Nothing beats the taste of freshly dug potatoes in July. Yukon Gold is my favourite. This spring I planted 145 seed potatoes (three rows) on April 30. They started coming up on May 11. I also plant potatoes in late June or early July. They are all grown on raised beds (10 inches high and 18 inches wide) of loamy and very organic soil. I cover the beds with a thick cover of leaves, grass clippings and straw.

Advice for new gardeners

Here are a few helpful hints I learned from experience. If you buy a bag (big or small) of seed potatoes, you will likely get average or even large potatoes. Most people will cut them in two or three pieces, each piece having two or three eyes, or sprouts. Don’t cut the potatoes. Go to a retailer (farm store) where you can pick your own seed potatoes from a bulk bin and pick smaller potatoes that don’t need to be halved. Be careful not to damage the sprouts and make sure they are facing up when you plant them.

Don’t put lime on the potato patch. Potatoes don’t mind mildly acidic soil and they will get pitted skins in the presence of lime. Don’t put down manure either. It contains viruses and other pathogens, some of which contribute to scabs on your potatoes. I prefer to compost “composted manure” for three years before using it.

Don’t plant this year’s potatoes in the same bed as last year’s potatoes. I rotate every year. Pests, fungi and moulds build up year over year. Give your spuds an escape route.

Do add an organic source of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Potatoes are heavy feeders.

This summer, I hope you can experience the joy of playing in the dirt while producing fresh vegetables or flowers.


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