KEY TAKEAWAYS AT A GLANCE:
• The key to giving your body better nutrition is to grow your own food.
— You will be able to eat what you grow shortly after harvest, thereby getting the highest level of nutrient that the plant can provide because the plant is allowed to grow to full maturity where nutrients will be at a peak AND you will be able to consume it shortly after harvest.
— You have control over how your food is grown meaning soil health, hydroponics, and anything applied to the plant to control pest pressure or enhance nutrition profile in plant like beneficial biological foliar tea applications.
— You will benefit not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually from being more connected to your food and outdoors.
• If you’ve never grown your own food, taking that first step can feel overwhelming. Begin by just choosing to focus on how to grow a food that you eat already and taking a moment to think about why you are motivated to make the effort.
• A simple and very doable approach to getting started growing your own food is to simply ask one question, “What one new thing can I learn to grow this year?”
The key to moving to better nutrition for your body is to grow your own food. That’s how my journey began. What did I do? I simply became curious and had an attitude to learn — and I picked just one plant to learn about. I deep dove into learning everything I could about that one plant and what it needed to grow. Single focused. One simple step. A willingness to change and grow through gardening.
Here’s how you can make a BIG difference this year in your health by just learning to grow one new plant:
Step 1: Consider healthy grown food choices you are already enjoying.
You’re more likely to eat what you grow and if it’s already something you’re familiar. Research has even shown this to be true with children — children are more likely to eat what they have grown. Why would we be any different? 😉
For example, I like to eat Kale. I noticed that Kale was on EWG’s (Environmental Working Group’s) Dirty Dozen List. I didn’t want to give up eating kale simply because it was often sprayed by those growing it and wanted to reduce the amount of chemicals I was putting into my body. I also found that my kids like the cheesy kale chips at the store, but my pocket book felt the pain every time I had to purchase that in bulk. The best solution? Learn to grow it.
Step 2: Learn everything you can about what the plant needs to grow.
Single-tasking has been proven to be THE BEST way to get something done. Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate things. Just choose one thing and learn it well. Focusing on learning one new plant will set you up for success and lead to better nutrition for your body!
We are so blessed to live in an age where we have so much information at our fingertips with a simple search. Take advantage of this and devote at least 15 focused non-distracted minutes a day to look-up details about the plant you’re wanting to learn how to grow. Record what you learn on a sheet a paper and put it in a 3-Ring Binder. This becomes a handy-reference in seasons to come as you add other plants to your ever growing notebook.
You’ll find that after a couple of growing seasons, you’re able to add more than one plant to your ever-growing “new plants I’m curious about” list. And you’ll be able tackle more because once you know a plant, you can grow a different similar variety with ease because you’ve already studied that plant group.
“Take advantage of this and devote at least 15 focused non-distracted minutes a day to look-up details about the plant you’re wanting to learn how to grow. Record what you learn on a sheet a paper and put it in a 3-Ring Binder”
— Erin Castillo, Owner of Grow Your Health Gardening
Let curiosity guide your research. Ask questions like:
- What temperature does this plant like to grow in: Cool or Warm? Knowing the temperature preference of a specific plant cultivar will tell you what time of year to start growing that plant. For example, kale likes to grow when it is cooler. Okay. How cool? Is there a certain range of temperature it prefers? Okay. We find that it likes 70ºF-80ºF, but some varieties like Lucinato (Dinosaur Kale), Dwarf Siberian, Vates Blue Scotch, Premier, White Russian, and Red Russian can tolerate SOIL TEMPS as low as 20ºF. I can look up those temperature ranges for the area I live in and look to see about when those temperatures are occurring. Then, when I look at the days to maturity, I can use a calendar calculator and count backwards from that temperature range and I can get my seed start date. Not sure how to quickly find a date? Just do a keyword online search for “count days calculator” or pull out an actual monthly calendar and physically count the days backwards with your finger.
- What sort of lighting requirements does the plant need? Most vegetables need 8-10 hours of full sun a day. Consider watching where you have a sunny patch for the longest hours in a day. This is going to be your growing area. Don’t have a sunny patch and just a lot of shade? No problem! Invest in an indoor growing system with grow lights where you can control the temperature and grow year round.
- What is the ideal pH range your plant needs to take up nutrients?
Your pH level plays a very important role in which nutrients a plant can access and use to fuel it. I’ve provided a chart (below) to illustrate which nutrients a plant can take up when it’s within the ideal pH range. Most plants need somewhere between 5.5 to 6.8. Leafy greens prefer the 6.0 pH to 6.5 pH range whereas tomatoes prefer between 6.0-6.8 pH. Notice how kale, which likes it between 6.0-7.0 pH, when soil or water in a hydroponic or aquaponic system is kept between this range will be able to access nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, Boron, Copper and Zinc and Molybdenum. If you’re growing hydroponically, you can quickly and easily test pH levels with a pH meter like this. If you’re growing in soil, you can get a soil test from your local county extension office for around $10. You can also get a device like this that will get you fairly close. Remember, soil takes several months to adjust the pH level. Hydroponics and Aeroponics takes only a few hours with either pH up or pH down.
- What sort of nutrients does my plant require?
If you’re working in soil, it will be helpful to understand your soil food web and how micro-organisms and beneficial bacteria within the soil work together to help replenish nutrients in the soil for the plant to access. If you’re working in hydroponics or aquaponics, you’ll want to purchase a TDS meter and a well-rounded nutrient like this Mineral Blend. When you go to add your nutrients, simply keep your PPM levels within the ideal range the plant prefers. You can find a fantastic hydroponic cheat sheet here that we’ve created for your convenience.
- How long does it take for my plant to grow?
Knowing this tidbit of information helps you figure out when to start growing your desired plant and calculating days to ensure you can get your plant to harvest stage. For example, I know that kale takes about two months to go from seed to ready for harvest. Again, you can reference most of this information in a simple chart here.
- How many should I plant to produce enough food for myself and my family? How does that fit in with the growing space that has enough lighting that I have to work with at home? Learning how big a plant gets and if it continues to grow after a harvest can help you understand what sort of return you’ll get from starting one plant and growing it out.
- Are there any diseases or pests that may target the plant I intend to grow? Can I take any preventative measures that don’t require chemical applications? For example, kale can get hit by the army worm. The eggs are laid by pretty white butterflies on the underside of the kale leaf where their young can have an instant food source. By simply covering your food crop with a net before these butterflies show up, you can dramatically increase your success rate and achieve your goals in growing healthy food. And know that it’s perfectly fine to learn as you go… don’t feel that you have to have a handle on all of this before you begin. When something shows up, you can look up what it is and how to deal with it. It’s part of the learning process.
- What can I do with what I grow?
How can it be preserved? For example, if I have a lot of kale, I can dehydrate it and make cheesy kale chips to store in my pantry (which my kids love). I can freeze it and use it in morning smoothies. I can dehydrate it and use in soups for added nutrition. Thinking how you already use this food will help you anticipate and plan ahead when the plant is ready to harvest.
- How will growing this benefit me?
We are such a consumer culture that wants things ready in an instant. We have to break this cycle. We forget that there is joy to be found in the rhythm of being more connected to our food and the process of seeing something from beginning to end — from seed to harvest to table. There are intangible benefits to note, like getting more exercise and being outside in the sunshine and fresh air which produces Vitamin D in your body and (sleep chemical). It relaxes your body which reduces stress and cortisone levels giving your thyroid a break. Then there’s the actual nutritional benefits. What vitamins does the plant you intend to grow give to your body? How will those nutrients help you be healthier and stronger? Sitting down and focusing on these things and having them written down will motivate you to keep going when you encounter any challenges to overcome along the way.
Step 3: Reap the rewards. Bask in the benefits of your time and effort.
I just can’t describe how good it feels to have those you love, enjoy eating something that I grew. It feels good knowing I gave them the very best thing that they could eat and KNOW that it wasn’t sprayed or treated with any chemicals. One of the best feelings ever. I remember when I learned to grow basil and made pesto. My kids loved it! (And I did, too!) I loved that I could easily make it and put in the freezer for a quick week-night meal and that it was immune boosting. It’s the “new elderberry syrup” for improving our health. (Yes, basil is that healthy!)
If your plant didn’t grow or produce like you thought it would, that’s okay, too! In our home, we know that not meeting our goal or objective doesn’t equate to failure. Failure is when you don’t even try. If you feel discouraged, pick up your bootstraps and realize you have already succeeded because you took that difficult first step when so many others wouldn’t even attempt it. You are further along than you were before you ever tried. We can learn from everything we do. And as you’ll see in growing plants, every plant has very specific needs that must be met in order for them to grow (which also may make you reconsider the whole antiquated evolution theory and how things just may have “coincidentally happened” … more on that another time… but I think you may discover that plants are more complex than just throwing a seed in the ground. They were designed with a purpose and need specific parameter to grow and thrive.)
So remember, there are countless benefits to consider. Think about and write down how learning about that one plant has or will benefit you. When I consider my own journey, growing my own food has been more than just plants though…. I have gotten off the couch and out from behind my desk and computer (except for this moment of course as I write to you) and it gets me actively moving my body which is good for me. I love to wear earbuds and listen to music or Podcasts as I work, so it is a moment where I can step away from my life responsibilities and refuel my mind and spirit while accomplishing a gardening task like pruning, checking on water lines and levels, or checking for pests. Know that you’ll benefit as well in the same way; research tells us that those who garden are happier. I’m also getting a good dose of Vitamin D from that sunshine and producing melatonin which both help your immune system. I have a college degree and could work in any corporate setting, but I have purposely chosen this natural permiculture and hydroponic organic method of growing food, because it is healthier for me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, it is something a can do with my children, teaching them how plants grow and why they should grow them. I am sowing into not only myself, but the next generation.
Step 4: Repeat.
After you’ve finished the growing cycle of your plant and have accessed how it went in your gardening journal, repeat the process the next season. Pick another type of plant you’re interested in learning more about and pursue it. But here’s the cool thing… because you have already learned how to grow that other plant, you can now choose another variety within that same plant group and grow it AND the new plant you’re interested in learning more about. As you repeat this process season after season, before you know it, you’re growing a whole slew of healthy plants and enjoying reaping the benefits!
Let us know which plant you’re curious about and plan on learning more this year in the comments below!
Erin Castillo is the owner of Grow Your Health Gardening and Lead Grower of GYHG Seed Co. She is certified in hydroponics and growing food using organic methods. She believes that life is to be lived to the fullest.