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We often associate gardening with spring but, you can reap the benefits of growing your own produce in the fall, too. This is both true for your plate and for your mental health, as there are mind-body perks to sinking your fingers into the soil and planting seeds from scratch.
Up ahead, we take a closer look at why planting a garden in the fall boasts major mindful benefits, plus the fall produce to try your green thumb at.
“In this technological era, so many of us live inside our heads and inside our homes,” says Sandra Nanka, the owner and gardening expert at Mudbrick Herb Cottage. “It’s easy to feel disconnected from our bodies and from the living and natural world around us,” she adds. With that said, Nanka says gardening is a fantastic opportunity for us to “reconnect with the complex web of life outside of the home and outside of ourselves, reminding us that we are more than our bodies; we are part of the intricate natural ecosystem.”
Gardening provides a good source of whole foods, which are naturally beneficial to the body. And, beyond eating nutritious produce, it’s also connected to mental health benefits. “Gardening is associated with reductions in depression, anxiety, BMI, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community,” says Katie Krejci, MS, RD, LD, IFNCP, a dietitian and homesteader with a focus on helping others learn to grow their own food.
Nanka also recommends gardening as a form of movement meditation. “Ask anyone who has spent a few hours weeding—this repetitious and monotonous task is an incredible opportunity to pay attention to your mind and body, and give into the present moment,” she explains. Additionally, she says it’s a “wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness, allows you to care for and nurture something, and is a therapeutic stress relief.”
Speaking of stress relief, the act of gardening isn’t the only thing that can help shed some of the side effects of our busy lives. According to research, soil can also contribute. “Soil contains a bacterium called Mycobacterium, which make stimulates serotonin production in the body, helping to improve your mood and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Nanka explains. “This shift in perspective can transform your relationship with gardening as not being a chore, but an outlet for great enjoyment or peace,” she adds.
“Fall gardening is a lot more about preparation and planting as opposed to the spring months, where it’s more about maintenance and harvesting,” says Nanka. “During the fall, you want to prepare your garden beds for the cooler days and winter frosts by applying fresh, deep layers of mulch to help insulate the soil,” she explains.
One of the benefits of gardening in the fall is you don’t have to worry about too many garden pests. “Spring and summer are where you’ll face a lot more pressure from weeds and pests,” Nanka notes, adding that it’s the price you pay for an abundance of fruits and vegetables in the warmer seasons.
Knowing when to plant your fall garden can be tricky, given the change in weather and shift to shorter days. According to Krejci, the best time to plant a fall garden completely depends on what growing zone you are in. “Your growing zone determines when your first and last frost dates are,” she explains. For example, if you are in zone 4 Minnesota, your first frost date is September 27, so you want to select varieties that would be ready to harvest before then. “You can figure out how much time you need for each vegetable by looking at your seed packet,” Krejci explains. “It should tell you its average ‘days to maturity,’ which tells you how many days that plant typically requires to reach maturity once planted,” she adds.
An easy way to determine when to plant your fall garden is to look at the days to maturity and count back from your first frost date. For example, if you’re in zone 4 Minnesota, and your plant’s days to maturity is 60, count back 60 days from September 27 to determine your planting day. “However, in the fall, the days are cooler and shorter, so we need to account for slower growth by adding an additional 1-2 weeks to be on the safe side,” Krejci advises. “So, for this example, I would actually plant 67-74 days before the first frost date, [instead of] 60.”
Berries: “Fall is the prime time to plant berries because they are a good source of fiber and antioxidants, which help in keeping free radicals in check,” says Jason White, the CEO of All About Gardening. Additionally, berries are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Broccoli: White also recommends planting broccoli because it’s a nutrient-rich superfood. “It helps reduce inflammation, boost immunity, regulate blood sugar, and promote heart health,” he explains.
Apples: When we think of fall, we immediately think of apple-picking, so it’s no wonder they are a must-plant fruit tree. “Consuming apples are associated with lowered risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases,” says White. Apples are also known to help improve gut health.
Pears: “Pears are a powerhouse of a fruit,” says White. “They are packed with a hefty amount of fiber, vitamins, and other beneficial plant compounds,” he adds.
Artichokes: According to White, artichokes are known for their healing properties as well as their high concentration of nutrients. “Its leaf extract helps decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol,” he notes, adding that consuming artichokes can also help regulate high blood pressure.
Grapes: Grapes are fun fall produce to plant because you can get creative with how you grow the vines. They’re also highly beneficial and considered the anti-diabetes fruit because they “help decrease sugar levels and boost insulin sensitivity to help the body use glucose,” says White. “The resveratrol in grapes also helps maintain brain health to ward off cognitive disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” he adds.
Citrus: Nanka recommends planting citrus in the fall—such as lemons, oranges, and limes—because they “are high in vitamin C, an essential vitamin to bolster the immune system and aid in iron absorption.”
Chamomile: For something different, you can also try planting some chamomile in your herb garden. “Chamomile is a great calming and stress-relieving herb, which you can brew fresh as a tea,” says Nanka.
The great thing about gardening, is you don’t need a ton of space to get your green thumb on. “Gardening can be as simple and small as your space and time allow,” says Nanka. If you don’t have the space, Nanka recommends getting creative with different pots and containers. You can also use high-tech indoor planters such as the Lettuce Grow Farmstand to create a small vertical garden. “Providing they have access to sunlight and receive water and nutrients as needed, gardening allows you to get creative with the space you have,” Nanka says.
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