Reporter: Samantha Daniels
Mary Beerman, a Durham College horticulture professor, has some tips for students who are willing to put in a little extra effort to skip the trip to – and costs of – the grocery store, as well as get a little boost in happiness.
With the ongoing controversy about genetically modified foods versus organic, pesticide use, added chemicals and preservatives, it’s hard to figure out what you should eat from the grocery store.
The easiest way to get past the controversy is to grow a garden. That is, if getting a little dirty is worthwhile to eat some clean food. And dirt shouldn’t be a deterrent.
According to a 2007 study conducted by Christopher Lowry, gardening can make people a little happier because of a microbe found in the soil.
“Before selecting a plant, take note of your growing site,” said Beerman. She says most plants need at least six hours of sunlight, with most preferring at least 10 hours of direct sunlight. Whether it’s a backyard garden or balcony garden, different plants have different needs.
“A good place to begin would be choose about five plants, two or three herbs, and a flowering plant,” said Beerman.
“Pick plants you want to eat,” said Beerman. Growing foods just to throw them away defeats the purpose of growing food.
Beerman suggests planting a combination of tomatoes, beans, Mesclun salad mix, green onions, peppers, parsley, basil, and cilantro as general palate pleasers.
“Everything can be eaten fresh as well as canned, frozen, dried or pickled,” she said. “The herbs are a good introduction to eating fresh herbs. They also are the most common additions to a lot of foods.”
Fresh herbs can help students learn to make some impressive meals in the kitchen. There are several varieties of basil, such as lemon, pineapple, and licorice, and they can be used to make fresh pesto, according to Beerman.
“Cilantro brings the young gardener around the beginner corner into more advanced culinary options with its peppery flavour complementing Southern, Asian and Mediterranean cuisines,” said Beerman.
Once students have an idea of the plants they want to grow it’s a matter of determining where they should get them and in what form.
“Seeds are the cheapest way to begin a garden.” She suggests students start plants from seeds because they cost next to nothing to buy.
“If you go to a seed exchange, which are going on right now, where gardeners exchange their seeds for others, you could pick up most of your seeds for under $5 and not have most of the seed packet leftover,” she said. However, according to Beerman, seedlings are a little easier because some of the work has been done for you.
Beerman suggests students buy the best topsoil possible, which will help to keep weeds at bay and save some time in the garden.
“If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, have garden gloves,” she said. “You may want a shovel or a trowel, depending on how far you want to go.”
Compost can be added to enrich the topsoil. “Add compost only to amend,” said Beerman. “Amending the topsoil is done since most topsoils are nutrient deficient. Organic matter is food for the organisms and the organisms bring nutrients to the plant roots.”
For students who don’t have the space to grow a garden, Beerman suggests they join a community garden. They can be free or cost a small fee, and there are lots of other gardeners to talk to and learn from.
“Start a student community garden,” said Beerman. “Students and the admin would love to see this.”
Durham has a master gardeners group, of which Beerman is a member. She said students should go to their local group. “They have a ton of info for you.”
There are also other groups within Durham, such as Sustainable Action Durham, which offer events and information on gardening.