Staying both physically active and mentally stimulated are both key factors to increasing the chance of living a longer and healthier lifetime (see Living a “Blue Life”). While statements like this make common sense, we all discover it’s often something much easier said than done in actual practice.
Looking back now, as a middle aged man, staying physically and mentally engaged seemed so natural and part of everyday life early on. A lifestyle with more free time, more energy, more opportunities to play games, ride bikes, do sports, read, and learn new things (even if you disliked a classroom as much as I did).
Then I grew up, moved to the “big city” and got lost in the business of education, career, and other peoples agendas…ugh. I’m sure many can relate! When you have the time you don’t have the energy, when you have the energy you don’t have the time.
Three years ago, when I was trying to find new and interesting ways to stay active and stimulate my mind, I suddenly remember from my youth my mother’s Summer garden and the enjoyment of being outside preparing the ground, planting seeds, watering, weeding, tending plants, and ultimately reaping (and eating) the season’s harvest. That sparked an idea in my mind that I took advantage of as soon as the first Spring arrived— I’m going to grow a garden!
The best thing about the whole process was that it checked off three key things I was looking for that were high on my list of lifestyle requirements: it got me outdoors, it got me physically active, it required some mental thought and learning.
Remembering that the goal was to just get started, no need to be too ambitious out of the gate and end up with something I couldn’t manage or didn’t like, here’s what I did:
- I created an 8 foot x 8 foot square garden space in the back yard using 8 foot landscape timbers (secure them in place however you see fit).
- After trimming the inside grass down to ground level, I covered the floor of the square garden space with a double layer of weed barrier fabric.
- I used two-thirds of the square space for my growing area and left the remaining third as a clear “staging area” to work from and keep tools and supplies, etc. organized; separating the two spaces from each other with an additional 8 foot timber in-between.
- Filled the growing area as deep as possible using a combination of garden soil, compost, and organic humus and manure. The mix is roughly half garden soil, one-quarter compost, one-quarter organic humus and manure. I just dumped out all the bags in the middle and mixed and spread evenly until I had the growing area filled completely- TIP: double stack the landscape timbers around the growing area to create a deeper garden plot.
- Some optional steps: fill the remaining workspace area in your garden square with sand or gravel or pavers or wood chips for example; fence in the garden square or just the growing area to keep out dogs, rabbits, etc; create a bird netting “tent” over the growing area- TIP: building a simple frame with light PVC pipe works well for suspending netting.
- Figured out what seeds or starter plants I wanted to grow based on the time of year and region. I suggest starting with just a few choices and follow the instructions on the packages or research online (USDA.gov)- TIP: I’ve found it best to check around at different hardware and home stores for seeds as their seems to be a difference of what’s available, how much is available, and when they are available based on the store.
- Tended to my garden. Be patient, don’t worry about failure, enjoy the activity, enjoy the thought process, and enjoy the harvest with your family and friends!- TIP: in the fall or winter, after your harvest season, clean out your growing area and securely cover the soil with a black plastic sheet or tarp to keep the soil clean and ready for the Spring.
Of course, purchase whatever tools and goods you may need and remember, this is just a general framework for what I did, figuring out the details for what you want and overcoming your specific challenges is part of the mental exercise that’s an important part of the process– TIP: the supplies listed above were all obtained at the Home Depot.
You should know that my first growing season was less than successful to say the least, I actually over planted and had too much success, meaning too much competition among plants resulting in a struggle for dominance producing more green growth (all stems and leaves) than vegetables and fruits…lesson learned.
But keep in mind the goal is not just a successful garden— it’s a lifestyle upgrade!
Irregardless of how my garden turns out each season, remember the real goal; gardening gets me outdoors, gets me physically active, and requires me to think and learn new things! On top of that my family occasionally enjoys some fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits that come directly from garden to table. All those things – the experiences, the new knowledge, the fresh food – are moments in time that would be completely lost or would never exist otherwise simply by growing a garden.
So step up and grow your garden. As a man there is something basic and primal in using raw earth, seeds, water and sunshine to grow food for your family. It shows and teaches me that I am cable of nurture and caring, of protecting and cultivating, of feeding and providing, not just for a garden but for my family and loved ones.
In my opinion, every man should grow a garden!
Just an idea.
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