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  • Writer's pictureJeannette Napoleon

To Live Longer, Learn To Garden

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

In my first blog, I encouraged my readers to attempt five different things in order to live longer for themselves and those who love them. In this post, I will focus on one of those suggestions. I will try to inspire, motivate and move you to try gardening.

Simply put, I’ve found at sixty-six years of a very graced life, that what I eat makes a huge difference in how I feel. Sometimes, I notice the difference immediately and one of the key changes that I’ve made in that arena has been to include fresh produce from my own garden.

The trick to beginning gardening is to go slow. Pick grower-friendly crops and only a few. It can be quite discouraging to watch as crops fail because you could not keep the weeds at bay or find the time to adequately water or miss a pest infestation or other problem until quite late for easy rescue. It’s much more doable when there are only a few crops and a small space.

One of the other most helpful things for me has been a easy-to-access knowledge base. That base has included several online resources, including one printed hard copy. The print version is a seed catalog from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine, USA. Not only online, but in that catalog, one can find so much information! Not only how to choose your crop, but also the specific variety that might work best for you, how to plant, grow, harvest and store it. Besides excellent seeds and plants, they also offer many well-designed, field-tested tools and supplies. INSERT PHOTO/LINK HERE!

Another resource upon which I rely heavily are a few YouTube channels. Kevin @ Epic Gardening and Mark at Sustainable Me are two of my favorites.


The University Of Missouri Extension Center has been another wonderful resource as has the Facebook group, “Missouri Gardeners.” check both names for accuracy

At the Extension Center, I was even able to go to their office and select a nice assortment of seed packets. For free!

To help with bug problems, companion planting and crop rotation are highly encouraged. Some plants exude chemicals or have growing properties that are beneficial to others and vice versa. That is what is meant by companion planting. Crop rotation is changing the environment below soil level so that bugs happy to eat at roots and stems of one plant will not have that same plant available the following year.

The best part of my gardening experience has been the active, engaged participation of my youngest grandchild. Flynn and his best friend made every aspect of gardening better. Both boys are Boy Scouts and have done quite a bit of self-sufficiency training. Almost always when faced with a new plant, “Can we eat it?” They ask. When the red malabar spinach bloomed and produced green-then-deep, purple seeds, it was no different. As that crop was fairly new to me, I had to research for the answer. We then found John @ In 2015, he suggested that with caution, he felt it not only safe, but likely very beneficial as the purple, fully-ripe berries are full of cancer-fighting anthocyanins. He admitted that he really couldn’t find any science to confirm this and so, was careful to warn moderation when trying them for the first time. He was clearly a fan. We did taste them. He juiced them with an expeller and added cane syrup to produce a very tasty drink. Alone, they are actually a tad bitter and taste a lot like spinach. None of us were fans although we did harvest quite a few, tasting several, before giving up on them. It was enough that the sprawling vines were hardy producers of the leaves which one set of parents and myself do like.

Kale, peas, green beans, asparagus, leeks, peppers, squash, Swiss chard, sorrel, loose-leaf lettuce, eggplant, okra and red-malabar spinach have all grown nicely for me.

This past fall, I tried my hand at some of my first fall crops. I had missed the window for root crops, but salad and greens were an option. Green beans, beets, Swiss chard, peas, lettuce and bok choi came up nicely for me. The beets were were too small, but I enjoyed their greens.

There’s something about gardening that is not only calming but actually energizing and invigorating. I can see the results. Kale for my stew and smoothies. Garlic mixed into the olive oil at the bottom of all other toppings elevates a pizza to a whole new level! Roasted beets, onions, leeks and asparagus add a depth of flavor to any salad. There’s nothing like tomato sauce or soup made from freshly-picked, vine-ripened tomatoes! Asparagus is one of my favorite of the super easy-to-grow crops. Either plant seeds or crowns. The crowns give you a year’s jumpstart on harvest. I have two 8-foot rows and this year was the crops third year. I can see having a harvest close to fifty pounds next year.

If vegetable gardening seems like too much to take on, perhaps, you’d consider growing an herb garden. Chives, garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and marjoram can all be easy to grow. Oregano used sparingly is great in Mexican and Greek-inspired cooking. Garlic, thyme and marjoram are ultra user-friendly and common in many dishes. Several whole sprigs of thyme crushed in mortar added delightful flavor to my doctored, roasted-red pepper soup! All of these herbs take little care to thrive in average soils with minimal watering needs. I once attended a seminar, “Herbs As Medicine." Merrily Khun taught that there are many health benefits of ingesting herbs. She focused on a dozen or so of the most potent ones. Ever since that, I've believed in the value of fresh herbs and freshly-ground herbs.

An Iranian friend of mine recently challenged myself and a few others to try growing herbs. That suggestion reminded me of their potential and I’ve found myself out in my yard to harvest some of what I already grow. While the garlic had already been harvested in the summer and basil weeks earlier as frost was expected, there were still herbs growing. There was thyme, chives, garlic chives, oregano & rosemary. Not knowing how well my now-really-large oregano patch would fair through the winter, I was very generous with it’s harvest. Was glad to learn that oregano leaves briefly pan-fried in a bit of hot olive oil, crumbled and sprinkled over many hot dishes is something that I positively love! If you’ve ever bought herbs at the grocery store, you know how expensive a small portion of them can be. You could easily spend $5 or more on less than a fistful.

If you grow your crops without the use of heavy pesticides, you have the added comfort in knowing your food is as pure as possible. The savings of harvesting from your own garden over buying at the grocery store can be huge! I routinely go through 3-4 bags of kale each week. At the grocer, that could easily add up to $50 monthly.

After reading how much I enjoy both working in and taking from my garden, I do hope you’ll consider starting your own!

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