Vegetable gardening has been around a long time, but does the future of gardening retain roots in its rich history? Records indicate that as nomadic tribes began to settle in specific areas, they cultivated favorable trees and vines for protection and to make foraging for food easier. Studies indicate this was occurring as early as 7,000 BC in the Middle East and other areas where early civilization began. By the time the Ancient Greeks came to power, they were cultivating figs, olives and many other edible species.
When the Americas were first discovered, the New World provided potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and beans to the crops already familiar to Europeans. It was in Peru that potatoes were first domesticated (check out our image on how this has changed potatoes over the years). In the newly formed colonies in North America, the Three Sisters came to prominence as they all worked well together: Corn, Beans and Squash. Beans provide nitrogen for the corn, corn provides a ready climbing stalk for the beans and the squash made wonderful ground covering shade to help retain moisture. Perhaps the biggest reason – all of these could be dried and stored for future use. That was the beginning – but what did we have to unlearn and how does that impact the future of gardening?
Early Vegetable Myths
- Potatoes – when the ubiquitous spud first arrived in Spain, it did not receive a warm reception. As a member of the Nightshade family, potatoes were viewed as potentially poisonous. Also, the somewhat ugly nature of the potato led some folks to believe that they carried hideous diseases like leprosy and syphilis. Germany actually refused free potatoes from Frederick the Great during the famine of 1774.
- Sage has been a common remedy for everything from post-childbirth pain to regulating the menstrual cycle to being a hangover cure to helping with memory loss. Physicians in both Rome and the Arab countries thought that consuming sage would make you immortal.
- Parsley was once thought to be an herb favored by the devil and it was rarely found in a garden. In ancient Greece it was often used to decorate graves and tombs (perhaps to ward off the devil?). Because parsley takes so long to germinate, the devil myth was perpetuated in that growers felt that the seeds had to go to and from the devil nine times before sprouting – and if you had seeds that did not sprout, it meant the devil had taken up residence in your garden.
- Tomatoes were once considered poisonous to the Europeans. When they were first shipped back from the new world, the fact that tomatoes were also part of the Nightshade family led folks to shy away from eating them for many years. This may have been exacerbated by the high acid content of the tomato pulling lead from traditional pewter plates – and giving lead poisoning to many who ate early cooked tomatoes.
- Fennel was often used to ward off witches and their dark magic. Whole fennel plants hung from your door frame were thought to ward off evil. Fennel stalks and seeds were placed in keyholes to ward off the devil. Perhaps the fennel folks and the parsley folks got together and cancelled each other out?
There are many of these garden myths that have been debunked over the years. While the future of gardening likely doesn’t include weight in these myths, the trip down memory lane has made gardening that much more fun!
What do you mean “dirt has changed”? How does that impact the future of gardening?
First of all, we were educated early on that gardeners do not grow vegetables in dirt – they grow everything in soil (thanks to Ron Finley – the Gangsta Gardener – for the education. Learn more about Ron and his efforts on his website. We also have learned that the scientific concept of soil has been changing over the years. In fact, we shared a podcast from one of our affiliates Kevin Espiritu (#EPICGardening) earlier this year. You can find that podcast here. If you search Kevin’s database, he has gone deep into the nature of soil and how to build your best soil. A few quick tips that we have picked up as our experience with raised garden beds (and especially our Original Garden – check out our ecosystem).
- Texture – healthy soil is a blend of many things but it all starts with texture, and is essential to the future of gardening. We started with recommending Garden Soil and Peat Moss but have moved more towards Potting Soil or soil blends specifically for raised garden beds. Raised beds tend to have compacted soil over time – so starting with something less dense and committing to blending in organic matter over time will help keep your soil at the proper texture. Perlite, sand or other materials that minimize compaction are also good to add.
- Oxygen – all plants require oxygen – but not just for the leaves. Roots also need oxygen and they typically get that from water and air pockets in the soil (see – texture is important!!). With an Eco Garden, oxygen is a bit easier to come by as our Air Gap allows roots to breathe easier (moisture rich, oxygen rich layer between soil and reservoir) and our Water Reservoir provides oxygen in the form of water that is constantly refreshed. Additionally, having organic material in the soil allows the microbiome to thrive and critters consuming this organic material will help create oxygen. This is one reason we have started using newspaper as part of our soil health program.
- Peat Moss – this material helps with texture and moisture retention but is not really a sustainable product. Peat Moss is formed when moss and other materials break down in peat bogs. It is harvested (or mined) and packaged for retail sale or commercial use. It is not really all that sustainable as use tends to outstrip creation – it is said that Europe has mined most if not all of their available peat moss. Folks are seeking other substrates to replace this – things like cocoa coir (ground up husks of coconuts) – that tend to be okay but do not have all of the same properties as peat moss. Your best pathway here is to take any downed branches in your own yard and create your best compost – balancing these “brown” items with green items like grass and supplementing with organic material from your kitchen.
- Nutrients – manure was (and continues to be) a staple fertilizer for farming and gardening but may be too much for the casual gardener. We have shared quite a bit of information previously on how to supplement your soil with nutrients. The biggest conversation today is Organic vs. Natural vs. Synthetic nutrients. 50 years ago, this was not really a conversation – but we now know that over using some synthetic nutrients (or the other side of the nutrient coin – insecticides) can negatively impact the environment and, perhaps most importantly, negatively impact the pollinators we need. To understand what your soil needs, we recommend a test kit.
So many more things have changed – suffice it to say the world continues to learn and continues to evolve how we both grow more and become better stewards of our planet.
Our Goal for the Future of Gardening
We only have one goal at Eco Garden Systems and that is to make gardening easier, more fun and more productive – so that everyone jumps into this wonderful hobby. A few quick tips as you think about different life stages:
- Kids – one reason kids sometimes reject vegetables is how intensely flavored they can be. Did you know that children (especially babies) have up to three times more taste buds than adults? That is why they sometimes prefer more bland food (mac and cheese, chicken nuggets) so as to not overwhelm their senses. Keep at it – and make sure as a parent you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables to teach them it is okay. If you teach them to garden, they will often be first in line to eat what they grow. Kids are the future of gardening, so they are very important to get on board with gardening.
- Young Adults – in the grab and go culture, find ways to get your teens and young adults to think first about fresh veggies. From snack packs you prepare to a “try everything” mentality, encourage your emerging adults to explore, experiment and try different veggies all the time. Gardening is great family time – invest in their future as stewards of the planet and of their eating habits.
- Families – keeping everyone together to eat is often difficult and sit-down meals are finally making a comeback. Leverage this by maxing out on fresh veggies – make sure that dinner always has something nutritious from the garden, the farmers market or the supermarket. You can help set the stage for healthy eating.
- Single Adults – this is a very important time for people to maintain the good habits they learned as kids and young adults. Gardening is a great stress reliever and a wonderful way to keep fresh vegetables a part of their lives as they move away from home. If your kids enjoyed gardening, help them establish a small (or large if there is space) garden in their new environment – keep helping them rebuild their gardening life.
- Seniors – the Eco Garden Systems’ sweet spot. Raised garden beds are perfect for seniors and our Original Garden is perfect for one or two people. Helping parents as they age stay gardening can be one of the best gifts you can give. They will appreciate it – and thank you for reminding them how wonderful gardening is as a health tonic.
We hope you have enjoyed this foray into how gardening has changed – and we have on final throw back – an image of the massive vegetable garden The White House used to have in the 1800’s!