I recently had the chance to connect with gardening and sustainability expert Celeste Longacre before the ground thaws and she is called to spend long days outdoors on her farm. Celeste is an accomplished gardener who has been growing most of her family’s vegetables for over 35 years. She is the author of the book Celeste's Garden Delights: Discover the Many Ways a Garden Can Nurture You and has also been the astrologer for “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” for the past twenty years. Celeste is an inspiring champion of the local food movement and we are so excited to have her on the blog! She will be joining us for a three part interview series that covers tips, techniques and ideas for growing your own food at home. Enter Celeste...
How did you first become interested in gardening?
I consider it lucky that I read Adelle Davis’ book Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit before I was even an adult. Her premise in this book was that if you want to be healthy you really need to pay attention to what you eat— that is the fuel that moves your body to do whatever it has to do, to heal or to give you energy. I remember thinking, “wow, that makes so much sense!” I became a consumer of organic food almost immediately. Then I realized that to really get the best food, it would be important to grow it myself. Our soils are so denatured, and have lost a lot of minerals. But, when you grow things yourself you can add minerals back into the soil. These nutrients will then get into the vegetables and into you. So that is how I got started on gardening.
What do you see as the top 3 benefits of having a home garden?
Oh, there are so many benefits to having a home garden!
One is that everything is so fresh. You pick it, bring it in, fix it and eat it. It’s been shown that fruits and vegetables actually use up their nutrients to stay alive after they’ve been picked, so if you have to wait a week for something to come across the country from California or wherever, by the time you get that vegetable it doesn’t have the same amount of nutrients that it had when it was picked.
Another benefit of a homegrown fruits and vegetables is the flavor. Things taste unbelievably delicious when you grow them yourself. I’m at the point now where I don’t even like anybody else’s carrots because they don’t taste like mine!
When you garden, you also build a connection to the earth that is very grounding and soothing. I find weeding to be a contemplative type of practice and it’s very relaxing. Also, because I sit on the ground so often, I’m very flexible. When you sit on the ground you have to do something with your legs; it’s very different than sitting in a chair. I’ve taken a few stretching classes and I’m always the most flexible one. I can still kick over my head, front and side. I don’t do yoga or anything, but I think gardening can have some of the same physical benefits.
I would also add that if you have children or grandchildren, showing them where food comes from and teaching them about where things actually get started is very rewarding. There are just so, so many benefits- that’s just to name a few.
What are the greatest challenges of having your own garden?
Well, you sort of have to know what you are doing. I think Mother Nature has a way of letting you slide the first year. Often when people have a garden for the very first time it comes out great even if they didn’t know what they were doing. But then by the second or third year, Mother Nature wants you to pay a little bit more attention. So it’s a good idea to have your soil tested. Most county extension services have ways that you can test your soil that are very inexpensive and that will let you know what components are missing and what you might need to add.
There are a lot of tricks to gardening so if you know someone who has a garden and is able to help you, that can be really useful. Also placement of the garden is key. Vegetables need a good 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. In addition, you don’t want to put the garden downhill from a golf course where they use a lot of pesticides and herbicides, or someplace where cars can drive by and splash it with road salt. You don’t want to place your garden where water stands or puddles for a few days after heavy rain. You also don’t want to put it near trees or shrubs that can steal the water and nutrients from the roots.
So those are a few things that you might want to look at in terms of where to place the garden and how to get started. A garden takes time, so if you have a very busy schedule I would say start small. Begin with just a couple of planters of tomatoes or lettuce on a sunny balcony to see if you like it. Go with whatever you really like to eat first, because then you will be motivated to take care of it!