Staying Home: Green Thumbs Up

Go outside, get your hands dirty and discover the rewards of creating your own vegetable garden.


Remember when you were a kid, and the joy you felt being outside, playing in the grass and digging in your backyard? Well, the lure of the outdoors has never been greater, and people are rediscovering the delights and benefits of gardening.

Especially for someone experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety, planting seeds, nurturing them and watching them grow can promote a feeling a calm and serenity. It’s a healthy activity not only for your body, but the mind and spirit as well.

“Now is a great time to garden because you can get some fresh air and be outside by yourself,” says Robert Bowden, executive director of Orlando’s Harry P. Leu Gardens. “It’s a positive for people’s mental state. Plus, it’s good exercise.”

Gardening is a stress-reliever and natural mood-enhancer. You’re outdoors, you’re active (less desk time), and you’re being productive. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health agree that spending time in nature with a trowel in hand can produce a sense of well-being and connection to the Earth.

Apopka resident Mick Lochridge believes in the soothing, solitary zen of gardening. He’s spent almost 40 years cultivating edible plants. “I enjoy planting something, watering and fertilizing it and seeing it sprout,” he says. “Gardening is a responsibility that keeps me focused and gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

Lochridge tends his sizable backyard plot year-round, growing a wide variety of vegetables. Leading into summer, however, he scales it back to the most survivable plants: okra, squash, cherry tomatoes and black-eyed peas.

“You don’t have to completely stop planting your vegetable garden in summer,” Bowden says. He’s a fan of peanuts (he places a raw peanut one inch in the ground), sweet potatoes, beans and exotic fruits and veggies. For those who like the flavor of cilantro, which only grows in cooler weather, Bowden suggests trying culantro, an herb that thrives in heat and poor soil.

In addition to black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes and okra, the best seeds to plant now and harvest throughout the summer are Seminole pumpkin, tropical spinach, moringa, bananas and papayas, says Tia Silvasy, horticulture extension agent with the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Orange County. “All of them can withstand Florida’s harsh heat.” She also likes herbs such as rosemary, oregano and lemongrass. “They’re easy to grow, Florida-friendly and don’t need a lot of water.”

If you’re new to vegetable gardening, Silvasy recommends preparing a small dedicated plot. “Block off a 4-by-4 area that gets at least six hours of sun each day. Florida has sandy soil, which is poor in nutrients, so add compost to the soil—either worm castings or cow manure.” You may want to start your own compost pile. If you don’t have a yard, consider planting in pots. Lettuce, peppers, radishes, carrots and many other plants do well in containers.

The best benefit of growing your own vegetables, says Lochridge, is at the end of the day when you’re getting ready to cook dinner. He just walks outside and “shops” his garden. “The produce tastes better. It’s guaranteed to be fresh.”

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