Health & Fitness

Gardens bring two kinds of health

The seed racks are up and the nurseries are full of plants. It must be spring.

This is a great time to start a garden and reap the benefits. Growing and maintaining your own garden can help you increase your physical activity as well as improve your access to inexpensive healthful foods: fresh vegetables.

Physical activity and healthful eating are two of the most important lifestyle behaviors that reduce your risk of getting chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. These behaviors also improve your chances of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Physical activity burns calories, and vegetables are nutrient-rich low calorie foods.

Vegetables contain fiber and water, both of which will help keep you feeling full longer, which may help you avoid those annoying temptations. Most adults need 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. To find out more about the health benefits of vegetables, go to www.mypyramid.gov.

Here are tips to help you get the most out of your gardening efforts:

Match the needs of the plants for water, soil, sun and space with the conditions in your yard. The closer the match, the easier it is for the gardener and the plants. Resources to help you choose the right plant for the right place include the Thurston County Common Sense Gardening Plant List, available on the county Web site (see below) as well as in the garden section of many Thurston County nurseries and stores, and the Great Plant Picks Web site, www.greatplantpicks.org, which includes more than 600 plants that thrive in the maritime Northwest. Vegetable gardeners can look for seed companies specializing in the Northwest, or buy vegetable starts from a local farmers market.

Put nature to work for you. Mulch made of organic materials such as leaves, grass clippings, wood chips or compost feeds the soil, conserves water and prevents weeds. Mulch is the original multitasker. Apply fine mulch such as compost around flowers or vegetables, and coarse mulch such as wood chips around shrubs and trees. Mulch should be a few inches deep, but keep it away from stems or trunks.

Invite birds and beneficial insects into your yard. Not only are they a joy to watch, they devour pests. Photos of beneficial insects can be seen at our Web site (see below). Click on the “Guides and Resources” section, and then go to the beneficial insects link. Encourage beneficial insects with flowering plants such as yarrow, asters, marigolds and dill.

Good bugs and birds combined with good soil and the right plants might be all you need for a healthy garden. If problems arise, start with effective, nontoxic control strategies to protect the health of your family, pets and the environment.

For help, contact the Common Sense Gardening program at 360-754-4111 (TDD 360-754-2933); www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehcsg; or look for Common Sense Gardening guides in Thurston County garden stores.

Dr. Diana Yu is the health officer for the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department, 412 Lilly Road N.E., Olympia, 98506. Call the Health Department at 360-786-5581.

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