Peas ‘n dirt carrots and growing your own flavors of joy.

The Magic of Gardening and the Surprises it Brings

Kathy LaFollett
5 min readFeb 24, 2023

--

“These are dirty!” A child holding a fresh apple, pointing at a cluster of carrots at the farmer’s market.

“Those are carrots from a real garden, honey. Carrots grow in dirt.” Mom. Inspecting the tomatoes that are shaded under the farmer’s stand tent.

“Dirt? I don’t want to eat dirt. Don’t get dirt carrots.” Her child. Innocent of the story of food.

Carrots ready for picking in a rich dark soil. Knowing where food comes from is an important step in knowledge for children. Photo from Adobe Express Pro
Dirt carrots ready for harvest.

Homestead gardening. Formal gardening, informal and wild. Winter seeding. Direct sowing. Seed starting. Hardening off. Starting a vegetable garden can sound daunting if you research the intricacies of a process that changed the path of homo sapiens from hunters to gatherers to commodity brokers. The good news for all gardeners; the more you garden, the better you are at gardening.

Home-grown vegetables are fresher. There is no one between you and your green beans. Pick and prepare, leaving peak flavor and nutrition intact. Store-bought produce can spend days or even weeks in transit and storage before it reaches you, diminishing flavor and nutritional value.

A large homestead garden ready for harvest. A successful garden for your needs may not be the same as a successful garden for another person. Photo from Adobe Express Pro
A successful garden for your needs may not be the same as a successful garden for another person.

Knowing your grow zone opens up all the different varieties and flavors within your reach that aren’t available at your local grocery store. Try heirloom varieties, with unique colors, textures, and flavors. Grow exotic vegetables not commonly found in stores. Make meals interesting and surprising. A growing number of chefs are curating their own gardens to produce herbs and vegetables for their restaurant menus for a reason.

Quality, variety, and flavor control. You have that same power.

  • You choose the soil, and what goes into your garden soil for the best nutrition results.
  • You choose the first steps. Purchasing starter plants, heirloom seeds, or heirloom plants. Focusing on flavor and variety for both your personal satisfaction and your taste buds.
  • When food doesn’t have to travel over time between containers, heat, cold, and handling, food tastes better. Pick and prepare is as fresh as it gets.

What’s the real cost of peas and carrots from your own garden?

  • A small container garden costs less than $100, while a raised bed garden can cost several hundred dollars to build. Greenhouses, which provide year-round growing opportunities, can cost several thousand dollars.
  • According to the National Gardening Association, the average household with a vegetable garden spends $70 on their garden each year, but they grow an average of $600 worth of produce. Saving over $500 on their grocery bill each year, after accounting for maintaining the garden.
  • The price of peas and carrots themselves vary widely due to retail spread for profit margins, fuel costs for delivery, food loss during transit, food waste, and returns for quality at the store. You can find the current produce price index for vegetables sold at Produce Price Index. (PPI sources from current USDA Market News Reports for Farm Gate Prices & U.S. Marketing Services for Retail Prices.)
  • According to the U.S. Labor Statistics for fresh vegetables, the current national average price is $0.76 for “Carrots, short trimmed and topped, per lb.” But that’s not the entire inflationary story.

Cost savings can become larger when factoring in the rising cost of transportation, storage, and distribution. The retail cost of produce will follow suit. Growing your own vegetables can insulate you from these rising costs by eliminating many of the retail logistics costs. You won’t pay a retailer’s transportation and storage costs. You can use reusable bags or containers for your produce. You can create a sustainable environmentally supporting landscape in your garden, using composting, natural pest control methods, while supporting seed banks. And some vegetables you grow can be regrown and sown back into your garden to start again.

A bushel filled with just harvested and washed vegetables from a garden. Your garden can produce exactly what you like to eat. It’s all up to you. Photo from Adobe Express Pro
Your garden can produce exactly what you like to eat. It’s all up to you.

Growing your own vegetables is a smart investment. Not only does it give you complete control over what you eat, save you money on your grocery bill, and reduce your environmental impact, gardening is a mental health prescription. Being outdoors and cultivating is a proven way to recuperate in today’s tech heavy world. By growing your own vegetables, you can enjoy healthier produce and enjoy the natural processes of grown foods.

Every carrot is a dirt carrot. But not every dirt carrot is created equal. And everyone should have the experiences of a working a garden. I’m biased. I spent my entire childhood in flower and vegetable gardens.

My most magical garden memory is the tomato worm. In the technical sense, a tomato hornworm is a caterpillar which is a larva of the sphinx moth. Which is a powerful pollinator. One is torn between annihilation and preservation as a gardener. But I was not a gardener yet. I was a daughter, apprentice to a gardener.

Early in my apprenticeship, dad instructed me to keep an eye out for hornworms. As Spring stretches its seasonings, hornworms are small and hard to spot. Little green wiggly things hiding under leaves and near the ground on sprouting plant shoots. My job; remove and step on them. I failed my apprenticeship by only removing them somewhat. When my father wasn’t looking, I set them on the fence railing running the property length along our grassy rural alley. This was me giving them a chance to run away. Surely, they knew of the ill will pointed in their direction. I felt inclined to give them a head start the year I started plucking them out of a dad’s garden on fourth street.

And there is the priceless piece of gardening. Nature will send cooperative partners your way. Surprise flowers, bees, butterflies, caterpillars, songbirds, earthworms, pill worms, toads, and other regional mischief and magic known only to your locale. I’m speaking Illinois. I’m here to proclaim weeds are flowers, if you cooperate with them.

I’m in Florida now. Gardening is an entirely different mindset and magic. Instead of hornworms, we’ve got gulls.

Retail vegetables are expensive. Gardening is priceless.

--

--