Harvesting lessons

From small seeds, great things grow—that’s true in the garden, and in life

By Starr Cunningham

Having watched the Back to Our Roots Urban Farm flourish at the Nova Scotia Hospital site over the last three years, I have a greater appreciation for its literal meaning. Having been a mother for the last 23 years, I also know it perfectly describes the way most parents feel about their children.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a garden at home or a plot in a community farm, chances are you’ve spent the spring and summer getting your hands dirty. The rewards are probably popping up in your child’s lunch bag or on your family dinner table right now. 

While gardening may seem straight forward enough, it provides more than just healthy and fresh produce. It also teaches us about the power of patience, responsibility and keeping things simple. 

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is a proud supporter of art therapy, music therapy, recreation therapy and horticultural therapy. There’s just something about spending time in nature that nurtures the soul. In fact, studies show working in the garden reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and increases brain activity. 

The Back to Our Roots Urban Farm is designed to give patients, staff, recreation therapists, family members, friends, and community volunteers an inviting place to plant and grow. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for people to connect and share in a common goal. Seeing families enjoy the farm together never fails to make me smile.

Hands that are busy planting, weeding and watering are taking a break from screens. Bodies that are spending time outdoors are absorbing vitamin D. And youngsters who understand what it feels like to grow something themselves are more likely to enjoy eating it.

There are also countless mental health benefits including relaxation and connectivity. 

And here’s the best part: it’s never too late or too early to start.

Halifax Seed Company’s Emily Tregunno says children can learn a lot from growing something as simple as microgreens. Harvested at the seedling stage, these tiny plants are packed full of flavour and nutrients. 

“Many children have short attention spans,” Tregunno says, “so microgreens are ideal, as you can plant them and harvest them within 10 to 14 days.” 

Emily says there are many options that will flourish right in your own kitchen window no matter what time of the year. Basil, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale and cabbage microgreens are all popular choices that make perfect additions to wraps, sandwiches and salads.

“They’re also super colourful and fun,” Tregunno says. 

So whether you’re an experienced gardener or just starting small, the options are certainly all-season friendly and beneficial to your whole family’s mental health! 

Emily’s microgreen growing tips

Start with a clean seedling tray and a sterilized growing medium. Dampen soil with water so it’s moist and fill tray to one or two centimetres from the top. Seed individual varieties according to general planting directions. With seedling mixes, simply sprinkle seeds over soil and lightly rake into soil with finger tips, covering seeds slightly. Place seeded tray in a warm spot, preferably with a clear dome covering it. Once germinated, ensure tray is by a sunny window. After the first set of true leaves appear, simply snip with scissors and enjoy. Planting every week will ensure a continuous supply of microgreens. Change soil and wash the tray every couple of plantings.