Have you ever complained that eating gluten free is too expensive? Even fresh produce (especially organic) can kill your budget. That’s why the absolute best answer for the safest and healthiest food is gluten free gardening.
Come on… get your hands dirty!
Plus, you can create a garden anywhere you want! You can do make one in your backyard, hanging from your porch, or even on the windowsill of a cramped city apartment! This way, you will have much more control over what goes into your body.
Gluten Free Gardening — Getting Back to Real Food Basics
Eating real food is one of the best ways to live and eat well with gluten intolerance, Celiac disease, or other food allergies.
If you believe that eating gluten free is restrictive, let me set the record straight. There’s more food out there without gluten than there is with it.
And it’s not just your health that will appreciate the cleaner (healthier) food… so will your wallet. Once your garden is up and running, it can yield much more per dollar spent than what you’d buy in the organic aisle. That can allow you to spend less money purchasing veggies and seasonal fruit that you can’t or do want to grow.
“Gardening originally was a way to keep up with the traditions of my grandparents and great-aunts who were incredible gardeners. When my husband lost his job suddenly in 2010, gardening became a great way to supplement my diet with healthy, clean food without the tremendous expense of buying organic. After checking out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, I purposely chose vegetables and fruit for my garden that are typically loaded with pesticides when they’re not organic. That’s why lettuce, collard greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, and strawberries made the cut,” shares clinical nutritionist Jennifer Fugo, founder of Gluten Free School.
Plus, gardening is way more environmentally-friendly than purchasing food that’s grown half-way around the world.
And it tastes better too because it’s not picked green so that it can be shipped to your area and sprayed with chemicals to ripen. There’s nothing like the amazing flavor of sun-ripened produce picked hours before from your own garden.
5 Reasons Why You Should Start Gluten Free Gardening
You don’t have to read labels!
One of the most repetitive and flabbergasting aspects of living gluten-free is reading label after food label on processed gluten-free foods in the grocery store. Even though the FDA has a mandate of 20ppm or less on all products marked gluten free, it’s still possible to get gluten-contaminated food.
Needless to say, when you grow your own food (or even just eat REAL natural and unprocessed foods) label reading is totally moot!
What. A. Relief.
You deserve to eat better quality food.
When living with a severe food allergy, intolerance, autoimmune disease, or a plethora of other health concerns, cooling inflammation in your body is an integral part of the plan to feeling better.
Treating yourself right with quality food (that you grew no less!) is an effective way to manage and perhaps even stop many chronic symptoms. Whether you’re dealing with a leaky gut, a thyroid issue, or something else entirely, fresh picked food from a garden is a great way to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals and eat more micronutrients.
You’ll have more money to spend on better quality food.
It’s quite simple — growing your own produce puts more money into your pocket to save or spend on other items.
Jennifer talks about this in her book The Savvy Gluten-Free Shopper: How to Eat Healthy Without Breaking the Bank. If you grow the veggies you use all of the time for side dishes, salads and juicing, then you can spend more money on grass-fed and pasture-raised meat or wild-caught fish without going over your limit.
Instantly up your nutrition game.
Because so much of the produce available in stores isn’t picked anywhere remotely local, chances are it’s been picked green.
Aside from a less than stellar tasting ___________ (fill in the blank) that looks pretty, these foods don’t compare nutritionally to foods that you could grow yourself. Once anything is picked, the nutrition with that piece of produce begins to degrade. If you really want to eat a nutrient-dense diet, gardening is key.
And making trips to your local farmers’ market is another way to do this too.
Gardening is an amazing stress buster!
There’s something to be said for the stress-busting side effects of taking 10 or 20 minutes each day to go outside, slow down, and unplug.
While it can be easy to de-prioritize doing so due to the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced life with kids, cleaning, pets, bills, your significant other, etc, gardening is a commitment that gets you outside.
And yes, it is seriously therapeutic since putting your full attention to picking veggies, watering the garden and tending to your plants helps calm your mind and alleviate chronic stress. Gardening is a great activity if your adrenals are burned out.
When to start planting your garden
The growing season differs depending on where you live.
First, go HERE and figure out what zone you are in. Once you have your number (ie. Jennifer lives in the 6b zone in Southeastern PA), then CLICK HERE and look at the corresponding page that’s specific to your zone. You’ll find the planting seasons appropriate for various fruits and vegetables along with other important information on spacing and days to maturity.
If you have more specific questions about gluten free gardening, stop by a local greenhouse (not a corporate bigbox store like Home Depot or Lowe’s) and speak with someone inside who is familiar with the gardening season in your area.
You could also check out this amazing gardening series that will help you grow (more) food anywhere!
From the seed or from a starter plant?
Growing plants from seed requires knowing the information about your zone above so that your seedlings will be ready once the weather is safe for the plants to go outside. (For a more advanced gardener, enclosed greenhouse will extend your gardening season.)
If you’re starting with a pre-sown plant, purchase them at a local greenhouse or farmers’ market since you’ll likely pay less for a better quality, less abused plant. Make sure to observe its stems and leaves for strength as well as its soil for moisture.
When bringing a pre-potted plant home to transfer to your garden or boxes, make sure to water and tend to it for a couple days prior to moving it to ensure it can make the transfer.
Easiest plants to grow for beginners
While this can depend on the geographic area to some extent, there are a few plants that seem to be easy to grow across the board.
These can include: varieties of lettuce, parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, bell peppers, kale, collard greens, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, snap peas, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, mint* and chives. (*Mint will quickly take over an entire garden so it’s best grown in a separate plot or an enclosed pot.)
What plants grow well together
Believe it or not, you can’t plant all of your produce right next to one another since some don’t grow well together.
Generally, the sulfur-rich dark leafy greens (part of the cruciferous family) such as cauliflower, kale, or brussels sprouts don’t grow well next to veggies such as cucumbers and tomatoes.
When it comes to plant friends and enemies, we’ll leave it to the experts. Wikipedia’s list of what grows well together and what doesn’t is a thorough source. If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, check out Urban Farmer Seeds chart that lists the most commonly grown produce.
Pay attention to plant spacing
A notorious mistake people make when they start gardening is placing seeds or starter plants too close together (I’ve been guilty of this in the past).
Though your garden may look a bit sparse initially, leaving appropriate room allows for the plant to mature and thrive.
In order to know how far to space your plants, refer to the Zone chart, read the packaging of your seeds, take a look at the information in the plastic insert of your pre-sown plant or ask at your local greenhouse or farmers’ market.
Soil quality matters
Produce is only as good as the soil it is grown in.
If the soil you begin with is depleted of nutrients, your plants will be too. Add rich compost and organic gardening soil to bolster the health of your garden.
If you are working with raised bed gardens which are incredibly easy to assemble and place nearly anywhere, check out some resources on square foot gardening here along with recommendations on soil mixes.
Also, some plants such as tomatoes prefer a looser, more sandy soil. By picking a handful of plants to start and researching the best soil quality for the plants will help simplify the process of gardening and ensure your garden thrives.
Testing your soil’s pH
pH in simple terms refers to the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. When it comes to plants, pH is incredibly important.
Test the pH of the soil in your plot before planting since some plants are “acid loving” whereas others desire a more alkaline environment. Planning your garden according to the soil pH will make your gardening efforts much more effective. Soil pH testing kits are available here and can also be found at local garden supply stores.
How much sun does your garden need?
Before digging out your gluten free gardening area (or assembling raised beds), spend a couple of days paying attention to the level of sunlight different parts of your yard get.
Not all plants want to bake in the sun for 8+ hours each day. Some prefer a slightly shady area which helps keep them cooler on those 90+ degree days.
That said, there’s no reason why you have to plant all of your veggies in the same spot.
Perhaps add certain veggies and herbs to an existing flower garden which makes it more functional.
Here’s a great list from MoneyCrashers.com on the amount of sunlight certain plants require:
These veggies prefer part-shade:
- Salad Greens, such as leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, and cress.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Swiss Chard
- Leafy Greens, such as collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale
These veggies enjoy full sun:
Natural pest control
Want to ditch pesticides and other toxic chemicals?
Yeah… me too!
Not only are these chemical bad for everyone (especially those with leaky gut and autoimmune disease), they prevent healing.
Thats why it’s better to opt for using lavender, marigolds, and even soap!
We’ve read a lot of different ways to combat pests while gluten free gardening, but one of the best breakdowns of organic pest control can be found in this article by Earth Easy.
Some of the more obvious ways to cut down on critters destroying produce is using raised beds and chicken wire that can be easily moved when you’re working.
Hanging plants might not be safe from birds, but they will be safe from the most creatures that love hopping into a plot on the ground.
How to start Composting
Creating a standalone pile or a using compost bin somewhere outside of your home is a great way to naturally fertilize your own garden. However, there has been some discussion when it comes to using compost from a random alternative source. The jury is still out on whether or not Celiac and gluten sensitive individuals should use compost free of wheat, barley, and rye.
Some have said that it’s impossible for plants to become cross contaminated from compost containing some remaining gluten protein because gluten does not become a part of the plant itself. Others still say they stay away just in case there is any chance of cross contamination. If you feel more comfortable using your own compost that you know if free of anything that could even possibly cross contaminate, then go with that.
A couple of other concerns worth noting
Using hay in your garden
A major concern to gluten free gardening that you probably haven’t even thought of is the connection of hay and gluten.
It’s possible to purchase straw or hay that’s from or mixed with wheat plants. Before buying some (to use around strawberries, for example), you may want to ask what type of plant it is made from.
We unfortunately know several people who have reacted to hay that was made from wheat due to inhaling the dust. It’s not to say that everyone will have the same reaction, but if you’re very sensitive, then this point is crucial for you.
Gardening for small spaces
Apartment dwellers fear not!
With a bit of creativity, you can get your gluten free gardening on! It’s super easy to grow greens and herbs in a sunny window.
Small pots can sit anywhere there is adequate sunlight in your home and window boxes can be filled with fragrant herbs that actually grow best in confined areas, such as mint*, chives, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage. *(As we said before, mint will take over a whole garden if it’s not planted separately).
Hanging plants placed near a sunny window to save space in a cramped city apartment. Try some of these other great ideas for gardening in small spaces. Just make sure to get good quality soil and water and feed your plants on a regular basis to keep them and the soil healthy.