FARGO, N.D. - As I wandered around our (finally) snow-free backyard, I had the urge to get my hands dirty. Our three dogs already had accomplished getting their paws muddy in our soggy backyard as they scampered playfully, nipping at each other's heels. We all needed a little time outdoors to romp in the sunlight.
After a long winter with nature dressed in shades of brown, gray and white, many of us are thinking about gardening and the promise of a landscape alive with vivid colors. Be inspired by the budding trees and sprouting grass. Consider planting a traditional garden or container garden this year.
Gardening has benefits that range from psychological to physical. Enjoying nature can be relaxing. As you beautify your yard or place pots of flowers on a deck, step or patio, you feel a sense of accomplishment.
If you prefer to keep your hands clean and be an observer of nature throughout the season, you still reap psychological benefits. Socializing with other gardeners is good for your mental health. Learning new skills or sharing what you know with others builds self-esteem.
Gardening is a form of physical activity, and we all need about 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. Do you like to watch gardening shows on TV while resting in an easy chair? While that may be relaxing, it is not a form of exercise.
Researchers have determined that a 150-pound person burns 68 calories an hour watching TV. However, that same person would burn about 374 calories per hour mowing the lawn and 306 calories per hour planting seeds or weeding.
The motions of yard work, such as walking, stretching and bending, are similar to what you might experience at a gym on a treadmill and other workout machines.
Gardening also provides a supply of nutritious food, and you know its source and manner in which it was grown. Growing some leafy greens is a good place to start; plus you don't need a lot of special equipment, space or time.
Green leafy vegetables are considered nutrient-dense food sources with a low number of calories compared with the nutrition they provide. Most green leafy vegetables provide vitamins K, A (as beta-carotene), C and the B vitamin folate. They also provide minerals including potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
As I perused the Internet, I found an inspiring article from North Carolina Cooperative Extension explaining how to grow a salad bowl garden. You don't need a round container to make a salad-bowl garden; a rectangular window box works just fine. Be sure the container allows for at least 6 inches of soil and has drainage holes.
Next, add potting soil or a seed-starting mix available in gardening stores, and you are ready to plant. You can start with seeds or small plants.
Be a little adventuresome and try a variety of greens in your containers. Plant the seedlings or seeds fairly closely (about 3 inches apart) because you will be cutting some foliage regularly to serve for dinner. When you plant seeds, you can thin your plants as they grow.
Add water until it drains out the drainage holes, then place the container in a sunny spot where it will get many hours of sunlight daily. If that doesn't turn out to be the case, pick up your little garden and move it to a sunny spot. If you decide to fertilize, follow the instructions on the fertilizer container.
With regular tending and sunny days, in about a month or so, you will have greens to enjoy in salads and on sandwiches. To extend your salad-bowl season, plant a container now and in a couple of weeks. The same advice holds true with planting rows of lettuce in the summer. Plant rows later in the season so you have greens to harvest later in the season.
You can learn more about gardening at http://www.ag.ndsu
.edu/horticulture. Learn more about nutrition at http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart.
Although I thought my mother invented the following recipe, I discovered that many people remember a version of this salad. We never used a recipe, however.
When I was a kid, my job was to pick the fresh lettuce from our backyard garden, rinse it thoroughly under cool water in the sink and let it drain on paper towels. The fresh, tender leaves tasted great with this creamy, yet light dressing.
Old-fashioned Green Leafy Salad
1/2 c. light cream
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/4 c. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
8 c. mixed salad greens
2 Tbsp. chopped scallions or green onions (optional)
Whisk together the first four items in a small bowl. Rinse lettuce under cold water and remove excess moisture. Add chopped scallions if desired. Right before serving, toss the lettuce with the dressing.
Makes eight servings. Each serving has 45 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 1 g of protein, 4 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 85 milligrams of sodium.