The Cox herb garden features a birdbath in the centre. Photo by Leslie Cox

The Cox herb garden features a birdbath in the centre. Photo by Leslie Cox

DUCHESS OF DIRT: Gardening for food sources becoming increasingly vital

By Leslie Cox

Special to the Record

Parliament has proclaimed 2022 as the Year of the Garden – largely, to celebrate 100 years of Canada’s ornamental horticulture and nursery landscaping sectors.

Personally, I think the Year of the Garden should also focus on our vegetable gardens. What is more important than food after all, especially with rising costs?

But it is not just cost. Numerous studies have been conducted over the last 30 or 40 years and it appears the fruits and vegetables we buy have lost some of their traditional nutrient value through plant breeding, modernized farming methods and inadequate care of the soil.

This means we are not getting enough nutritional value to meet our daily vitamin and mineral requirements, even following Health Canada’s guidelines.

Truthfully, some of the findings can be blamed on what is termed “conventional” farming practices. The non-organic method utilizing chemical fertilizers with their quick-release nitrogen boost. A wide assortment of conventionally-grown foods showed high levels of nitrates… higher than is really safe for us, some scientists claim.

Reports show high nitrate levels equate with lower levels in some of the essential nutrients we rely on in our diet. Although, in some cases, vitamin A and beta-carotene levels were actually elevated.

It would appear exposing plants to a quick supply of nitrogen is like putting them in front of a no-holds-barred buffet dinner. They gorge themselves on the readily-available nitrogen.

This whole nutrient density scenario is why organic wins out over conventional. One report I found gave interesting results.

Scientists looked at 13 pairs of organic and conventional strawberry agro-ecosystems in California, all growing the same three varieties. (Agro-ecosystem means, in a nutshell, the scientists not only looked at the farm and its human influences but also factored in surrounding influences that could have had an impact on the farm and its growing conditions.)

They were analyzed over a two-year period for fruit quality, nutritional quality, plant nutrients and organoleptic properties (taste, smell, sight, etc). The leaves were also analyzed for plant nutrients.

Overall, organically-grown strawberries came out on top. Their colour was redder, the ascorbic acid content was higher and total antioxidant activity was greater than the conventional strawberries. The organic fruits were smaller but fruit firmness was still comparable.

Important findings since strawberries are one of the most concentrated sources of antioxidant compounds and vitamin C in our diet.

Turns out, the organic strawberries also had a higher shelf life after picking, as well as less incidences of grey mould. Incredible news, since multiple applications of fungicide were applied on the conventional fields to thwart grey mould!

Scientists seem convinced the organic berries avoided infection through what is called “systemic-acquired resistance”… a build-up of immunity through healthy growing conditions.

Says a lot, doesn’t it? But don’t think this information is limited to the vegetable garden. Ornamental plants also benefit immensely from organic growing methods, making them healthier and better able to withstand pests and diseases.

Let’s face it. After all we have faced on a global scale over the last few years – and continue to face – our souls need as much nurturing as our bodies. What better place to find peace and solace than in a garden?


News update. I have started a monthly newsletter. Subscribe through my website to find out what’s happening around our garden.

I have also added an online Nursery Store to my website. ( It is a work-in-progress but moving ahead steadily. You may pre-pay online to have a plant set aside for pick-up or just browse to see what is available.

More good news! After two years, we are opening in late April!

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is

CommmunityComox Valleygardening

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