July 23, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson

Everyone knows it’s a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables. Doing so adds nutritional value to meals. But growing vegetables at home may offer more than added nutrients to family meals.

University of Kentucky Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist Rick Durham said that gardening, in one form or another, is considered the most popular hobby in the United States. 

“Involvement in gardening helps promote healthy habits,” he said. “It’s good exercise and homegrown vegetables are good for health as well. Fresh vegetables are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, all of which play a role in cancer prevention and general good health.”

According to the American Cancer Society, a 150-pound person can burn about 324 calories in one hour of gardening. That’s about the same as doing low-impact aerobics, playing softball, walking at a fast pace, and even playing with kids for the same amount of time.

Lori Rice is an Extension associate for Health in the University of Kentucky Health Education through Extension Leadership (HEEL) program. The program recently introduced an initiative that encourages Kentuckians to “Get Moving!” 

“We are encouraging Kentuckians to increase the activity in their days in any way they can,” she said. “An hour of gardening would equal four Physical Activity Miles (PAMs).”
Get Moving Kentucky! defines one PAM as 15 minutes of sustained activity.

Durham said when most people think of a garden they imagine a large field that has been plowed with neat rows, spaced three or four feet apart to allow cultivation by a tractor or tiller.

“Gardening on such a large scale is impossible for city dwellers,” he said. “However, you would be surprised at the amount of vegetables that can be produced in a very small area.”

Gardening in small spaces doesn’t leave much room for spacing plants out very far, but Durham said that’s okay.

“Most plants can be spaced a foot or less apart,” he said. “Also, planting plants in beds reduces the need to walk in or closely around your plants. This reduces the chances of soils becoming compacted so they won’t need frequent tilling.”

Consumers can even grow a few vegetables in containers on patios and balconies if they don’t have a yard.

Durham said one key to this type of intensive gardening is to grow plants in succession. Some plants do well in cooler weather of spring and fall, while others thrive in summer months.

“By careful planning, you can have a spring, summer and fall crop of vegetables,” he said. “And some crops like beans or squash mature in only 6 to 8 weeks. So, it may be possible to have multiple plantings over the garden season.”

For more information on home gardening, contact your local Cooperative Extension office. Ask for publication ID-128, Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky. It contains general information on raised bed gardening and also tips and instructions on growing many types of vegetables. Another helpful publication is ID-133, Vegetable Cultivars for Kentucky.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267

Source: Rick Durham 859-257-3249
Lori Rice 859-257-2968