There’s a lot of stress in most people’s lives with work, kids, elderly parents, illnesses, maintaining a household, and the list goes on. Coming home to a yard filled with beautiful plants and surroundings can calm the spirit and recharge the batteries and make us feel happy. Just getting outside and sticking my hands in the dirt to pull a few weeds can totally change my mood. Come to find out, there are soil organisms that really have the ability to do just that. Much as our health depends on the flourishing microbiome in our guts, the soil microbes can heal our mood and make us happy and healthy too.
A 2007 paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers inoculated mice with a soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae. The bacteria activated groups of neurons in the brain responsible for producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. The neurons that relate to immune response were also affected. This soil organism can uplift our emotional health and our immune system! We can get a dose of this soil bacteria by breathing it in, playing in it, spending time in the garden and even by eating the food straight from our own gardens. People often ask, “Isn’t that a lot of work?” For us it isn’t work, what could be better than getting a dose of exercise and happy medicine every day?
Dan Buettner author of “The Blue Zones,” found that people living in certain zones around the world had a longer life expectancy. One of the commonalities is that many of these people are gardeners. Gardening is not only great exercise, we also get to eat fresh organic food. There’s nothing quite as satisfying or as healthy as eating food right out of the garden and the money it saves is substantial!
We can also benefit from creating outdoor spaces such as sitting areas in our yard for relaxation and meditation. We get to observe the surrounding beauty of the plants and all the wildlife that is attracted. Our plantings can bring in the butterflies, insects, birds, and other fauna. I love watching the butterflies flitting through my gardens or watching one emerge from a chrysalis, hearing a symphony of bird calls, tortoises coming into my yard to munch on weeds, turtles wandering in from nearby ponds to lay eggs, and in the evening, raccoons come to drink from my fountain and eat the palm seeds. I also enjoy watching armadillos nose around in the soil looking for grubs knowing that even though they are creating little holes around the yard, they are helping to till the soil. My yard is a place of protection for all the wildlife and I take pleasure in knowing I have created a little ecosystem right in my own backyard. When we have the opportunity to observe Flora and Fauna in our yards we connect with the earth on a deeper level. All of this calms the mind and helps us to find a sense of peace.
Planting trees and other plants in our yards not only creates beautiful surroundings, but more importantly they sequester carbon. Every plant takes in carbon dioxide and by doing so they sequester the carbon released by burning fossil fuels. Living in the tropics makes this more crucial to the earth, as we can make the most effect to our changing climate because plants grow so fast here. Climate change is a reality, so plant lots of trees! If not for your sake, then do this for your children and grandchildren.
Trees also create shade and can cool the air below by 5 to 10 degrees. This is especially important if you live in Florida in the summer months. A nice big shade tree or live oak is a true blessing to any yard and a great over story to many shady edibles.
So go ahead and get those hands in the soil, plant some fruits and vegetables, and don’t scold your kids next time they go out and roll around in the dirt. Feel satisfied knowing that they are happy!
Linda is an herbalist and a landscape designer. She and her husband Greg have transformed their Englewood yard using Permaculture techniques. They offer consultations, design services, and free monthly tours through their business: Love Your Yard. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-449-9012 or visit https://weloveyouryard.wixsite.com/swfl.