As a health reporter, I'm always reading scholarly research articles. A quick journal search reveals an ever-increasing number of studies on the health benefits of gardening. But I knew that getting my hands dirty in the soil was good for my mind and body long before I started reading and writing about it. Gardening helped me cope with the COVID-19 situation, and now I'm a huge advocate of inspiring others to grow things.

I'm particularly excited about vegetable gardening and how it gets people to put more veggies on their plate. A study from the University of Michigan reports that kids who do gardening activities tend to up their intake of vegetables. And we all know that vegetables and fruits are good for our overall health.

In order to help you be successful at growing (and hopefully eating) vegetables, I have some tips that I'll share throughout the season. Tip No. 1: Start with the soil. Plants get nutrients form the soil, and, just like humans, they need a healthy balance to grow. So before you add fertilizer, you need to know what's already there.

In particular, you need to know the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil. The University of Minnesota, North Dakota State University and other institutions have soil testing labs that can analyze samples you send them. Then they return the results, which include recommendations for the type of fertilizer you should use, to amend the soil before planting.

Properly amended, nutrient-rich soil will help your garden get off to a great growing start.

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