I hesitate to call it a hobby. For most, it’s just a way a life. And the term “gardening” is very broad.
For some, it’s the lawn. While I am not a “lawn person,” one cannot dispute the fact that a well-manicured lawn is a thing of beauty. Just ask Hank Hill.
For others, it may be the aesthetics of colorful foliage and blooming shrubs and perennials. Azaleas beneath the pines, roses and hydrangeas that provide color and interest throughout the summer. I have seen some of the most wonderful flower arrangements clipped from the landscape this year.
This time of year, vegetable gardening is No. 1 on many a list. It goes without saying that the tomato is the most popular garden vegetable. I enjoyed a great meal recently with tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant and pesto bread, all from the garden.
Others like to garden for wildlife: butterfly gardens, gardening for the birds. Squirrels and chipmunks may be a problem for some, but others plant trees and shrubs so they can watch the wildlife.
Some may not have the room or ability for these types of gardens. For them, a raised bed or a container or two can provide a whole new world.
No matter the type of garden, working in the garden is just that … a lot of work.
Working in the garden for 30 minutes can burn 150 to 300 calories (based on a 180-pound male).
Activities such as pushing a lawn mower, tilling the soil and hand-weeding will burn more than pruning. But it’s all exercise. Good exercise.
But, just like working out in the gym, you must have good form to exercise safely. I have come in from the garden complaining of an aching back and tired muscles. Perhaps if I had paid attention to how I was bending and moving, I might not have needed the heating pad and aspirin.
A few tips that may save your back
1. Bend at the knees, not the back.
Bending at the knees does not mean squatting for long periods. If you need to get down on the ground, kneeling pads can make a big difference.
Lower back injuries are also a good reason to garden in a raised bed a couple of feet off the ground. Easy access; less bending.
2. Use the right tools.
Raking and hoeing definitely get me down. The shorter the handle, the worse off you will be. Look for rakes and hoes with long handles, so you do not have to bend over. Many stores carry handle extenders that are compatible with most tools. This reduces strain on the upper and lower back, and just makes life a little easier.
3. Don’t carry it, cart it.
Do not underestimate the worth of a good wheelbarrow or garden cart. They can eliminate the need for bending to the ground to distribute mulch around the plants. And we all mulch, right? Mulching conserves water, can provide organic matter to the soil and also helps keep weeds at bay. Fewer weeds equals less hoeing!
A few tips that may save your life
An Alabama summer can be brutal. The high temperatures and humidity can do a number on your system.
1. Work early, or late.
Gardening early in the morning and late in the evening can provide some relief, but it’s still a mean environment outside.
2. Water, water everywhere.
While watering plants, do not forget to water yourself. Most plants need between an inch to an inch-and-a-half per week to grow well. How much water do you need? During exercise, it can be a cup to a cup-and-a-half every 20 minutes.
3. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.
When I was young, I would spend the day outside with no sunscreen, no hat, slathered in baby oil to get the best tan I could. These days, it’s sunscreen and a hat. A sunburn is a big risk factor in getting melanoma skin cancer.
It’s easy to get sunburned in the garden without protection. Again, working in the early hours and late afternoon will help.
Cover that skin up! Apply sunblock 30 minutes before working outside. It can take a little time for the sunblock to adhere to the skin’s surface.
I do not like to put sunscreen on my forehead, because sweat often carries it into my eyes. For that reason, wear a big hat to shade your entire face.
Remember, as your body sweats, sunblock slowly drifts away. It is best to reapply it every hour or so.
Danielle Carroll is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.