Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2008
Regional Report

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Sometimes correct body position is impossible. KRON cameraman Dean Kendrick demonstrates how not to fill a watering can.

Garden Easy

Everybody is talking ergonomics. I have a new ergonomic keyboard for my computer and it's like learning how to type all over again. Why do I always have go back to square one?

There are many ergonomic garden tools available, but so far nobody has invented an automatic weed-pulling machine. However, there is a device that looks like a handbag handle and bolts onto the handle of a shovel. It's designed for people with back injuries so they can get more leverage. There are ergonomic gloves called Bionic Garden Gloves for people with arthritis. I received a sample pair and love the way they fit and feel. I sent them to my mom, who has rheumatoid arthritis so bad that her little hands look like turkey feet, and she swears by them. There are ergonomic hand tools that brace your wrist, ergonomic kneeling pads, hoes, rakes and every other thing you can possibly think of. I'm particularly fond of a rolling kneeler/seat that has a handy bag for tools built-in.

Mostly what I want to talk about is how NOT to injure yourself in the garden. If you don't get hurt in the first place, you won't need to spend a lot of money of fancy gardening devices. Not that spending money on garden tools is a bad thing. I just want share some things that I have learned (the hard way, of course) to make your gardening safer and easier.

Wear Sunscreen
First and most importantly, wear sunscreen whenever you are working outdoors. The damage from the sun is not instantaneous, but will reveal itself years down the road. Take the word of the original "Leather Woman." There was no such thing as sunscreen when I started gardening 30-plus years ago and every wrinkle and sun spot is a testimony to that truth.

Protect Your Back
Secondly, do not twist from the trunk of your body when you are shoveling. I spent a few months flat on my back with a herniated disk from repeatedly shoveling sand out of a wheel barrow. Bend your knees, lift the shovel, turn your entire body with your knees and feet and then deposit the load. It's awkward at first, but you will soon get into the rhythm.

Lifting from the knees is very important. Your lower back was not designed to lift heavy objects, while the large muscles in your legs were. Squat, grasp the object with your hands in front of your body, and then stand up, letting your legs do the work. Bending over and lifting from the waist is just asking for trouble.

Take Breaks and Stretch
Repeated tasks such as pruning or planting large annual beds will eventually cause injury to soft tissue, including cartilage and ligaments. Take a break every 10 to 20 minutes, stand up, stretch and then go back to work. Life is too short for carpal tunnel surgery (again, talking from experience).

Protect Your Eyes
Your two good eyes require protection too. Ultraviolet rays from the sun will eventually cause macular degeneration, a very debilitating condition that will alter your view of the world and can't be reversed. Wear glasses that have a UV coating whenever you are working outdoors, even if it's overcast.

Beware of Insect Stings
Bees, wasps and biting insects are problematic in the spring and summer and yellow jacket wasps when they are breeding in the early fall. Avoid bright-colored clothing or perfume when working in the garden. Don't move fast (a good motto to live by!) and if you come across bees working give them plenty of space. Remember, they work for a living just like we do.

Be gentle with the earth and with your body. So far as we know, we only have one of each.

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