Healthy Garden, Healthy GardenerGardening safety tips
Got a green thumb and a sore back? Your tomato vines may climb higher, but your knees may suffer when you climb that ladder.
A productive garden grows with proper sunlight, irrigation, and the strenuous effort of a dedicated gardener. And a gardener can stay safe and healthy by following these good gardening guidelines:
Warm up. Treat gardening like a workout and warm up first. Stroll through your garden doing gentle stretches or take a walk around the neighbourhood. Gardening can challenge your joints, so choose a few stretches to loosen and warm your knees, elbows, wrists, and shoulders.
Be nice to your knees. To get closer to the earth, gardeners often find themselves on their knees. Busy gardeners may be benched by bursitis, a painful inflammation of the joints. Reduce the strain to your knees and to your back by working with only one knee on the ground at a time. Your back should be straight as you kneel, and kneepads provide additional cushion on rough or rocky terrain. Change your position if it becomes uncomfortable. Don't forget that using a wheelbarrow for transporting equipment and soil can save your back from heavy lifting and still be a form of exercise.
Take turns. Weed or dig for too long, and the repetition can cause strain. Alternate your gardening tasks to avoid repetitive strain injuries. Mix it up: pull weeds for 5 minutes, and then follow it up with a task that's a bit gentler on your hands, like raking. Switch again to digging, and then back to raking. This way, you don't overstrain any one part of your body, and you avoid the obsessive marathon sessions that can result when you focus too much on one task. You'll never get rid of all of that bindweed in one afternoon! Take breaks between tasks to rest or do some light stretches. Sit in the shade for a while and sip some water.
Handle with care. As a gardener, you use a lot of tools, but your hands are among your most precious. Shield them from harm with sturdy, well-fitted gardening gloves. Sure, you'll feel a visceral pleasure when you yank up that main, gnarled root of some nasty weed, but you may also dredge up bits of broken glass or shards of old metal along with it. Bare hands risk cuts, scrapes, blisters, as well as exposure to chemicals, pests, and potential allergens or irritants. Even with gloves, your hands will need a thorough washing-up once you've finished your tasks. Also, some chemicals used in the garden can be harsh on your hands or, even worse, can be very dangerous if inhaled or accidentally consumed (be extra vigilant when children are around). In terms of children, also keep in mind that bulbs and seeds can be choking hazards, and some plant varieties can be toxic if eaten.
No tooling around. Tools should make a gardener's life easier, not more painful or dangerous. Gardening tools come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of sharpness, so always use them with care and caution. Choose the right tool for the job, and read and follow all the instructions included with the tool before using it. With stand-up tools – rakes, hoes, or shovels, for instance – select one that allows you to keep your back straight as you work. If a task calls for a hand tool, maintain a straight line between your wrist and hand. A bent wrist equals a weak grip, is less efficient, and puts you at greater risk of injury. For electrical tools, make sure the power switch is "off" before you plug them in, and never use them in wet conditions. Some tools can be rather loud, so keeping a pair of earplugs handy would be a very good idea to save your ears from any short-term or even permanent damage.
Safely coexist with nature. When you work outdoors on your garden, strike a balance between yourself and the elements. Are you prone to allergies? Wear a protective face mask or nix your gardening plans on days with a high pollen count. The sun's light provides you some vitamin D, but shield yourself from overexposure. Work during early morning or later in the afternoon (before 11 am or after 4 pm) to avoid peak sunlight. Wear sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and light and protective clothing. And remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially on warmer days. Proper garden clothing should also provide some defence against bug bites. Protect yourself from diseases caused by mosquitoes and ticks by wearing insect repellent containing DEET.