There’s only so much a gardener can do during those long months of winter.
Tools can be oiled and sharpened, seeds can be sorted and one can spend hours planning for the spring, but these are pretty sedentary pastimes and the first decent weather always finds me woefully out of training.
Every year I end up overdoing it because so much has to be done and I have been waiting so long to do it.
You’d think by my age I would have learned to pace myself, but once I’m out there cleaning up debris and digging up beds my adrenaline kicks in and it’s full speed ahead until David calls me in to make his tea.
The problem is that then I have tea with him and then maybe work on the current Sunday crossword, which gives my body time to tell me how my skeletomuscular system feels about our new, more active regime. Once the strains, aches and pains are all reported it is a difficult choice between the thrill of gardening and the agony of the feet.
Thankfully, I have learned a few tricks along the way that enable me to work more efficiently now than when I was 30, and even though I feel just as tired as I did then I get more done in less time. Here are a few suggestions to make things easier on the body when gardening:
1. Wear an apron with pockets to carry whatever you need for the day so you don’t have to run around looking for it, or for a place to put things you pick up in the garden.
2. Wear pants with pockets to carry a pocket knife, and in case the apron gets filled.
3. Wear a hat that also covers the ears to keep cooler and avoid sunstroke.
4. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to avoid sunburn.
5. Keep tools sharp; carry a sharpening stone to freshen the edges when they get dull. It’s far easier on the body to hoe and dig with sharp tools.
6. Use long-handled tools. It’s not worth the back pain using short tools or, heaven forbid, children’s tools. Archimedes was right about needing a large enough lever to move the earth.
7. Sand off any splinters on wooden handles right away and keep the handles oiled.
8. Use a wheelbarrow; it’s worth its weight in gold by saving back and arm muscles and the time it takes running back and forth carrying stuff.
9. After washing your hands, rub in some oil or hand cream. It really saves the skin.
10. Do some stretches in the evening (except Tuesdays because that’s bridge night at the Seniors’ Centre). Stretches work like a massage, squeezing out lactic acid buildup that causes muscle pain. I once knew a construction worker who practiced yoga every morning before work because he said the stretching prevented injuries. I stretch after work because I’m not ready to get up that early yet, but once David has the land down the street prepared, he’s going to guilt me into getting up with the chickens he’s intent on raising.
11. Epsom salts in the bath relaxes the muscles.
A final note: it’s easier on the body to do a little each day rather than devoting one day a week or every two weeks. My agenda book helps out here because I prioritize what has to be done and as I do each chore that’s next on the list, I check it off. Gardening doesn’t feel overwhelming when there’s a sense of order and I don’t end up doing unnecessary chores. Besides, my brain got full years ago and I don’t have any more room in it so I need to make lists or I’ll forget what needs to be done and might end up with eggplant instead of cucumbers.