If, like me, you have only certain days and times that allow you to get out and enjoy your garden — you might decide to “dig-in” and carry out your plans even when weather conditions suggest doing otherwise.
Just brief periods of exposure to high temperatures can cause serious health issues, especially when you are exerting yourself. Make sure to increase your fluid intake — avoiding alcohol and/or sugary or carbonated drinks, since they can seriously heighten dehydration. Take shade-breaks often, to allow your body temperature to normalize.
Signs of heat-related illness include high body temperature, headaches, dizziness or confusion, nausea, rapid heartbeat and even loss of consciousness. Seniors, children and folks who are overweight or on certain medications (ask your doctor) need to be extra careful.
Don't cut safety measures when you are in a hurry or tired – accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and the ramifications just aren't worth it! When using power tools, wear safely glasses, gloves, sturdy shoes and proper clothing to protect your body. If using loud equipment, protect your hearing with earplugs or headphones.
If using chemicals, please read and follow the directions! Applying too much, or even the right amount but in the wrong way can be dangerous to you, your pets and your plants and soil!
Be sure to protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks, too. Use an insect repellent with DEET. Wear a long-sleeve shirt and long pants; tuck your pant legs inside your socks; and check your body thoroughly after gardening (and/or a hike). Make sure to dump any standing water around your garden or property, since mosquitoes can breed in just a capful of water.
And just as your Mom says, use your sunscreen! You need to reapply it often when working up a sweat outdoors. Also, wear sunglasses and a wide-brim hat to protect your eyes, face and neck.
Make sure to get regular medical checkups and a tetanus vaccination every 10 years. Tetanus, which lives in soil, can enter the body through a scratch from a thorn or a cut from garden shears or other tools.
Master Garden Bonnie Wagner recently sent out a list of other helpful tips: Make sure your tools are sharp so you don't have to put so much muscle into using them, and choose tools with long handles to avoid bending or kneeling whenever possible. If your task requires you to get up and down a lot, use a garden kneeler with handles, so both your legs and arms can help you change position.
Buy ergonomic tools that fit your hand and are designed to minimize strain. If you don't have the proper tool for the job, rent or borrow one. Don't try to make do with the wrong one. Use a wheel barrow or wagon to move around heavy or bulky items. Don't carry them with your arms extended in front of you, since that increases strain on your back. Consider hiring someone to do dangerous jobs such ladder work and or using power tools with which you aren't familiar. You'll find it to be money well-spent!
Gardening is an excellent way to stay healthy both physically and mentally, provided you take care of yourself and actually stop once in a while to smell the roses!
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the July 23 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.