Monthly Archives: May 2019

A Guide to Gardening Alternatives

Many people love gardening but find that because of limitations in their physical space (living in an apartment), or perhaps limitations of their physical bodies (bad back, etc.), they are no longer able to enjoy this activity. Read on and you may find some alternatives that will prevent your gardening hobby from “wilting and dying.”

Container Gardens
If you do not have space for a garden, you may be surprised to know that you can grow a wide assortment of vegetables right on your back patio in containers. Container gardening is a successful method that requires a lot less work than planting directly into the ground. It’s perfect for apartment dwellers and people who aren’t able to do the more physically challenging work involved with an in-ground garden.

What you will need:

  1. Containers – from $5-$10
  2. Seed – (From 20 cents/packet at dollar stores to $2.50/packet at garden shops)
  3. Tools: hand trowel, spade, gloves – $2-$10
  4. Soil – Plain bags of topsoil cost under $4, but if you get the more expensive kind with Miracle Grow or other fertilizer mixed in, expect to pay $6-12.
  5. Sunny location – Even the best seed and soil won’t produce vegetables without a lot of sun. If you have a porch that receives shade most of the day, you probably won’t have much success growing vegetables. There are plenty of shade-loving flowers though, so you could still enjoy gardening in containers.

When selecting containers, make sure they have enough space for the roots to spread and grow. You’ll need them to be a minimum of 12-14 inches wide, and at least 10-12 inches deep. Drainage is important too, so if your containers do not have pre-drilled holes at the bottom, be sure to drill some, or your plants may get root-rot and die.

These are some vegetables that do well in containers:

  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Turnips
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash

Tall plants, such as tomatoes and some peppers, will need a trellis support around them as they grow so that they don’t topple over.

For vining plants such as beans, squash, and cucumbers, you can use stakes and supports that go around the plants, or you can train them to grow up string or yarn that you suspend from above. Some people use one long pole with yarn tied at the top and let the vines grow up the yarn around the pole. Make a “privacy screen” of green leaves by letting the plants grow up a “framework” of yarn string that you hang from the top of the porch. Get creative!

Raised Beds
If you do have space in your yard, and you want to try a small garden, consider a raised bed. They require less space than a traditional garden. Gardening in a raised bed is less physically demanding than an in-ground garden because you do not have to till the soil, and depending on how high it is, you won’t have to bend over quite as much. There is also much less weeding to do than with an in-ground garden, so it is less work overall.

Plants grow more vigorously with a raised bed because the soil in the prepared bed is more conducive to plant growth than the topsoil of your yard. The soil you add to the raised bed is soft and easy for roots to move through, and you can prepare the bed with fertilizer and soil amendments to make it perfect for plant growth. Raised beds have less compaction in the soil, more aeration, and better draining than in-ground gardens, and they are easier to weed. The walls also create a barrier to pests such as snails and slugs.

The richer soil of raised beds (with its higher content of organic matter and compost) can support more plants per square foot than a traditional garden, therefore, increasing your yield. Plants in a raised bed are intended to be planted close together, filling in the bed as they grow, with the leaves touching to provide additional protection from would-be weed invaders.

While pre-constructed raised beds are available for purchase, you can build one yourself much more cheaply with a few planks of wood and some screws. Use cedar; it is rot and bug resistant. Although it is more expensive, cedar lasts many years longer than other types of wood. Avoid using railroad ties as they may be coated in creosote, which is toxic. Thicker wood will last longer. If you opt to use concrete blocks or bricks, be aware that concrete will raise your soil pH over time, requiring that you eventually use amendments to lower the pH.

What you will need:

  1. Wood – $15-$20 (If you purchase from Home Depot or Lowes, they will cut it to your requested dimensions at no additional cost.)
  2. Bag of Compost or manure – $2-$5 per bag
  3. Bag of fertilizer-enriched soil – $3-8 per bag
  4. Wheat Straw mulch – $4-$6/bale
  5. Seed – .20 cents/packet – $3.00/packet depending on store
  6. Hand tiller/trowel/gloves – $2-$10 (Cheapest at the dollar stores)

Choose a location that gets lots of sunlight during the day, at least 6 to 8 hours. Don’t make the bed too wide or it will be hard to harvest from the center. You can choose the depth but keep in mind that most plants’ roots extend 6-12 inches in depth. Consider a design that will allow you to sit on the border of the bed while you work inside it. This will take additional strain off your body.

Prepare the ground beneath the bed by covering with a black tarp to kill off any weeds or weed seed that are currently there. Leave it for 3-4 weeks, and then remove the grass and any weeds that remain.

It is advisable to till the soil a good 6-8 inches deep before building the raised bed. The good news is you only have to do it this first time and then enjoy till-free gardening for years to come!

Next, fill the bed with a mixture of compost, topsoil, organic matter (manure, bone meal, peat, hay, or straw mulch). This provides a nutrient-rich environment for plant growth and helps hold some moisture in the soil.

Raised beds dry out faster, so during the hot months of summer, consider adding straw, mulch, or hay as a layer on top of the soil to hold in moisture. Water frequently when your seedlings first sprout and begin to grow, but after that your raised bed will need very little maintenance.

All the plants that grow well in containers also do well in raised beds. Just about anything can be grown well in a raised bed. Other than the ones mentioned above, some other veggies to consider growing in your raised bed garden include these:

  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkins
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkins
  • Broccoli

Whether you opt for a raised bed or a container garden, don’t let space or a bad back be a limiting factor in your horticultural adventure! Get out and grow!

 

 

Gardeners Rejoice!

How Gardening is Good For You

This is the time of year when yards come alive and we gardeners once again plan our gardens and begin selecting the beautiful flowers and vegetables that will fill our outdoor spaces. But the rewards we reap are not only colorful yards and tasty food that we have grown ourselves. Gardening is also wonderful for your health. It’s a great way to get that vitamin D which our bodies create when we spend time in the sun. By gardening, you can boost your endurance and strength, as well as flexibility.

benefits of gardening

Another terrific aspect of gardening is that you can burn a lot of calories as you are preparing the soil, tilling and hoeing, digging and planting, and weeding and pruning. These activities are a great way to work some good cardiovascular exercise into your daily routine.

Jeff Restuccio who wrote Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way says it’s a good idea to alternate the more physically challenging gardening activities with the lighter work for a more structured exercise workout. He suggests, for example, raking for a while, then digging holes, then pruning.

As you do your “gardening exercise,” concentrate on deep breathing, and for a real boost in calorie burning, exaggerate your movements to increase the range of motion. For example, while raking or digging, stretch further than you usually would. This can increase your calorie burning from 100-200 per hour up to 500 per hour according to Restuccio. The actual number of calories burned varies with age, weight, and how much muscle you have. The heavier you are, the more calories you will burn. The younger you are, the more calories you’ll burn. Also, muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you have a more muscular build, you will also burn more calories.

In addition, try switching back and forth between hands when raking. Rake with your right hand 15 times, then do 15 times with your left hand. This will ensure both sides of your body are getting an equal work out.

For people who don’t consider gardening a real workout, Restuccio says, “If you think double digging (going down a foot, turning the soil over, then down another foot, bringing that soil to the top) isn’t exercise, you haven’t tried it.”

One of the best things about working in the garden, aside from the actual harvest, is that you can do it with the whole family. Get the kids and the grandparents out in the garden and let everyone participate. Make it a bonding activity that all can share, and in the process, everyone can get healthier too!

Some gardening safety tips:

  • Remember to stretch before you begin; gardening is exercise, and you can just as easily injure a muscle gardening as you can working out in the gym.
  • Be sure to stay well hydrated and use sunscreen.
  • To avoid hurting your back or knees, use a cushion when working close to the ground.
  • Instead of sitting on your heels, try to keep your back straight and be sure to stand and stretch every 10 minutes or so.
  • When choosing your shovel or spade, look for one that is lightweight and has a long handle.
  • Don’t overload your shovel when digging, and remember to bend at the knee, stepping forward when you raise and dump each shovel full of dirt.
  • While bending to pick up tools or heavy bags, bend at the knees and hips to avoid back strain.

What to Know if You Want to Start Cycling

Have you been thinking of investing in a new bike and getting your exercise on two wheels? It’s a great workout that is less jarring on joints than running or aerobics and may provide an excellent alternative. This sport has become so popular that nearly every city has plentiful routes for biking that will give you the chance to enjoy a scenic ride while you burn calories and build coordination and muscle strength.

how to get started cycling

Before you buy that new bike, here are some good things to know:

BUY LOCAL
You can save a lot of money buying through your local bike shop. Its employees will fit your bike to you to ensure it is a good match for you considering frame size and seat height. More than likely, they will also throw in a free service period for you, answer your questions, and provide information about local bike routes and cycling clubs in your area.

COMFORT NOT COST
Test ride the bike before you buy, and go for the best fit, not the best deal. Though it might seem counterintuitive, you don’t want a cushy soft saddle. Your weight will eventually settle down through it, leaving your rump resting on the hard piece below. It’s wiser to select a saddle that is firm and narrow which offers better support. You can wear padded spandex leggings that offer comfort. Although you may be a little sore that first week or two, you will acclimate to the seat and the discomfort will subside.

CONSIDER PURPOSE
Buy a bike with the gearing you will need for the type of riding you plan to do. While the off-road mountain trails can be very appealing, most new cyclists opt for street cycling, as it is the most accessible form of cycling and the most common. The bikes are lighter weight with skinny tires.

ESSENTIAL GEAR
Helmet: You should always wear a helmet when riding no matter what. Helmets have a shelf-life, so rather than dragging that old one out of the closet, it’s safer to buy a new one. There are safety standards set by the government, and the newer helmets will meet those standards. Try them all on to see which style you prefer, and which fits your head best.

Kit: The term for the typical “outfit” cyclists wear is called a “kit.”It consists of a jersey, matching padded bike shorts or bib shorts, and socks. These clothes are aerodynamic and help regulate body temperature. In addition, they will wick away sweat to avoid chafing. They come in an endless assortment of colors and styles.

Shoes: Athletic shoes are fine for a beginning cyclist, but with time, you may opt to switch to cycling shoes with clipless pedals. It takes some getting used to, so it is best to practice when you make this transition; as your pedals have a small catch to receive the cleat of your shoe, holding it in place so your feet can’t slide around or off the pedals. These specialized, stiff-soled shoes increase the efficiency of your pedaling by maximizing the transfer of energy from your legs to the pedal, especially during the upstroke. Your hamstrings assist with the stroke as your foot remains attached to the pedal when pulling up.

Gloves: If you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, you may not remember how blistered your hands can get from the pressure of holding on to the handlebar. Gloves are great for protecting your hands not only from blisters but also if you should have a fall.

Glasses: While protecting your eyes not only from the sun but also from bugs, dust, and debris, glasses will also make the ride much more enjoyable.

Take-alongs: Some important items that savvy cyclists bring with them are spare tubes, a mini pump, tire levers, and a multi-tool. Getting a flat out in the middle of nowhere is no fun,  and knowing how to switch out a tube is essential. There are plenty of how-to videos available online, and you can also ask your local cycle shop to show you how.

If you will be riding in an area with the likelihood of encountering pedestrians, get a bell for your bike, so you can alert people to your approach and prevent accidents. It’s always a good idea to bring one or two bottles of water along to stay hydrated. You might want to invest in a saddlebag to hold all these items.

Once you have your bike and all your gear, and you’re all suited up and ready to go, here are some important things to remember:

  • Start soft. You have nothing to prove. This should be enjoyable, and if you overdo it your first time out, you might lose the drive to keep it going. Start with a low mileage goal of 5-8 miles per ride, and each week add on just a little bit more.
  • Try to ride a few times per week instead of once a week. This will help you adjust to the new bike and gradually increase your fitness and stamina.
  • For the first month or so, try to plan routes that avoid steep hills or are too difficult. Keep it easy and fun.
  • Give yourself time to recuperate between rides. Just as your muscles need time to rest between workouts at the gym, the same is true with cycling. It is important to allow your body to rest and recuperate after a ride. Don’t go two days in a row.
  • Keep a cycling journal to chart your routes, highlights, and challenges and your feelings and experiences along the way. Tracking your progress is important.
  • Check out local cycling groups or see if a friend or co-worker would like to ride with you. It makes the experience even more enjoyable when you share it, and he/she can help you stay motivated on those days you just want to crawl back under the covers.  Lots of cities now host “no-drop” group rides, intended to help beginner cyclists learn group cycling etiquette and showcase local routes.

This sport is remarkably social and enjoyed by supportive enthusiasts who are eager to share their knowledge. Take your time getting to know as much as you can about cycling and the culture that has developed around it. On this journey, you are sure to get healthier and find many new friends along the way.