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Mary Lowther column: Keeping up with physical demands of gardening

I can get carried away in the garden, planning to weed “just that one bed”
Stretching exercises after working in the garden reduces aches and pains. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

I spend a good deal of time and space on the value of growing our own food, based on the nutritional content and need for a shorter supply line in ever more insecure times. This time of year, however, reminds us that home cultivation provides another benefit to continued good health.

Once the “atmospheric river” recedes enough to venture outdoors, gardening provides great exercise, but we need to beware overdoing the workout; wise growers exercise during the off season to prevent complete atrophy of required muscles. This year, for this gardener, the usual aerobics have not been enough to compensate for an unusually long layoff. With so much to do in such little time the discomfort associated with spring planting has been greatly concentrated. Although a certain amount of catharsis can be derived from complaining, I still have a greater than normal quota of aches and pains.

“Have a nice hot bath,” my audience responds. Baptism appears to be David’s panacea for whatever ails us, and he has a valid argument: I knew a lady who was able to discontinue her arthritis medications when she started using a hot tub twice a day. David recommends against showers, because they damage his books.

My books tell me that stretches reduce aches by pushing lactic acid buildup out of muscles because it’s this buildup that causes much of the pain from exercise. After a hard gardening session I usually get out my yoga and other stretching-type videos in the evening, which is not as satisfying as complaining to David, but far more effective.

I can get carried away in the garden, planning to weed “just that one bed” until three hours later I realize I have overdone it again. A wise woman knows her limitations and the older I get, the wiser I have become. Having finally reached the “golden years,” I don’t want to shorten them by wrecking my back while lifting something I used to hoist with ease before my “best by” date elapsed. I devise ways to make gardening easier, like putting lighter loads into the wheelbarrow and making more trips. It takes longer but my body is grateful. I’ve also lowered my expectations regarding how much I can do in the garden and cheerfully research the latest tips about easier methods like no-till cultivation and layered or lasagne gardening.

David has followed a different path down the slippery slope to power tools. He traded in his shovel and wheelbarrow for a small Kubota that works so well I have been seduced into trading in my push mower for a weed whacker, and dream of mechanical bees to do my pollination. Still, mechanization can only take us so far; as Omar Bradley said, it is the infantry that wins the battle, and I wear the boots on the ground.

Thus the recent balmy weather once again finds me in the garden, trying to make up for lost time, and grateful to have David to complain to. It takes the load off somewhat, but even better is eating my own produce: last year’s garlic, fresh asparagus that didn’t care how cold and wet spring was and onions that didn’t know they were supposed to send up seed stalks this year; haute cuisine unavailable at any store.

Now for that hot bath.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.