Winter Planning for a Bloomin’ Summer: Maine AgrAbility Offers Presentations to Gardeners

By Ellen S. Gibson

I love the challenge of having flowers bloom from April to November and cooking with produce from my garden. Yes, well, I usually plant more than I have time to harvest, the grass is constantly infiltrating my flower beds, along with the cat and a family of woodchucks, and I can’t get cilantro to grow to save my life.

I also have to be really careful of my back. Straightening back up after I’ve been bending over from a kneeling position for any period of time is a lesson in humility. Garden ergonomics—the lifting and the carrying, the bending and the digging—definitely has its challenges as anyone over the age of eight knows.

It’s interesting that my garden challenges perfectly mirror the breadth of the work we do at Maine AgrAbility. The program is a partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Alpha One Center for Independent Living. The Cooperative Extension can help me with the cilantro issue (and all else related to the biology of my garden), while the Occupational Therapists at Alpha One help me understand ergonomics in the garden workspace and how I can better take care of my body.

I use both avenues of information in my own garden. I also talk about this in presentations to Master Gardeners and regional gardening groups around the state.

Garden Ergonomics

Master Gardener Volunteer picking fresh produceErgonomics is the science of work. It looks at what is the work, where is it being done, and how does it affect the body? Most home gardeners are going to be spending the majority of their time outdoors. Outdoors, one of the first things that comes to mind is uneven terrain—rocky soil, slopes, holes, hoses hidden under long grass, slippery grass that’s wet with dew. There’s work to do standing, like raking or wrestling with a rototiller the size of a small tank. There’s more to do at the ground level—bending over to plant, to weed, to harvest, to deadhead. There’s getting water to your plants, picking off potato bugs, and well, you get the picture.

How does anyone who’s not young and agile cope??

There’s exercise and then there’s physical activity

I think there’s a difference and here’s why. Exercise as a concerted effort—in whatever time you can spare—with the goal of improving flexibility, strength, endurance, balance, and range of motion. Examples are walking, stretching, yoga, or swimming. Exercise in the morning really helps to oil the joints, find the creaky places, and prepare for the days’ activities, which for gardeners might include cleaning up the garden beds or dividing the perennials.

Physical activity has a different goal. When you’re working in the garden, you need to get things done, like the seedlings transplanted, transplants watered, the leaves raked, and the beans harvested. To do this, you’ll use the strength of your muscles, the range-of-motion of your shoulders, the dexterity of your fingers, and good balance to stay upright. Guess what? Exercise and you’ll be stronger, have better range-of-motion, dexterity, and balance. You’ll have more stamina and will be less prone to injuries, aches, and pains.

Once Spring arrives and warmer weather beckons us outdoors, it’s easy to become fixated on completing a particular task—if I can just get all these leaves raked up! There’s no one to fault you if you don’t get it all done today. It’s more important to heed what your body is saying than to keep working too long and get overtired. That’s when injuries occur.

Allow yourself a breather and time to assess. Get a drink of water, take a quick stretch break, sit in the shade for a few minutes. Change tasks, or maybe even call it a day.

My Gardening Forever presentation includes more innovations from the Occupational Therapy folks, cool tools, and whacky gardening adventures. Don’t miss it! I look forward to meeting you.

Schedule a Gardening Forever presentation

If your gardening group would like to schedule my gardening presentation, you can put in a request online. Just fill out the short request form. If you or someone you know needs farming or gardening assistance, the Maine AgrAbility website provides more information on AgrAbility and the services we provide.