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Using Gardening to Get in Shape

While gardening is usually thought of as a productive way to grow beautiful plants and obtain tasty fruits and vegetables, few gardeners have ever considered the immense amounts of exercise one can get in the process of gardening. While you can get almost as much muscle (if not more) exercise as you do working out, it is very productive at the same time.

You may wonder how gardening could possibly give as much exercise as working out. Just think about all the various facets of preparing a garden. There are holes to be dug, bags and pots to be carried, and weeds to be pulled. Doing all of these things help to work out almost every group of muscles in your body.

My brother is a fanatic about working out. Almost every time I call his house, I end up interrupting some muscle toning activity. I’ve never really enjoyed working out, though, as it seems that the constant lifting of heavy things just puts a strain on my body with no immediate positive results. But while he is into working out, I am almost equally enthusiastic about gardening. I work outside improving my garden almost every day. I think I definitely surprised my brother when he realized that I am almost as muscular as he is; but I have never lifted a single dumbbell!

Before you go out into your garden, you should always stretch out. Even if your goal isn’t to work out and get exercise, it’s still a good idea. Often gardeners spend long periods of time hunched over or bent over. This can be bad for your back. So not only should you stretch out before hand, but you should always take frequent breaks if you’re spending long amounts of time in these positions.

Weeding and pruning are some of the best workouts a gardener can get. With the constant crouching and standing, the legs get a great workout. If your weeds are particularly resistant, your arms will become particularly toned just from the effort required to remove them from the ground. If you plan on taking the whole workout think very seriously, you should always be switching arms and positions to spread out the work between different areas of your body.

One of the most obvious ways to get exercise is in the transporting and lifting of bags and pots. Between the nursery and your house, you will have to move the bags multiple times (to the checkout, to your car, to your garden, and then spreading them out accordingly). As long as you remember to lift with your legs and not your back, transporting bags and pots can give you a fairly big workout, even though you probably don’t make those purchases very often.

Mowing your grass can also be a great exercise. If you’ve got an older mower that isn’t self propelled, just the act of pushing it through the grass will give you more of a workout than going to the gym for a few hours. During the course of mowing the grass, you use your chest, arms, back, and shoulder to keep the mower ahead of you. Your thighs and butt also get worked a lot to propel the mower. Not only do you get an all around muscle work out, but it can improve your heart’s health. It’s good for you as a cardiovascular activity, as well as a great way to lose weight due to the increased heart rate and heavy breathing.

If you plan on using gardening as a way to get in shape or lose some weight, you can hardly go wrong. Just be sure to stretch out, drink plenty of water, and apply sunscreen. As long as you take steps to prevent the few negative effects such as pulled muscles, dehydration and sunburn, I think you’ll have a great time and end up being a healthier person because of it.

Using Rain Barrels to Survive Droughts

If you’re a gardener that has an unlimited supply of water, consider yourself lucky. There are many of us who live in drought zones where the garden and lawn watering rules are very constrictive to the healthy growth of gardens and plants. Many people just give up when they find out how few gallons of water they are permitted to use, but some of us have just found ways to cope with less water. There are many ways to optimize ones garden to conserve water while still keeping it lush.

Some of the ways include drip irrigation (the use of a pipe or hose with small holes to gradually seep into the roots of the plant), the placement of plants in groups of equal watering needs (to prevent wasting water on plants that don’t need it), and using compost or mulch to insulate the water and prevent drainage.

But one of the best ways to keep your garden alive during a drought is to take preventative measures. Occasionally a drought will be predicted far in advanced, or those already experiencing a drought will be given a few weeks of heavy rain. When this occurs, you should take the opportunity to set up several rain barrels. Many people think this would be a time consuming, silly thing to do. But it can save you many gallons of water, and hardly requires any work.

Finding the barrels will probably be the hardest part. You can use your own garbage cans, or head to your home improvement store to get a few 55 gallon plastic drums. These can be expensive and difficult to transport, so keep that in mind before you go to the store. You will probably want to cover the top of the barrel with a screen of some sort to filter out any unwanted leaves or debris that might fall off the roof of your house.

Once you have your barrels ready, you’re faced with the decision of where to place them. Usually during rainfall, there is one corner or segment of the house that rain tends to pour off of. If you are taking the simple approach to barrel placement, just place the barrel under all the places where you see large amounts of drips. However, while this might be the easiest way to place them, you won’t see very high volumes of rain in the barrels.

If you want to take a more complicated approach to placing the barrels, you should consider tweaking your gutter system a bit. If you remove each individual segment and place it at a very slight slant so that all the water is diverted to the nearest corner of the house, you can place a rain barrel at each corner. So essentially your entire house acts as a catcher for the rain, instead of just a few feet worth of shingles. This is how to maximize the amount of water your rain barrel will catch.

After a heavy rainfall, each individual barrel probably won’t see very much rain. If it looks like it won’t be raining more any time soon, it’s a good idea to empty each barrel into one main central barrel. Seal it and save it out of the way, for whenever you may need it. Then the next time it starts to rain, you’ll be able to quickly put all your catching barrels into place without having to lug around all the water you’ve accumulated so far.

The use of water barrels might sound like an antiquated idea. However, when you’re in the midst of a drought and you’re able to spare that extra couple of gallons for your garden in addition the city allotment, you’ll be grateful for every bit of time and money you spent on collecting all that rain. All it takes is a few trips out in the backyard every time it starts to sprinkle, and you’ll be a very happy gardener when water isn’t so abundant.

Using Vines to Decorate your Garden

A great way to decorate your garden is the use of vines. They are very low maintenance and look good on almost anything. If you’ve got a fence or separator that really stands out in the field of green that is your garden, then growing a vine over it can be a quick and aesthetically pleasing solution. However, there are many types of vines for different situations, whether you are trying to grow it up the side of a house, along the ground, or up a tree.

Many different ground vines are available. These types grow fast and strong, and just inch their ways along the ground. They are very easy to direct, so they can make a border around your garden, or just weave in and out of the plants. I suggest using these as a hardy ground cover if you just want some green on your dirt or mulch. Usually you can find a variety that is resistant to being stepped on. It’s like a leafy, nice alternative to grass. Even if you have kids and a dog, it should have no problems staying alive.

Another type of vine that is available is a “twining” vine. This refers to their method of climbing. Twining vines require a lattice or equally porous surface to climb up, since they are not sticky at all. They just climb by sending out small tendrils to loop around whatever is nearby. I suggest using this type of vine for climbing up trees, or any type of mesh. Usually you have to guide them a lot more during their early stages, and after that they will go wherever you want them to.

Vines not only look good on the ground or on lattices, you can blend them in to the very architecture of your house. This is usually achieved through the use of vines with small tendrils that have adhesive tips. They extend from the vine and attach themselves to almost any surface. If your garden is adjacent to your house and you want something to camouflage the big unsightly wall, it’s a great idea to start out a few vines near the base. If you have a vine like the Virginia Creeper growing, then your entire wall will be covered in a matter of months. However I have seen situations where the vine got out of control. After that, you have no choice but to watch the vine take over your entire house.

One of the vines that you would probably recognize is Ivy. You see it around a lot, generally because it is so adaptable. Out of the types I mentioned above (ground, twining, and sticky pads), Ivy can fill in for pretty much anything. It makes a great ground cover, and will grow up about any surface you put it on. Although it grows quick and strong, I wouldn’t suggest growing it up your house. This is because recently, buildings which have had ivy for many years have found that it has been deteriorating the building.

So no matter what you want to do with a vine, you should have no problem getting it to grow. You should always do your research beforehand and find out about any negative qualities the vine has (such as its ability to destroy buildings, in Ivy’s case.)

Using Xeriscaping to Save Time and Water

While having a full fledged garden is rewarding and enjoyable, lots of people simply don’t have the time that is required to maintain it. Whether you have too much going on at work or too many kids to take care of, you should never try to operate a garden if you don’t think you can handle it.

For those people who are just too busy for a normal garden, I would suggest a somewhat recent method of gardening known as Xeriscaping. This minimal yet stylish theory first emerged in Colorado when water levels were at an all time low. It is a great method of having a great looking yard or garden, without having to maintain it or water it very often at all.

Here in Colorado, many places are offering free Xeriscaping lessons in order to encourage the conservation of water. If your area is undergoing a drought, you should check with the water suppliers and see if they are offering lessons. If you attend those, you will be able to get advice specific to your region (IE types of plants to grow, how much to water them, etc).

To some, the name Xeriscaping conjures the image of a yard that consists of a giant rock bed. However, this is known as “zero scaping”, and it is a considerably different concept. It focuses on reducing your yard to nothing that requires any maintenance whatsoever. Unfortunately this is usually just rocks. But this shouldn’t be your goal. While keeping maintenance at a minimum, it is still possibly to retain a nice looking yard that won’t attract the negative attention of everyone who passes by.

This might sound like it would be hard to implement without making your yard into a hideous mess, but this is not so at all. The theory basically involves choosing plants which are low maintenance to begin with, then putting them each in environments that are ideal. It is usually applied by figuring out what side of the house to place it on to get the best amount of shade, and figuring out how to group it with plants with similar water needs.

To get started in your Xeriscaping renovation, you first need to pick out all the plants you will be using. They should for the most part require a low amount of water. This doesn’t mean you can only grow cactuses in your yard. Just cut back on the really thirsty plants that you have to water every day to keep alive. You’ll want to stick with local plants for the most part, and don’t go with anything too exotic as these generally require larger amounts of water.

The second most important principle of xeriscaping is placing the plants in ideal areas. If you place them all together with plants that require essentially the same amount of water, then you will end up saving lots of water. Also place the plants in areas where they will be protected from wind or excessive sun, depending on the needs of the plants. Xeriscaping is almost the same thing as microclimating, just with more of a focus on adaptation to harsh conditions rather than avoiding them. So if it sounds good to you and you’re looking to save time and water by renovating your garden, you should look for xeriscaping lessons.