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On Gardening

I was getting ready to type a long comment about gardening on another thread with @GaleHawkins, but thought, it's such an important topic, it really deserves a thread of its own.

Just to give a little background, I have been a gardener since the bug bit me in high school. It wasn't until I had kids that I started to see my weight creep up, but in the summer when I was doing intensive gardening, I would lose 20 lbs or so through no additional effort (exercise, calorie counting), especially in the years that I was putting in a new garden or expanding a current garden (I have my home garden, formerly had a lake garden where my uncle is now building a house, and am intensely involved with a community garden). To give my most recent example, last winter my weight had reached 185 or so (not that I weighted myself very frequently, as it was so discouraging) but by the time I got completely fed up in late July and resolved to lose all the weight, I had already fallen to 168, and I would attribute most of that to hours spent in the garden.

Here are the calorie burns that Harvard Medical School gives for various gardening activities (counts are for a half hour at the following weights: 125 lbs/155 lbs/185 lbs)

Planting: 120/149/178
Raking: 120/149/178
General gardening: 135/167/200
Weeding: 139/172/205
Digging/spading dirt: 150/186/222

Here is the full report with many different activities listed: http://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities

Anyway, while it's not going to give you the same burn as running or intense cardio, anyone who gardens knows that you can spend hours and hours doing some pretty intense work, and get a great core workout while spading potatoes or stacking straw bales or flipping compost. For me, 4 hours in the garden is a 1336 calorie burn for "general" work--and some days I will spend 8 or 9 hours between my two gardens. It is hard work, but I love having my hands in the soil and being out in nature, and the time just flies.

But wait...there's more! The activity level is just half the story. If you are growing a vegetable garden and eating from it, that is another huge boost for health. My background is in medieval literature, with a particular emphasis on science, medicine and agriculture (because it's not geeky enough to JUST be a medievalist). While researching the many and sundry famines and wars, I would marvel at how the average peasant was able to stay alive (many times they didn't) on so little sustenance. What is bad news for the peasant is good news for us--as a gardener, you expend so much effort in gardening, you will never reap those calories back from just the garden. MAYBE if you have a bumper crop of 100% potatoes, but even the Irish needed a cow to make that work. Grains are another basic staff of life, with corn being the superstar. If you're growing lettuce--forget about it. If you want an additional challenge, you can try to garden 100% organically, which makes things even more, um, challenging.

Finally, there are the therapeutic aspects of gardening. I did a quick scan of some of the lit (and by quick, I mean reading the first five headlines that popped up on Google Scholar) and saw a lot of references to nursing home horticultural therapy and then this very interesting social sciences report on incarcerated kids and their garden: http://juvenilerecidivism.yolasite.com/resources/Therapeutic gardening in a long-term detention setting.pdf

Gardening is a huge commitment and takes a lot of time, and I have seen a lot of people start enthusiastically then fall away when they realized how difficult it is. But if you enter it with the perspective that, not only am I gardening, but this is a workout that I am going to commit to, including hours of weeding while sweating under the hot sun, I think that people would find it to be a very rewarding endeavor, both in calories burned and nutrition (if not calories) reaped.

I'd love to hear thoughts from any other gardeners out there, as well as provide encouragement to anyone who may be considering starting.

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Replies

  • lemurcat12
    lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886 Member
    I try to garden with mixed success (I'm usually great with tomatoes, but the weather has been bad for tomatoes the past two summers), and tend to have success with cukes and summer squash, and of course herbs, as well as a variety of other things (I don't plant the same things every year), but it's a very different situation. I'm on the 4th floor of a condo building (top floor) and have a private roof deck, where I do my gardening in pots. It means things that require more space than pots provide aren't really possible and is also more vulnerable to the wind. (And also that it's much less value as exercise.) So I rely on other sources (CSA, green market) for many seasonal vegetables and pretty much all fruit (did strawberries one year, and they were delicious, but the cost doesn't make sense).

    It's rewarding, the herbs especially are convenient (I keep thinking maybe I should just go to tomatoes, flowers, and herbs, and stop messing with the others), and I wish I found it more fun than I do. I keep telling people I am trying to love gardening (and have for years, heh).
  • GaleHawkins
    GaleHawkins Posts: 8,160 Member
    edited March 2016
    My parents and in laws were all set up for it so it was not a big deal for them and it was just a spring activity. The wife has done OK with some tomatoes in flower beds.

    Just getting out in the sun and fresh air can break a 'funk' of the brain. :) Sharing produce with neighbors and friends can have a positive impact on the mind/health.
  • 100df
    100df Posts: 668 Member
    I have a small garden. Eating what I have grown is awesome. The pride tastes good! I eat more vegetables when I grow them. Sometimes I wish I had more people to feed so I could have a bigger garden. I can what we don't eat. It's great in the winter to have summer squash.

    Other than steps I take, I don't log the exercise I get. I consider it every day activity. I move slow though. The days where it's a lot of work, I figure it's extra calorie deficit.

    Mentally it's relaxing. I like providing fresh food for my family. If it's a good year, it really does save money. Starting the seeds in the house gets me through the end of winter and beginning of Spring. It's fun watching the plants grow.

    It is a lot of work and can be disappointing when it doesn't perform well because weather or my lack of effort. Animals eating before I can harvest is really aggravating! Deer, bears and chipmunks enjoy fresh veggies.

    I started with a small patch of blueberries. Now I have the blueberries, tomatos, potatoes and spinach. Fresh spinach is really something special. I have grown others but these seem to be the best as there isn't much waste and they perform well.

    If you aren't sure, start small. If you don't have a yard or bad dirt use containers. A container, dirt and a plant or seeds wouldn't be more than $10. If you have a yard, you can easily plant a couple of seeds or plants. You don't need any equipment like a big shovel if you start small.
  • lemurcat12
    lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886 Member
    Canning is in my plan for new thing to start this year. I always have extra tomatoes, especially as I get CSA tomatoes too, and I often have extra cucumbers (going to make pickles!).
  • French_Peasant
    French_Peasant Posts: 1,634 Member
    100df wrote: »
    I have a small garden. Eating what I have grown is awesome. The pride tastes good! I eat more vegetables when I grow them. Sometimes I wish I had more people to feed so I could have a bigger garden. I can what we don't eat. It's great in the winter to have summer squash.

    Other than steps I take, I don't log the exercise I get. I consider it every day activity. I move slow though. The days where it's a lot of work, I figure it's extra calorie deficit.

    Mentally it's relaxing. I like providing fresh food for my family. If it's a good year, it really does save money. Starting the seeds in the house gets me through the end of winter and beginning of Spring. It's fun watching the plants grow.

    It is a lot of work and can be disappointing when it doesn't perform well because weather or my lack of effort. Animals eating before I can harvest is really aggravating! Deer, bears and chipmunks enjoy fresh veggies.

    I started with a small patch of blueberries. Now I have the blueberries, tomatos, potatoes and spinach. Fresh spinach is really something special. I have grown others but these seem to be the best as there isn't much waste and they perform well.

    If you aren't sure, start small. If you don't have a yard or bad dirt use containers. A container, dirt and a plant or seeds wouldn't be more than $10. If you have a yard, you can easily plant a couple of seeds or plants. You don't need any equipment like a big shovel if you start small.

    I can definitely sympathize about the animals--they are our bane! We have a dog, so the garden in our yard (1/4 acre city lot) doesn't get messed with, but our community garden (which is 7000+ square feet) is just a few hundred feet away, on the property of a church next to a large wooded area in the city, so we have an 8-pt buck and a few does that enjoy hanging out in the garden, along with smaller critters. We have it fenced, but the fencing is cheap and cobbled together, and apparently deer can carefully jump between strings up to 8 ft. We have found that we have to build mini-cages for the popular plants--strawberries, cabbages, lettuce, carrots, beets and beans, mainly. They don't mess with the potatoes, peppers, eggplant, rhubarb, garlic or leeks, but they will take a bite here and there out of the marigolds, kale, tomatoes and squash and pumpkin vines, but must not like them too much. Then there are the tiny critters that like to eat holes in the leaves.

    I have also found diversity to be the key to a successful harvest--our tomatoes and squash were horrible last year, but our eggplants and leeks went crazy. It varies from year to year, but yeah, 14 eggplants were probably too many. :)

    If you would like to expand, any foodbanks or pantries in your area would probably love to get fresh veggies. For our community garden, we give 10% or greater of the harvest to a local pantry. (They probably got sick of eggplants last year!) I have a bunch of seeds popping up right now and am shuttling seedling trays from the heatmats inside to my mini-greenhouse outside. My kids won't stick with a task for too long, but they each enjoy picking out a couple of packs of seeds and planting a few of them.

  • French_Peasant
    French_Peasant Posts: 1,634 Member
    lemurcat12 wrote: »
    Canning is in my plan for new thing to start this year. I always have extra tomatoes, especially as I get CSA tomatoes too, and I often have extra cucumbers (going to make pickles!).

    I started canning a few years ago...I own a pressure canner, but just use it for hot water bath canning, as I have not worked up the nerve to pressure can yet (I think I was traumatized as a child by my mom telling me to stay out of the kitchen because the canner might explode). I came across this recipe in Better Homes and Gardens that explained water bath canning, and I thought it sounded manageable and I could do it in my stock pot. Make sure to get the Ball Blue Book of Canning, the canner's bible. You can do chow chows, relish, kraut, all kinds of pickles, jams, fruits, sauces and tomatoes in a water bath. Sun pickles are a lot of fun, and my little boy eats them by the quart, given the opportunity. (We don't boil those; we just keep them in the fridge). You can also do freezer jam just on the stovetop--my freezer is still crammed with strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb, cherries and peaches and I need to get them turned into sauce or jam before the next crop starts rolling in.

    Do you go to that big farmer's market in Lincoln Park? I wandered through there the summer before last and was in absolute heaven! I also love that mini-farm at the zoo.
  • lemurcat12
    lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886 Member
    Yeah, I do. There are a few markets closer to me, but I love that one. It's open all winter (in the Nature Museum, though), every other week, so I'll be there on Saturday. Obviously the selection at the moment isn't nearly as good.

    Thanks for the canning advice -- that will get me excited.
  • CurlyCockney
    CurlyCockney Posts: 1,394 Member
    I love gardening, and do it when I can. It took me nearly three weeks to plant bulbs last Autumn (even though my garden is tiny), but I'm reaping the rewards now.

    This is my first home with my own garden, and when I moved here 7 years ago my brother planted veg for me in growbags - mainly runner beans. I didn't maintain them unfortunately, so have only grown strawberries since. This year I've bought lettuce, courgette and tomato seeds, so will plant them when the weather's warmer.

    I do love being out there, just me and the birds singing. For me, it's a way of letting the cares of the day go. That's until my dog and two cats chase the birds away though! I also start my day by drinking my coffee in the garden, weather permitting.
  • DorkothyParker
    DorkothyParker Posts: 618 Member
    edited March 2016
    I find it stressful to research and remember which plants get trimmed in fall vs spring. I don't have a sprinkler system and I don't have the time/incentive to run out and move it around. Like how often do you even do that?

    I think it's a great hobby for some. But my lawn is long dead from two desert summers (and me not even bothering last year to attempt to water since it seems so futile and time consuming. I think it's morningglory that is taking over. I don't mind. It looks nice.

    Also, I trimmed my lavender plants yesterday and broke out in a pimply rash on my arm. I washed up and it is mostly cleared up this morning, but this is basically my life. I am allergic to like all plants.

    Anyway, I guess if I had an automated system and a list from an expert on what plants are in my yard and how to care for them, I might grow stuff. But I hate it soooooo much. (Not to mention all the pressure from my neighbors when I am out there suggesting what I can plant. Puh-lease, we both know this is a lipstick on a pig situation here!)

    TL;DR: I want to move to a city loft near a nice public park. Preferably with neighbors with limited English skills.

    PS. I know I could research all this myself but it's not interesting to me. Some people don't like researching independent fashion houses or studying makeup techniques, but I don't judge them. ;)

    Oh, my backyard was FULL of crazy 2 ft tall weeds last summer. I didn't mind shoving in my headphones and hacking through them with a hoe. It took a long time (about 60-90 minutes/night over a few evenings) but it was more aggressively physical and enjoyable. I did it after I put kiddo to bed until it got dark (a little after 10)
  • 100df
    100df Posts: 668 Member
    We have rain barrels attached to the gutters. I hand water using a watering can. I set reminders on my phone for when to do what. I do that withy whole life or I'd never remember to do anything!

    We don't water the grass. Some years we have shades of brown and others it stays green all summer.
  • French_Peasant
    French_Peasant Posts: 1,634 Member
    I find it stressful to research and remember which plants get trimmed in fall vs spring. I don't have a sprinkler system and I don't have the time/incentive to run out and move it around. Like how often do you even do that?

    I think it's a great hobby for some. But my lawn is long dead from two desert summers (and me not even bothering last year to attempt to water since it seems so futile and time consuming. I think it's morningglory that is taking over. I don't mind. It looks nice.

    Also, I trimmed my lavender plants yesterday and broke out in a pimply rash on my arm. I washed up and it is mostly cleared up this morning, but this is basically my life. I am allergic to like all plants.

    Anyway, I guess if I had an automated system and a list from an expert on what plants are in my yard and how to care for them, I might grow stuff. But I hate it soooooo much. (Not to mention all the pressure from my neighbors when I am out there suggesting what I can plant. Puh-lease, we both know this is a lipstick on a pig situation here!)

    TL;DR: I want to move to a city loft near a nice public park. Preferably with neighbors with limited English skills.

    PS. I know I could research all this myself but it's not interesting to me. Some people don't like researching independent fashion houses or studying makeup techniques, but I don't judge them. ;)

    Oh, my backyard was FULL of crazy 2 ft tall weeds last summer. I didn't mind shoving in my headphones and hacking through them with a hoe. It took a long time (about 60-90 minutes/night over a few evenings) but it was more aggressively physical and enjoyable. I did it after I put kiddo to bed until it got dark (a little after 10)

    I'm in Indiana, and for the last two years have hardly had to drag any hoses around whatsoever because it has been so wet. Something that makes a big difference in having to water in a dry season is 1) planting in soil generously amended with compost, as it helps retain water, 2) mulching with straw and grass clippings to retain moisture and keep down weeds, and 3) once plants are established, let them fend for themselves, as it forces them to set their roots deeper. I don't water my tomatoes until I see them get a little droopy, but something like potatoes and squash take a generous amount of water.

    I also collect rain in a horse trough for my alley garden so I don't have to drag hose out there, but I think that might be illegal in desert states.

    If you're allergic to a lot of plants, and really hate yard work, it is probably not for you. Just remember that a half-hour earns you a Cadbury egg. However, I thought I was allergic to, and really hated, running, and I am currently on week 3 of a couch 2 5K program, and on my last run found myself thinking, "Hmmm...I hate running....and am just supposed the run 3 minutes, but I think I can do 4...no...make that 5." I am highly motivated because I can help my 10 year old daughter condition for x-country season. Otherwise, there would be no way I would be out there running and (secretly) (kinda) enjoying it. Like a gym membership or cooking at home, it's one of those lifestyle changes that you have to commit to, and it's definitely not for everyone.
  • snikkins
    snikkins Posts: 1,282 Member
    We installed a drip system last year to do some gardening. I actually started eating tomatoes since we were growing them (tomatoes and I have a texture issue... I still won't do slices but everything else is fine). It's fun but can be time consuming. I'm always curious about the people who suggest growing your own food as an end all/be all solution.

    There is something to be said for the pride tasting good, though!
  • sistrsprkl
    sistrsprkl Posts: 1,013 Member
    I love gardening and plan to work in my garden this afternoon. I don't log any of my exercise including gardening. It's just all part of the healthy life I try to maintain. Here's to bountiful gardens for everyone this year! My dad just put a fence around mine so the deer don't mow it all down like last year :neutral:
  • Ws2016
    Ws2016 Posts: 431 Member
    Been gardening since I was a kid, sq ft fir the past five years. The only calorie burn they cite that I think is reasonably accurate is the digging/spading. If I do that for a solid 30 minutes I will burn close to 300 I think. I think the rest are too high, eg planting which requires little effort besides putting in some seed or plants in the ground. I have a bunch to fo tomorrow and don't plan on budgeting it.
  • French_Peasant
    French_Peasant Posts: 1,634 Member
    Ws2016 wrote: »
    Been gardening since I was a kid, sq ft fir the past five years. The only calorie burn they cite that I think is reasonably accurate is the digging/spading. If I do that for a solid 30 minutes I will burn close to 300 I think. I think the rest are too high, eg planting which requires little effort besides putting in some seed or plants in the ground. I have a bunch to fo tomorrow and don't plan on budgeting it.

    Well, think it through for planting. I am doing 10,000 sq ft for the combined gardens. I am chitting potatoes to plant this weekend in 30 ft rows. Probably 6 rows. Once I get the trenches dug, the actual planting part is a combination of walking (100 ish calories per half hour) and body weight squats (418 cals a half hour) for a 150 lb person. Depending on how fast you are working, that's a pretty good burn. Step, squat. Step, squat. Same scenario for setting out a row of corn or peppers. Now it's a completely different story for, say, planting radishes, because you are on your hands and knees delicately putting in seeds an inch apart. I wouldn't budget that. So, you definitely have to have a feel for how much you are burning and be honest about you effort. But you don't think a lot of extended planting is a better burn than a moderate 3.0 mph walk of the same duration?
  • goldthistime
    goldthistime Posts: 3,267 Member
    My mom always had a huge garden, and helping plant, weed/hoe, and harvest was my summer job. We grew pretty much everything that can be grown in Zone 5. But although I made several attempts to have a garden on my own, I didn't have much success. I was always too ambitious and couldn't keep up with weeding and even harvesting. Until last summer. We put in two foot high raised beds. No more back breaking work! I kept it meticulously weeded and watered and had a wonderful crop of zucchini, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Love love love having a reason to go outside every day.

    As to the discussion about whether to include gardening as calories burned, why not? People walk around all day, but if I post calories burned on a short walk no one bats an eyelash. I assume that people know when they are working harder/burning more calories than normal. Ditto for big housecleaning projects btw.

    Can't wait to shut down my SAD light and get outside in the sunshine again!
  • veggiecanner
    veggiecanner Posts: 137 Member
    we just broke ground Yesterday. So we planted potatoes this morning. Next will be onions. I have tomatos, cabbage, brocolli and other greens started in pots for planting later.
    The garlic was planted last fall and is up good, but I'm not really sure how the shallots did this winter. mostly we'll be planting Oats and peas for fertilizer crop this week. It really helps the cucumber and squash type stuff. Mostly we can our own green beans, carrots and beets. Which helps because they don't have salt in them. no more pickles though. We've dryed most our tomates the last few years. they go alright in soup that way.
  • NoLimitFemme
    NoLimitFemme Posts: 116 Member
    lemurcat12 wrote: »
    Canning is in my plan for new thing to start this year. I always have extra tomatoes, especially as I get CSA tomatoes too, and I often have extra cucumbers (going to make pickles!).

    Try making pickles with zucchini instead of cucumbers. I did that a couple years ago when my zucchini plants went crazy and would not stop producing. They turned our much better than expected. I like them better than cucumbers because there's more flesh and less seeds.

    OP ... avid gardener and canner here. Once thing that I was impressed with here in the Midwest is the amount of farmers. The benefits are just as you listed them between the physical exertion to the healthy organic home grown veggies and fruits.
  • amusedmonkey
    amusedmonkey Posts: 10,321 Member
    I love gardening! Unfortunately I only do the light work like watering and clipping off dead leaves because of my back problems (which reminds me, I need to water today). Someone else does the majority of the work and she routinely spends up to 12 hours sometimes taking care of the garden, and is spent by the end of the day. I would imagine logging at least some of that is valid.

    Here is the smallest section. It has various flowers, a baby mango, cherry tomatoes, dill weed, rosemary, a bay leaf tree, a lemon tree (that gives fruit all year long), a pear tree, a mandarin tree, and stuff I may have forgotten to mention. You can imagine how much work (and calories) goes into that. I'd say it's safe to log it.

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  • French_Peasant
    French_Peasant Posts: 1,634 Member
    @amusedmonkey Mangoes! Bay! Citrus! That is so awesome--I love the photo. I would reciprocate with a photo of my peach tree coming into bud, but the rest of the bleak landscape would depress everyone, and all those baby peach buds have a death sentence on their heads with the horrible freezes that we have coming this next week.

    Last September I did log my gardening calories according to the Harvard counts, and the weight came off like clockwork, perfectly matching my logging, so for me, at least, the counts are accurate. But I am also a hard worker; I logged a lower burn if I felt like I was slacking.

    @sawyeram I hadn't thought of turning zuccs into pickles; I only have one soup recipe for zuccs and eggplants, and beyond that I just give them away (or, sadly, let them sit on my counter till they go into the compost). I looked and saw there are recipes for chow chow with zuccs--that sounds excellent. Thanks for the idea! One of my favorite pickles to make is Dilly Beans, and then I serve them with Bloody Marys. That's healthy, right? :)

    @goldthistime two foot high raised beds sound amazing! I am embarking on a third garden this year for our church/school which will have 8 8x8ft raised beds, each with a separate historical garden theme. Raised beds make life so much easier and look fabulous.