When I was very young I loved to help with gardening. Squash, pumpkin and bean seeds were easily within my planting capability. I’m not sure I ever graduated to the manual dexterity needed for planting the tiny carrot seeds. I’d dash out to the garden several times a day to check if any tiny plants had appeared. I was a little disappointed that it took so long. But soon we had long rows of plants — and lots of weeds to remove.
By the time I was a teenager and the gardening novelty wore off a bit, all this planting, weeding and watering sometimes seemed like parental punishment.
Now I see the lessons that were learned. Besides learning about horticulture, children can learn life skills like patience and persistence from gardening. Eating vegetables was never an issue in our house. We helped grow the vegetables, so of course we wanted to taste them. And I also learned how to preserve the food to savor our efforts during the winter.
According to some recent research, gardening does more than provide healthful food. The act of gardening and landscaping can make you healthier by strengthening your heart and lungs and increasing your flexibility. Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days of the week, and most activities involved in gardening count toward this goal.
Researchers at Stanford and the Universities of South Carolina and Minnesota computed the metabolic equivalents (METs) of about 500 different activities, including planting, weeding and mowing. One MET is the amount of energy a body uses when it is at rest.
Planting and weeding are rated 4.5 METs, since you burn up 4.5 times the amount of energy you would burn at rest. Activities that rate from 3 to 6 METs are considered heart-healthy. For example, planting or weeding for 30 minutes burns up about 150 calories in a 150-pound person. A heavier person will expend more energy. Mowing the lawn with a push mower (a 5 MET activity) will burn about 200 calories every 30 minutes for a 150-pound person.
Sorry, mowing the lawn with a riding lawn mower (a 2.5 MET activity) doesn’t count as a heart-healthy activity.
Even if you only have time to rake grass clippings for 15 minutes in the afternoon and return to weed your garden for 15 minutes after dinner, you’ll still meet your goal as long as you work up a little sweat. Accumulating physical activity in 10- or 15-minute increments counts toward the overall 30-minute goal.
If you’ve been a couch potato all winter, it’s best to start slowly with any kind of activity. Don’t plow the “back 40″ by hand on the first day of spring. Take care of your back by bending at the knees. If your knees give you problems, consider using foam knee pads, or sit when possible.
Wear sunscreen and a hat to avoid sunburn. Bring your water bottle along with you and drink frequently, especially on a warm sunny day. When you’re thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated. Many experts recommend drinking about a half-cup of water every 15 minutes during physical activity.
Nearly 100 years ago, my Grandma Garden (yes, that was her name and note my “middle” name) planted a patch of rhubarb in the backyard of the house where I grew up. We still own the home, and the rhubarb faithfully comes up every year, producing tender red-green stalks.
Rhubarb, or “pie plant,” is technically a vegetable, but it is used as a fruit in pies, cakes, sauces, and jams. For best eating quality, choose firm, glossy stalks that aren’t overly large. Store fresh rhubarb in the vegetable crisper, wash carefully and use within a few days, or freeze. Here’s a tasty dessert recipe that’s easy to make.
4 c. rhubarb, cut up
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. orange peel, grated
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter or margarine
Sour Cream Topping:
1/2 c. dairy sour cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Procedure: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine rhubarb, sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and orange peel. Place in an 8-inch square pan. Prepare crumble topping by combining 3/4 cup flour with brown sugar, and salt. Cut in butter or margarine until crumbly. Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture. Bake 40-45 minutes. Right before serving, combine sour cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and drizzle over the top.
A serving (1/8 of the recipe) contains 250 calories and 9 grams of fat, which is much lower than a slice of double crust rhubarb pie but still a “treat.” Remember, too, that to burn up the energy from a 250-calorie dessert, you’ll need to weed for about 50 minutes.