Monthly Archives: April 2016

Healthy House Garden Tips

download-30How does the White House garden grow? In part, by planting new types of produce each year. At the garden’s spring planting, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that beets would be growing in the White House Garden for the first time, despite the president’s distaste for them. “The president doesn’t like beets,” Obama told the group of elementary school volunteers. “But it’s okay. We’re an equal opportunity garden.”

The colorful root vegetable joined the more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables in the 2-year old-garden that has yielded a whopping 2,000 pounds of produce. Last spring, Obama and her volunteers added bok choy, cauliflower, artichokes, and mustard greens to the garden’s bounty.

Even though the First Couple may not be big on beets, their addition reinforces Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating message on the importance of trying new foods (especially vegetables and fruit) including those you think you don’t like. “After we plant [the garden] we can try all this stuff,” she said. “So that’s going to be the fun part: trying some new things.”

Indeed, research has shown that children who plant their own gardens (whether at home or at school) eat more vegetables and fruit, and gardens are a great way to expose children to new types of produce. A University of Delaware study found that kids were more likely to try a new vegetable when it grew out of a garden they helped plant and maintain.

Children aren’t the only ones who reap health perks from a little time in the weeds. Whether you’re a long-time gardener or just getting started, here are a few surprising ways the hobby boosts your health:

  • More daily exercise: The best physical activity is the kind you’ll actually stick with. So if you’re just not cut out to be a gym rat, you’ll be happy to learn that Kansas State University research found that gardening was a good form of moderate-intensity exercise. This is especially important for older adults, who may be less likely to hit the gym, but can use gardening to keep their heart strong and maintain muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Happy outlook on life: Researchers from Texas A&M and Texas State Universities found that gardeners reported higher energy levels and higher scores on a scale of life satisfaction than non-gardeners.
  • Healthier hands: All that potting, weeding, and raking can keep your hands strong and nimble, a particularly important benefit for older adults, who may be dealing with arthritis and other issues that affect hand health.
  • Greater veggie consumption: Just as kids who garden tend to eat more veggies, so too do adults. The same Texas study found that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than those who stay out of the soil, and by doing so, plant seeds for their own healthier futures.

Great for Own Home Garden Tips

Keeping a garden cultivates more than just flowers — the activity of gardening is an excellent way to exercise, clear your mind, grow your own healthy foods, and transform your outdoor space into a more beautiful one. So slip on your gardening gloves, head outside, and start growing your own lush plants and vegetables.

Don’t know how to get started? First consider a few factors that go into the planning and design of a garden:

  • Your climate. Your climate determines the types of plants that will grow best in your garden and the steps needed to take care of them. Do some research or speak with a professional landscaper to find out what plants are native to your area and any others hardy enough to survive the winter. If your region of the country has distinctive seasonal changes, choose plants that will peak at various seasons, so that your garden will be attractive all year long. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map can help you determine which plants are best suited for your climate.
  • Your taste. Not everyone’s idea of a dream garden is the same. Some people prefer flowering plants, while others get more satisfaction from a vegetable garden. Looking through gardening magazines or going on garden tours might help you define your vision.
  • Your property. The size and shape of your garden will depend on the space you have to work with. Consider various areas around your yard and how much sun and shade they get. You can plant a garden in a shady area, but you will be limited to shade-loving plants. If your outdoor space is small, a container garden should work well.

After you have assessed your gardening needs and desires, consult professionals at a local nursery who can help you finalize your plan, sell you the plants you need, and instruct you on planting them.

4 Garden-Maintenance Musts

You will need to regularly maintain your garden to help it grow. Basic garden maintenance involves:

  • Watering. Water is essential to the health of your garden. Find out the specific watering needs of your plants and establish a routine so that your garden will get the right amount.
  • Weeding. Weeds are not only unpleasant to look at, but they can also zap moisture and nutrients from your plants. To control weed growth, you need to regularly weed your garden, making sure to remove the entire weed, especially the roots.
  • Pruning and dead-heading. These steps involve removing dead branches and past-bloom flowers to encourage more blooms and keep your plants healthy for years to come. When you choose your plants, make sure you understand how to prune and dead-head them since improper maintenance can harm plants.
  • Fertilizing. Depending on the quality of the soil in your garden, you might need to apply fertilizers. Consider having your soil tested by a professional who can recommend the right fertilizers and pesticides for your plants.

How to Stay Healthy and Safe in the Garden

Gardening is an enjoyable way to exercise your body and clear your mind, but there are also some health and safety issues you should address for a safe home garden:

  • Tetanus booster shot. Check with your doctor to see if you need a tetanus booster shot. Tetanus is a risk if you cut or scratch yourself while working around soil.
  • Protective gear. When you are working in your garden, you will need to protect yourself from sharp-edged equipment, chemicals such as pesticides, sun exposure, and insects. You should have a pair of gardening gloves, sunglasses, a broad brimmed hat, protective shoes, and knee pads if you will be bending a lot. If you plan on doing heavy lifting, a back brace can help protect your back. Also wear DEET-containing insect repellant and a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher to protect against mosquitoes, ticks, and the harmful rays of the sun.
  • Use chemicals properly. When using pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals in your garden, be sure to read instructions and warning labels so that you will use them safely. Wear gloves when handling chemicals.
  • Stay cool in the heat. When working in hot conditions, make sure to drink plenty of water, take breaks in shady areas, and watch for warning signs of heat-related illness, such as high temperature, headache, rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. On hot, sunny days, do your gardening before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
  • Consider allergies or asthma. Have allergies or asthma? Avoid plants that trigger your condition when designing your garden. Consider wearing a face mask to reduce your contact with allergens. Gardening in the evening can also help reduce allergy or asthma symptoms, since pollen concentration is generally lower in cooler, less sunny conditions.

Based on Kidney Bean Leaves

A centuries-old bedbug remedy has scientists full of beans — kidney beans to be precise.

The bean leaves used to trap bedbugs hundreds of years ago in southeastern Europe may offer a model for a non-toxic, modern-day treatment, say U.S. researchers.

The biting nocturnal insects have invaded U.S. homes, hotels, schools, hospitals and more in recent years, causing widespread itching, burning and psychological distress.

“Plants exhibit extraordinary abilities to entrap insects,” the study’s lead author, Catherine Loudon, an entomologist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a university news release. “Modern scientific techniques let us fabricate materials at a microscopic level, with the potential to ‘not let the bedbugs bite’ without pesticides.”

Microscopic hairs on kidney bean leaves stab the insects, effectively trapping them, the researchers discovered. They are using their findings to develop non-toxic synthetic materials that will mimic the effects of the bean leaves and help prevent bedbug infestations, according to the report, published online April 9 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Methods currently used to combat bedbug infestations include freezing, extreme heating, vacuuming and pesticides.

The age-old Balkan treatment involved scattering kidney bean leaves on the floor next to beds to ensnare the blood-thirsty critters.

Within seconds of stepping on a leaf, the bugs were trapped. Microscopic hooked hairs on the leaves, known as trichomes, stab the bugs’ legs and immobilize them, the researchers explained.

“Nature is a hard act to follow, but the benefits could be enormous,” study co-author Michael Potter, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, said in the news release. “Imagine if every bedbug inadvertently brought into a dwelling was captured before it had a chance to bite and multiply,” Potter said.

The researchers have modeled materials after the bean leaves in an attempt to reproduce their immobilizing effect. So far, synthetic surfaces have slowed the bedbugs down, but have yet to stop them in their tracks.

The study authors said more research is needed. They noted that bean leaves themselves are not a practical long-term solution because they dry out and don’t last long, but synthetic materials might provide a safe and effective alternative.