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Safety Is Job One


Iron rake | sharp hoe | sharp clippers | sharp hedge trimmers

Examples of sharp plant parts, such as rose thorns

One or more containers of strong garden chemicals, such as Roundup

Small container | young plant or seedling you can spare

Garden safety is very important. A kids' garden club should follow a few basic safety rules. Go over these with some eye-opening demonstrations, and the students are much more likely to play it safe.

1.    Tool safety.

Always keep in mind where your tools are when you're gardening. If they are not in your hands, they should be in their container, locked if they have a lock, or out of the way where others won't accidentally step on them.

For example, lay an iron rake and hoe on the grass with the sharp edge pointing upward. Slowly and carefully walk up to the tool and step on the upraised, sharp end, causing the entire long handle to come crashing up and into your face. Remember, do this slowly and carefully so that you don't get hurt! But let the students think about how much that would hurt if they laid those tools in the grass and their friends didn't notice them, then stepped on them and got bonked. Always, always lay tools out of the way where people don't walk and with the sharp edges pointing DOWN whenever you have them out but aren't using them.

Students should carefully practice opening and locking sharp tools such as garden clippers and hedge trimmers. The rule is to use these tools only with adult supervision, and always lock them when not in use so that a younger child won't accidentally get them and get hurt.

If you have a rose plant or a long-stemmed rose with thorns, demonstrate how powerfully sharp thorns are, and underscore the importance of wearing protective shoes, long sleeves and gloves around plants with sharp parts . . . literally, to save your skin.

2.    Garden clothing.

Never work in a garden barefoot or wearing sandals or flip-flops. Always wear footgear that protects and covers all parts of your feet. Athletic shoes and waterproof boots are best.

If you were to step on something sharp, or drop a heavy set of sharp clippers on your foot, you could get a dangerous puncture.

Long pants are a good idea if you're going to be planting, because your knees will get really dirty as you kneel to plant.

Long sleeves are also a good idea, even in the hottest months of the summer, to protect your arms from scratches and bug bites. A lot of gardeners prefer to work in the early morning hours, when long sleeves aren't uncomfortable because it's not so hot.

Gloves are a great idea, and waterproof ones are the best. You can get tiny cuts in a garden that feel as painful as a paper cut, but gloves protect you. Also, dirt gets under your fingernails when you garden bare-handed and it's hard to clean out.

3.    Garden chemicals.

For Kids Garden Club activities, we are going to be totally organic gardeners. Organic means natural - no chemicals that don't exist in the garden will be used to help grow plants.

Now, of course there are tons of chemicals in garden soil, so we are using chemicals all the time to grow our plants. We just aren't using chemicals that are man-made and put together in a processing plant. Instead, our chemicals are natural.

The main reason for this is garden safety - for the students as well as the lucky recipients of the vegetables and fruits that they might grow. There's nothing wrong with the proper use of garden chemicals, from the phlox lover who sprays mildew-resistant chemical to keep the flower's leaves green and not gray, to the large-scale farmer who couldn't possibly squash the bugs by hand on 180 acres of crops. But for our purposes, we're going to avoid garden chemicals because organic methods can do the same things and not threaten anybody's health or safety.

Since most kids' gardens are relatively small, we are able to use chemical-free methods that keep our plants growing well. For example, if you have phlox plants and don't want their characteristic mildew, you just plant them an adult hand-span apart and make sure they are planted in full sun. Air circulation between these plants, and ample light, is what keeps mildew away without chemicals.

Similarly, if you have planted zucchini, pumpkins and yellow squash, and in mid-summer they are attacked by waves of squash bugs, if you only have a few plants to protect, you can take the time to squash the squash bugs one by one, and not have to spray them with harsh chemicals.

Especially since you and people you love will be eating those veggies, you don't want to put harsh chemicals on them. And even if you're spraying on flowers, you don't want to air to pick up little droplets of the chemical and carry it to your neighbor's vegetable garden, which in a way is putting a little poison on your neighbor's food plants!

So we'll stay organic and practice the good methods that can keep ourselves, our plants and our neighbors healthy and happy!

For an idea of just how harsh these chemicals can be, gently wash the dirt off the roots of a young plant or seedling. Then pour some garden chemicals into a small container. Place the plant's roots into the chemical. Watch what happens. Ew, ew, ewwww! In proper amounts, and for the proper purposes, garden chemicals are fine. But they also can hurt and kill. So we're just not going to go there in our Kids Garden Club.

By Susan Darst Williams www.KidsGardenClub.org Practices 01 2010

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