Yeah, so, that was a busy few months. From sitting on my horticultural hands, wondering whether Spring would ever arrive, to a shift in weather from cold, wet and grey March to a dull-but-workable April. At long last it was sowing time, followed by pricking out and potting up time, with a whole lot of greenhouse-based catching up to do. And then the blazing heat of an incredibly dry May – that shows no sign of abating in June – bringing the added time-sink of almost daily irrigation requirements, both at home and on Plots #59 and #79.
Plus: a building job at home – a new porch / conservatory, to house the ever-expanding cactus and succulent collection – and then the biggie: a major change at work as our head gardener left for a new job at Haddon Hall, with all the upheaval (and extra hours on my part) that has entailed.
All of which has left me with no mental energy for blogging, and barely any for tweeting. But with a relaxing break – a few days down in the beautiful Wye Valley, with visits to Powis Castle and Garden, Westbury Court Garden and Dyffryn Gardens to refresh and inspire, I’m feeling the urge to get going again and chuck some new content out into the blogosphere from time to time. I’m sure regular readers (you know who are, both of you, and thank you for stopping by) will be delighted.
Here’s an item that allotmenteers might be interested in. Researchers at the University of Coventry, in partnership with the RHS, have published the results of a study into the damaging effects of bad digging practice, along with a few suggestions as to how to improve your posture and technique to help reduce the risk of back and shoulder damage.
Using the University’s 3-D motion capture technology lab, the team assessed the impact of various digging methods in terms of musculoskeletal damage risk. In the researchers’ words: “A novel method of determining joint angles, joint torques, and contact forces, using three-dimensional motion capture and musculoskeletal modeling, was applied to the movements of a sample of workers, engaged in the horticultural task of digging, to determine if objective biomechanical data could be correlated with a subjective visual assessment to predict risk of injury.”
The general conclusion – which was also mentioned in a short article on BBC Breakfast on Monday – is that good posture and practice involves standing as close to the spade as you can, bending with your knees rather than your back, and using smooth, regular actions (top row, below). Bad technique involves stretching and reaching with the spade, bending the back and using jerky, irregular actions (bottom row).
The full study has been published in the journal HortTechnology. One thing I noticed was that the 15 subjects that participated in the study were asked to use the same spade throughout. Which makes sense from the point of view of comparing two digging methods, of course, but it would have been interesting to see if there was any difference between the standard ‘digging spade’ used and a long-handled spade or shovel, which I’m a big fan of. The latter allows for a more upright posture, provides more leverage during the digging action, and seems to encourage more leg and shoulder work, rather than back-twisting, which the study highlights as a particular danger. But that’s just my experience, and a motion-capture study might prove me wrong.
Of course, if you really want to minimise the risk of musculoskeletal damage, you could adopt Charles Dowding‘s no-dig methods and save yourself a lot of back-ache that way.
Since January this year I’ve been studying to take the examinations for the RHS Level 2 Certificate in Plant Growth, Propagation and Development. Those exams are coming up on Monday and I’ve been revising like crazy of late, hence the recent lack of blog updates. That’s likely to remain the case until the middle of next week, although I might sneak a couple of quick ones in if I get time.
Anyhow, I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish any and all fellow L2 PGP&D students who are taking their exams on Monday the very, very best of luck!
I also wanted to put a shout out for the course itself. It covers everything from molecular cell biology to appropriate use of control methods for plant health problems, via soil structure and texture, propagation, pollination, respiration, photosynthesis, and a hundred and one other topics. Personally, I’ve enjoyed every minute; It’s been an absolute pleasure, and a real eye-opener. I’ve learned more about the science and common sense practice of gardening that I think I would have picked up in the next five, maybe ten years of just getting out there and having a go. If nothing else comes of completing the course (although I hope it will), I’m sure I’ll have improved as a gardener and grower as a direct result of taking the course and I highly recommend it for anyone who has the time (and the spare cash to cover the course fees).
Speaking of which, there’s a list of approved teaching centres on the RHS website, but if you live anywhere near North Manchester / Salford I’d highly recommend the course I attended, at Ordsall Hall. Run by the fantastically enthusiastic and hugely knowledgeable Lindsay, in the settings of a genuine Tudor mansion and its grounds, with a fully equipped teaching room; it’s a great venue, with a great course tutor.
But later on, when she decides that vermiculite smells like cat food, works out how to open the top vent, reaches in with a furry paw and trashes half a tray of chilli seedlings trying to get at the good stuff… you’ll wish you’d remembered to put the second level in and raised the overall height a bit more.