2006-10-27 00:00:00

Take the stress out of raking leaves

RAKING TECHNIQUE

What seems like a simple act requires preparation and thought about the effect it has on your body. The American Chiropractic Association suggests:

Warm up

Do five minutes of low-intensity physical activity such as walking, jogging in place or riding a stationary bicycle. Make large, controlled circular movements with your arms to warm muscles in the upper body.

Stretch

??Stand and prop your heel on a back door step or stool with your knee slightly bent. Bend forward until you feel a slight pull at the back of the thigh. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then relax. Do it once more, then repeat with the other leg.

??Stand and put your right hand against a wall. Bend your left knee and grab your ankle with your left hand. Pull your heel toward your buttocks to stretch the quadriceps muscle at the front of your thigh. Hold position for 20 seconds, relax and do it again. Repeat with other leg.

??Weave your fingers together above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds to stretch the side of your upper body, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.

??Hug yourself: Wrap your arms around yourself after letting out your breath and rotate to one side as far as you can go. Hold it for 10 seconds. Then reverse. Repeat two or three times.

Pay attention to posture

??As you rake, stand up straight. Don’t reach so far forward that it causes you to slump.

??Use the scissors position. Start with your right foot forward and your left foot back. Reverse foot positions every five to seven minutes to limit repetitive motion injuries.

??Switch hand positions to limit stress on one side of the body. Place one hand toward the top of the rake handle and the other down far enough so that your elbow bends just slightly.

??Create small piles of leaves. They are easier to pick up and lessen the chance of back strain. As you pick up piles, bend at the knees, not the waist. Pay attention to keeping your back straight .

??Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids. When you feel tired or sore, stop.

Mulching

Fallen leaves can easily go into natural areas under the canopy of shade trees or into shrub beds. This free mulch decomposes slowly and improves the soil.

But don’t overdo it. More than 4 inches could compress and create a barrier, keeping water and air out of the soil. Do not heap leaves against tree trunks. The mulch area should stop several inches from the trunk.

Once flower beds and vegetable gardens are cleared of this year’s plants, dig in these leaves or turn them under with a tiller. Because smaller pieces decompose faster, mow them into a grass catcher before adding them to the beds.

Two places where leaves (and grass clippings) should not be placed or piled are in the streets or in or beside streams, says Jennifer Krupowicz, water quality educator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. In both cases, this could have a negative effect on water quality. When put in streets, leaves can clog storm drains and lead to flooding.

Composting

The natural decomposition of leaves, helped along by nitrogen-rich matter such as grass clippings or manure and microscopic organisms, creates a rich, fertile compost. This will improve native clay soil once it is worked into it. You need tree leaves, green matter such as grass clippings, alfalfa meal and kitchen waste such as old lettuce and peelings. Garden soil that’s loaded with microorganisms will get the process going. Plus you need a bin, purchased or made with 12 feet of wire fence (3 feet high) turned into a circle.

??Make a bottom for the compost bin with coarse matter such as twigs and small sticks. This allows for air circulation and drainage and keeps the bottom of the compost from staying soggy.

??Add 3 to 6 inches of leaves, then 1 to 2 inches of green matter, then a thin layer of soil. Moisten the layers. Continue to build the layers to about 3 feet. Add leaves as the material in the bin settles.

??Water it. Keep it damp. Rain may do this for you, but don’t let it dry out if rain doesn’t fall or if you have a lid on your bin.

??Stir it up. It speeds the process. Bring thematerial on the outside to the inside by stirring. A bin that isn’t stirred takes longer to produce compost because oxygen doesn’t reach the microorganisms that do the work. Compost should be ready by spring.

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