Author: Russ Grayson, media liaison, Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network.
COMMON SENSE GARDEN SAFETY is based on the safe gardening guidelines written by the author of this article and published in the Carrs Park Community Garden – Gardeners’ Guide and in the book, Seed To Seed, published by the Seed Savers Network.
Safety in the garden…
Common sense garden safety
Our community gardens must be maintained in a condition conducive to their safe use by gardeners and to visits by non-gardeners.
One way to ensure that new gardeners acquire a knowledge about gardening safely is for it to be included as an introductory workshop.
Garden safety is very much about common sense and thinking about what we do.
Garden safety is simple.
- If you are taking more than one or two tools into the garden, carry them from storage into the garden in a wheelbarrow, bucket or a basket so there is a predetermined place to put them when they are not in use and at the end of the gardening session.
- Before using a spade, garden fork, rake or other long handled tool, look to make sure there is nobody behind or beside you so that you don’t hit them with the tool.
- When you have finished using a garden tool or you put a tool aside for a moment, place it out of the way of people.
- Never lay a tool across a path or place it in long grass where it is hidden and where people could trip over it.
- Lean a garden rake or long handled tool against something when you put it aside. If you have to lay it down, place it away from where people might walk. Place it with the pointed tangs or blade on the ground, not pointing up.
- When putting a garden spade, shovel or fork aside, push it into the soil so that it remains upright and visible.
- Carry tools such as spades, garden forks and rakes in your hand rather than over the shoulder. Carried on the shoulder, it is easy to hit someone accidentally if you turn around and they are close by.
Avoid sunburn and dehydration
- Wear a hat to avoid sunburn.
- If you sunburn easily, consider wearing a lightweight shirt with long sleeves as well as long trousers.
- Use a sunscreen cream to avoid sunburn.
- If in the garden for some time, remember to drink water to avoid dehydration.
Care with creatures
- Do not try to pick up bugs, spiders and other creatures you come across. They might defend themselves by biting, stinging or scratching.
- Look before lifting buckets, watering cans, boxes and other things. Redback spiders sometimes nest in them and a bite from these venomous creatures can be dangerous.
- If gardening near bushland, do not interfere with any snakes or goannas you see in the garden.
When lifting something heavy, bend your knees and crouch down, then lift it by straightening your legs. To avoid back injury, do not bend over to pick up something that is heavy.
Seek help to lift and move heavy or bulky materials or objects.
- Designate an area of the garden for storing materials.
- Store materials so that they are unlikely to fall over or spill.
- Place heavier materials close to the ground and lighter materials on top of these.
- Stack and store materials neatly so that they are easily accessible and out of the way of paths and places where people walk.
- Avoid storing materials that the gardeners have no plans to use. This avoids community gardens becoming eyesores.
Caring for children
- If children are to visit or participate in the garden, avoid planting toxic plants and consider removing existing species (such as castor oil bush and oleander) that are toxic to children. Consider what might be a danger to children even if it is not dangerous to adults. It might be an idea to label hot-tasting plants such as chilli with visual and word warnings.
- If growing water crops (such as water chestnut, arrowhead or watercress) in a container or pond, consider covering it with a barrier (weldmesh, for example) that prevents children falling in but lets the plants grow through.
- Keep a watch on young children in case they wander off-site.
- When planning to build structures, obtain advice on design and construction if that is unavailable among gardeners, so as the structure is sturdy and safe.
- Keep paths clear and level.
- Make garden bed edges strong so that they will not collapse.
- Avoid edging garden beds with sharp or pointed materials.
- If digging a hole, make your work visible to gardeners passing by so they do not trip in it. Mark the excavation with coloured tape or a barrier if you are leaving it for a while.
Rodents — rats and mice —are a part of our urban environment and are seldom a direct danger to gardeners. They are a seldom seen presence in home gardens and parks. Controlling their presence in our community gardens, however, allays the fears of neighbours.
Rodents are attracted to the warmth of maturing compost. They have been known to breed in the warm conditions of open bay composts that are rarely turned.
To discourage them, we adopt a strategy of habitat denial.
- Make compost bays of sturdy construction with few access points for rodents.
- Make open compost bays with removable front panels. The panels prevent rodents entering the bays and can be removed for turning and moving the compost.
- Adopt the ‘hot composting’ method of open bay management rather than slow, unturned composting. Turn the compost weekly. As well as aerating the material and checking whether it is too dry and needing the addition of water or too wet and needing aeration, regular turning dislodges rodents that might have set up home in the bays. Frequent turning accelerates the composting process, producing usable material in a shorter time.
- Use multiple plastic compost bins such as those marketed in hardware stores, nurseries and by councils. These are more rodent-proof than open compost bays. They can be made additionally proof against rodent infiltration by placing them on a piece of finer-grade wire mesh large enough to cover the base of the compost bin, with an edge that protrudes beyond the base.
Care with organic chemicals
- The manufacture of organic controls for garden pest and plant disease management (sometimes called ‘botanic’ controls because they are derived from plants) should be done under the guidance of a gardener or adviser who has experience and is knowledgeable of the precautions to be taken in production, handling and application.
- Some organic pesticides can cause injury. When making, handing and applying chilli- based insecticides such as chilli spray, wear gloves and keep hands away from your face (chilli in the eyes is painful).
- Avoid getting botanic sprays and other controls in your eyes or in cuts on your hands or legs. It is best to wear gloves when applying any botanic or synthetic control.
- Wash your hands after making, handling or applying organic pesticides, herbicides or other organic controls.
Other protective precautions
- If you suffer breathing difficulties or asthma, consider wearing a dust mask when making or turning compost or spreading mulch.
- Consider wearing gardening gloves to protect your hands and to avoid blisters from handling garden tools, and when doing garden construction, spreading compost and mulch and when removing pest insects from plants manually.
- Wear enclosed shoes to protect your feet. Do not garden in sandals.
- Cover standing water, such as in a pond, to reduce the incidence of mosquito breeding. Water plants such as azolla and duckweed reduce the surface area available to mosquitoes. Species of small native fish that eat mosquito wrigglers can be introduced.