In the next couple of days I am simultaneously prepping for two events.
I present this coming Sunday at the 41st Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s biennial Conference “Views from the Maine Woods,” which runs August 4-11 at Colby College in Waterville.
Here’s my Sunday, August 6 workshop description: Why Walking Matters: Benefits of Walking and Improvisational Skills in Long-Distance Hiking. Tom Jamrog, Triple Crown thru-hiker, author, and Maine Guide with Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures. From the ages of 57 to 63, “Uncle Tom” thru-hiked four National Scenic Trails. Tom reviews the latest research on the physical and mental health benefits of walking, and discusses pre-hike training and mental practices that can bolster an aging hiker’s continued success on the trail.
Two days later, I fly out of Boston to St. John’s to attempt a 185 mile thru-hike of Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail.
Foot care will be a priority activity that I’ll discuss in my workshop and that I’ve been applying on as I approach this rugged hike. I’ll tell the audience that I’ve been walking barefoot as much as possible in the past week in order to toughen up my feet. I have also been applying rubbing alcohol to the soles of my feet toes and heels, a technique I picked up years ago from Colin Fletcher,’s The Complete Walker IV book, formerly described as “The Hikers Bible” when it came out in 2002. Alcohol cleans, dries, and toughens the skin. Addition to the alcohol, I use an artificial pumice block to buff up callous areas in my forefoot, toes, and heel.
I’ll be backpacking in thin wool socks from Darn Tough and my broken-in New Balance boots, a combination that has resulted in blister-free freedom over the past 5000 miles of hiking. Roomy footwear is best.
Right now, I’ve signing off to work on my updated Powerpoint for the Colby ATC talk.
I’m sitting here on a dreary, gonna-be-hot-and-humid Saturday morning and deciding whether to hike or bike a bit this morning.
It is exactly half way into the 2017 calendar year. I’m just been through a month of recovery from a bad fall I took on May 22 coming down off the Bigelow ridge after clearing downed trees and cutting back brush trail on the Appalachian Trail. I had built up a bit of a cushion since Jan.1 just in case I experienced any setbacks (like a torn/strained hamstring and bashed up back). Those of you who follow this blog know that I am a huge fan of setting goals, be it for fitness, or for scheduling upcoming trips that help me to spend time outside, and get me moving through the countryside.
I use the Strava (Premium version) App to track my progress for the year, with my overall efforts looking satisfactory. I’m on track for a year of 1,000 miles biking and another 1,000 miles of walking. So far, I’ve broken 18 personal records while engaged in 156 activities that have taken me 241 hours to complete.
Breaking it down, I’ve done a bit better with biking than walking, with 516 miles logged:
My walking/hiking is just a shade behind, at 489 miles, just 11 miles short of my half way mark of 500 miles.
So, I’ll I head out for a walk now instead of a ride. If I put in a couple of hours, I should succeed in adding 6 miles or so. I am fortunate that I can leave my house and walk in relative peace and quiet. I’m done with the gym. I live where it is easy for me to walk or ride out my door. I plan to keep it that way.
Bottom line: Strava goal setting helps, choosing activities that your enjoy to do for exercise helps even more, and staying in contact with other folks that like to bike and/or hike is an additional lifestyle choice that promotes fitness in an natural and enjoyable manner.
I called it quits tonight after I walked a mere mile on the flats outside my door. It was a huge accomplishment.
For the past two weeks, I haven’t been able to walk that far. My absence from my usual 75 minute a day average of brisk walking or riding bikes was caused by a very nasty fall coming down the from Bigelow ridge after three days of volunteer work on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Guthook and I team up a couple times a year, spring and fall, volunteering for trail work on the Appalachain Trail. He has a long section up and over Mt. Abe that connects to the AT near the Spaulding lean-to.
The snow was still deep on that connecting section due to 3,00 feet of elevation, north side exposure, and thick conifers.
The last day, Sunday, brought us back to my section: the Safford Brook trail up to he AT, a short section on the itself AT, and lastly the side trail to and the Safford Notch campsite itself, where we cleared up fallen trees,a nd pruned away like madmen.
Three days of work was finally done with only two miles to go to the car when I caught the toe of my boot on a rock or root that pitched me staggering down a descending grade until my increased speed of stumbling eventually pitched me smack down onto rocks that left me a quivering mass of hurt, with my left leg doubled up under me. Thank God that my hiking pal Guthook was right there to assist me in eventually unraveling myself from my ancient external frame pack that carried the pruners, loppers, axe and other tools of the trail corridor trade. Unfortunately, the impact of falling on those solid objects in my pack imbedded a series of grotesque blood filled tattoos, emanating from a hematoma that a doctor later told me held over a pint of blood. Guthook cut me two walking staffs that I used to brace myself as I shuffled, in pain, downhill two miles to my car, which was parked on the shore of Flagstaff Lake at the base of the Safford Brook Trail, which I maintain, along with a brief section of AT and the side trail to the Safford Notch Campsite, which is also my responsibility.
After I reached my car, I had Guthook drive it back to the Chalet, where had spent last night, as I sat as still as possible in the passenger seat. If I didn’t move at all, I was stable, but when I exited the passenger’s side and gingerly inched my way over to the driver’s seat, I was fighting passing out, but made it and promised Guthook that I’d pull over if I became faint while driving. I headed straight for the Belfast Hospital Emergency room, after downing 800 mg of ibuprofen that didn’t seem to do much for me.
Two hours later I was able to barely get myself in the door to the emergency room, where I was unable to sit until a nurse assisted me in laying down on a bed. It was a circus of the wounded and infirm in there on Sunday night, with only one doctor making the rounds. I wasn’t out of there until 4.5 hours later, after the Dr. determined I had no broken bones, however I also learned that I partially tore my left hamstring. Thankfully, there was no blood in my urine (One of the big hits was directly over my right kidney.). He gave me one muscle relaxer pil, and with a prescription for more tomorrow. I headed home, where I shuffled to bed under the very concerned eye of Auntie Mame, my faithful wife, and apparent nurse for this new round of lifestyle consequences. She measured what morphed into at least three square feet of techicolor- black and blue, yellow, green on my back, buttocks, and side.
It’s been exactly two weeks today of laying on ice packs, with no biking, and no hiking, other than brief trips to do things I must do outside the house. I’m still hurting, likely due to bone bruising. The blood has continued to draining back into me, with new vistas of bruises extending into my groin area and then down my leg into the back on my knee.
I’ve been my time feeling distressed, depressed, and now impressed with a newfound resolution to ALWAYS have my trekking poles with me when I’m on trail. I even bought myself a new pair, on the recommendation of Andrew Skurka- a set of Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Trekking Poles.
I left my trekking poles them in the car, since I would be walking with either pruning shears or my chainsaw in hand. My free hand was also in the habit of throwing the slash back into the bush and off trail. I’m convinced that if I would have been using my Leki poles, I would have not fallen. The very act of descending with poles in hand forces me to be a bit more present in choosing pole and foot placement. Isn’t it true that accidents happen in the late afternoon when fatigue is at it’s peak?
A follow-up visit to my own doctor last week put my fretting to rest. He told me that I could start activity again, with pain as my limit guide. I walked a mile, then did two more with Mame in the last two days.
I’m getting better. My spirits are lifted a bit after yesterday, where I rode my riding mower, then walked behind the edging mower, and even felt decent enough to work the string trimmer in attacking the overgrown grass in the yard. Fitbit gave me 14,000 steps and some 7 miles of ambulation for my efforts. I’m getting back.
Many of us struggle with deciding how much time we should put into exercising. The truth is a bit difficult to put into practice, due to our busy lifestyles. You may be dismayed to learn that it takes serious time for your efforts to translate to better health and improved longevity. In my case, the 75 minute a day target significantly turned health bio-markers around for me, via moderate walking, backpacking ,or biking .
Check out the FACTS below. Note that you can watch the video or read the transcript of the video.- T. Jamrog
Physical fitness authorities seem to have fallen into the same trap as the nutrition authorities—recommending what they think may be achievable, rather than simply informing us what the science says, and letting us make up our own mind.
In September I spit in a plastic collection device and sent the saliva to Great Britain to be analyzed by FitnessGenes. The lab extracted my DNA from the saliva sample and analyzed it.
Three weeks later I received an analysis of 40 genetic variations related to the big three of sports types: endurance, strength, and speed. My results also included the types of training that I should undertake, along with specific dietary recommendations and even supplements that my particular body should respond to.
I’m still digesting the results, but the actual data confirmed that I was on the right track with my approach to training and eating even before I learned about what was up, or down in some findings, with my genes.
In sum, I have a profile suggesting that my endurance is stronger than strength and speed. I have been successful in long distance endurance events ( Triple Crown of hiking), so the details of my particular genetic package will be useful in my planning to continue to home my dietary and training choices.
My experience with FitnessGenes led me to understand that there can be no one “true” dietary or training recommendation that fits all, whether it be drinking milk as an adult, or as the following article explains, consuming coffee. There are few things the wellness world is more divided on than morning joe.
I love coffee. I thank my parents, Chester and Isabel, for providing me with a favorable CYP1A2 gene. My AA genotype characterizes me as a fast coffee metabolizer. Forty percent of people are fast metabolizers. About 45 percent have both a slow and a fast copy, and 15 percent carry two copies of the slow allele. Studies have shown that taking caffeine improves performance in sports and exercise. Research also indicates that fast metabolizers, like me, also saw their risk of hypertension fall as their coffee intake rose.
This long overdue blog post was inspired by the Parade Magazine supplement from my Sunday paper. It’s a weak piece of literature, but occasionally I pull a recipe. Here is an article that even sparked a response from my wife , Marcia, who warned me, ” You better not read this or I am going to end up with you trying to reach 100 years old.”
The article features a typical day in the life of Michael Roizen, M.D., who has dedicated 20 years to the study of longevity—specifically, the idea that certain daily choices can make your body and mind years younger than your calendar age. Roizen has an upcoming book, “AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip“, so this article is probably just one limb of a deep-pocketed marketing campaign, with Dr. Mike showing up on National Public Radio, in an interview with Terry Gross. I’ve seen the same thing with the mega-sucessful Wild, a movie that came after the book went Top 10. Yes, I will probably read his book, even if I just squeeze out a few extra weeks of existence and never even make it to be 100 years old. Right now, I am not so sure that things are going to get better in the next 30 years. Just to be clear, this book is not even out yet.
Since I have a huge interest in continuing my daily hikes, backpacking ventures, and riding through the woods on my bikes, I check out practices and products that assist me moving. I decided to X-Ray the article and see how I measured up against Dr. Mike.
Here’s a snapshot of Mike’s typical work day. The italicized portions are quoted from Parade. My own comments follow in standard print:
Morning smooches– 5:00 a.m. “The first thing I do is kiss my wife, Nancy.” Choosing your partner wisely and with passion is one of Roizen’s keys to longevity. Nope! I am an early riser, usually at or just before daybreak. I need to be careful to get up and out of bed without waking up Marcia. Definitely not part of my daily practice, so far. Maybe I should leave a nice note by her bed stand instead? On the positive side, we continue to enjoy each other’s company over the past 43 years.
Meditation– 5:05 a.m. A five-minute meditation in the shower sets his intentions for the day and helps manage stress. Big yes. I was taught Transcendental Meditation when I attended UMass back in 1970. I even went to Canada and then Spain for several months to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the early 1070’s, when I became a TM teacher. I continue to practice the technique for 30 minutes, every morning, accumulating 46 years of experiences, or non-experience if you prefer.
Heart Healthy Breakfast: 5:45 a.m. He eats heart-healthy oatmeal with walnuts. Six days a week I have one cup of organic wild blueberries, 1 cup of whole mile yogurt, and 1/4 cup of granola, which is 75% nuts and seeds. In August, I fill half a freezer with 130 pounds of fresh Maine wild berries that are grown across town. On Sundays I treat myself to eggs and a bagel.
His cup runneth over: 8-9 cups coffee, 32 oz. water. Roizen drinks a lot of coffee. (It counts toward his daily fluid intake, he says.) He doesn’t use cream or sugar and also drinks plenty of H2O. This would be way too much coffee for me. I generally have 2 to 3 cups of high quality coffee in the morning. Four months ago, I purchased a package from Fitness Genes, including a DNA test kit, that analyzed my genetic information related to health and metabolism. One of those 42 genes reflects caffeine metabolism. I carry two copies of the “fast metabolizer” A allele. Caffeine works fast for me and is metabolized quickly, suggesting that I can use it to my advantage by downing a cup immediately before I ride or hike. I have no problems with sleeping if I do have a shot of espresso after dinner. Bing! This finding alone was worth the cost of the testing!
Lunchtime veggie madness: In the employee cafeteria, Roizen assembles a low-calorie, nutrient-rich salad with an assortment of veggies such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peas, dressed with balsamic vinegar. Or he’ll have a hot plate with steamed broccoli, sautéed green beans and another veggie. During farmers’ market season on the Cleveland Clinic campus, Roizen stocks up on healthy snacks for his staff. My lunch is usually a large bowl of fake pho or phauxpho, as I term it. I came up with this meal this past summer, when I was harvesting various vegetables from my garden. It is composed of rich broth, steamed or sauteed veggies, a protein source, and a few rice noodles. Here’s my blog post laying out my phauxpho recipe, which looked like this one day.
Walk and talk: 2:00 p.m. Roizen breaks up sitting time by walking up a flight of stairs or two with patients, while monitoring their pulse, or having one-on-one “walking meetings” with colleagues. The closest I come to this is walking and talking with my friend Frank. We try to walk in the Camden Hills State park on Friday afternoons.
Afternoon meditation: Another 30 minute TM session every afternoon for me, generally in the late afternoon.
Connecting with friends: 5:30 p.m. His evening commute is good for the soul: He likes to catch up with friends on the phone. And several times a week he uses FaceTime to video chat at home with his grown children, Jennifer and Jeffrey, and granddaughter, Julien. I have this one down. For over 25 years. I meet every single Monday night at 5:30 PM with 6 other guys who part of my Men’s Group, or as I term it now my Personal Board of Advisers. We take turns cooking a completed dinner for each other on a rotating location, generally each person’s home. Thus has gone on for over 25 years. Serious discussions are rare these days, even once a week. I am also a member of The Bubbas, a group of local guys and a limited number of gals ( generally 1 or 2) who ride mountain bikes over challenging conditions in the woods at three different locations in Midcoast Maine on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and on Sunday mornings. We do catch up on things, but mostly make fun of each other in some unsavory manner. I love The Bubbaas.
Plenty of fun: 8:00 p.m. You can find the sports-loving Roizens cheering on the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indians. “If we don’t have tickets or they’re away, I’m usually watching the game on TV just before bed,” he says. “That’s my calm-down ritual.” The only sports team that still matters to me is the New England Patriots, who have posted a winning season for some time now, and brought to the Patriots Nation yet another Super Bowl triumph this week! Unfortunately I have to keep my allegiance silent outside of New England, due to the many millions of Patriots haters out there.
Sleep smart: 10:30 p.m. “If I have a weakness, it’s that I don’t honor sleep as much as I should,” he admits. “I used to feel great on six hours—now seven is much better for me.” Most people need more as they age, he says, and everyone should get at least 6.5 hours for the best longevity benefits. I picked up the new Fitbit Charge 2 after Christmas through my Maine Guide discount at LLBean. One function is the automatic tracking of how long and how well I sleep. I am asleep at least an hour before Mr. Roizen. I have no use for the Silent Alarm, and tend to wake up at daybreak, if not before.
Additional facts: 90 The number of minutes Roizen aims to spend on his treadmill desk by walking during conference calls and radio interviews. I average 75-90 minutes a day of brisk walking or biking.
10,000 The number of steps Roizen tries to log daily on his fitness tracker. If he hasn’t hit his goal, he walks on the treadmill while he watches TV. “That’s about the only time I catch The Daily Show live,” he says. My 2017 goal is 12,000 steps a day, supporting the 75-90 minute figures above. 2017 is also my goal for this year. I plan to walk or bike that many miles this year. Using the Strava program/ app allows me to track each and every ride, walk, hike that I experience. Monitoring my progress toward my yearly goal is made much easier with the metrics and the graphics of the Premium ( paid) version of the app.
25 The calories in a small piece of dark chocolate, a favorite Roizen pick-me-up (along with a handful of walnuts) if dinner will be late. I consume 0.5 oz. of 70% or more dark chocolate a day. It’s three times what Dr. Mike takes. It’s for my health!
So, there you go, one researched path to centarianism. One hundred years of life may not be everyone’s target, but can’t we all use professional guidance in holding our bodies and spirits together as we move along life’s trails and trials.
I invite any further “hacks” that you might share with us all. Please consider commenting, and subscribing to this blog !
It’s now 2017. After reviewing all the end of the year” bests” lists and the sun ever so slowly extending itself into the far northeast corner of the USA , I’m ready and hopeful about what’s to come.
For one, I’m still able to embrace health and happiness. My body weight has remained around 200 pounds since I lost 27 pounds on my 2013 CDT thru hike. On prior hikes, I’ve gained it all back , but this time, I’ve been able to remain 15 pounds lighter.
Setting goals is my personal life raft. Without them, I would be a diminished individual. My spanking new goal for 2017 is to hike, walk, backpack, or bike a cumulative 2017 miles. It will be a figure that is easy to remember! With that number in place, I am generally out the door every day to put in at least an hour to an hour and a half on moderate to more activity.
I dumped my decades old gym membership in 2013 after I came back from the CDT. I went back to working out indoors but it didn’t feel right to drive a vehicle a half hour to change clothes and spend an hour inside a sweat factory where I did more talking than walking.
With this plan, I sometimes play catch-up. I had a work week last week that cut into my recreational daylight hours. Saturday morning brought me to a three hour hike in nearby Camden Hills State Park. We have not had much snow here. The ground is practically bare, however, there are ample stretches of compressed, hard, grey ice covering some of the hiking trails and single track that I travel on. Half of Saturdays hike was done on Stabilicers. Fitbit helps.
If you are considering getting in ready shape for the upcoming hiking season then I’d suggest you also make your own grand plan with a mileage goal thrown in to keep you honest. I’d like to thank Carey Kish for getting me started on upping my Maine-based mileage. His 2015 Maineac Outdoors column inspired me. I’d recommend that you review my own blog post that conveys my start.
I boosted the whole shabang up a notch for 2016, aiming for 1,000 miles of walking as well as also a separate 1,000 mile biking. I was in for a nasty surprise this past Thanksgiving when I realized that I still had over 250 miles to cover on the bike before Dec. 31. Early snowfalls and some brutal single digit temps led me to sufferer through a few slushy bone chilling rides, but I made it.
I plan to amassing at least 100 bike miles a month from now until my birthday on March 27.
What about you? Ready for a mileage goal of 1,000 miles to invite you outside more? Who is in for a belated New year’s revolution or two?
I’ve biked indoors on rollers when that was all we had, back in the 1970’s. Since then turbo trainers came out. I haven’t used mine for at least a decade. I don’t want any part of riding indoors. The sweat dripping off one’s body rusts the painted surfaces of a bike frame, and collects on the floor. When I rode indoors, I was in the habit of draping absorbent towels over the surfaces of the bike that caught the stream of sweat running down my chin and brows. It’s also boring to bike indoors. That’s why people watch TV, read, or watch their computer screens while they crank the pedals round and round.
Yesterday, I took an actual 10 mile ride in the middle of a rainy day, when there was a 1 hour break in the precipitation. Normally every ride I take from my house is a loop. We get locked into old patterns.
I live on High Street on the edge of Lincolnville, bordering the town of Hope, Maine., where there are some very large parcels of land held by relatively few folks . The last mile or so of the road toward Hope doesn’t have any telephone poles nor overhead (or underground) wires. There stands one old farmhouse smack dab in the middle of 1,100 acres around Moody Pond. Without any need to trim foliar entanglements, oak and maple limbs reach from both sides of the street to entwine, creating a tunnel effect that is most spectacular in autumn, when the landscape lights up with spectacular waxy hues of red, orange, and yellow.
People enjoy walking High Street. This year, increasing numbers of people parked at either end of my street to walk for the joy of it. It’s not busy, except for late afternoon. Most of the time, walkers never encounter us residents. It is also one of the few stretches around where you are not going up or down some 400 plus feet in elevation on a bike ride or walk.
These last two days, I took a short one-hour spin on High Street. I didn’t travel more than 1.3 miles in any direction from my house, and felt guilty at how much fun I had riding a double route on this recently resurfaced asphalt road.
It took me 32 years of riding right here to take this most simple ride: out the door to the street, then ride right to Levensellar Pond for 1 mile, then head backpast the house in the opposite direction to Moody Pond, where I turned around and headed back 1.3 miles to my house, where I repeated the exact same route, snagging 10 miles in just under an hour.
Moving over the landscape on foot or two wheels is my daily practice. There is bigger purpose in my 10 mile triumphs. I’m needing just 48 more miles to reach my goal for 2016- one thousand miles on the bike. I met two other 2016 goals already: 1,000 miles of walking/backpacking and reading 25 book, one every two weeks.
I’m injured. It’s early November and I’m now at my lowest point in working toward my fitness goals for this year.
October 16 is a bad day for me. Last year, I was off my bike for a month after I had a crash going over a rocky stream bed in the Rockland Bog, an event that occurred on Oct. 16, where I opened up a large gash on my knee as well as bruised the top of my shin bone. A bruised bone is a painful experience. I take so much longer to heal now than when I was a younger man. It seems to take a month for me to heal.
Would you believe that this past Oct. 16, the exact same day, but one year later, I had another unexpected bike dismount, and in the Rockand Bog- again? This time I rolled onto my decrepid right shoulder when the soft ground crumbled underneath my mountian bike tires as I was skirting the edge of a deep mud pit. Thankfully I landed on a grassy patch of soft earth, but the damage was done.
According to the best shoulder surgeon in Maine, I own a right shoulder that is as worn out as one on an 85 year old man. It is riddled with arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis, with bone to bone contact coming and going. Among my seven surgeries, I have had two shoulder surgeries, one on each with the last in 2007, where the same Dr. Endrezzi told me that my right shouder would need to be replaced in 5-8 years, so I am overdue. I see him yearly now, where he takes a fresh x-ray of the joint and compares it to past xrays, where we note the progression of disease. It’s only a matter of time. I just hope it is not that time right now. I am not ready for surgery, particularly the long rehab required for a complete shoulder replacement.
I have tried riding my road bike just once since Oct. 16 and even the act of trying to relax my arm by resting my palm on the soft right grip and occasionally shifting and lightly braking resulted in a spike in the pain, so no more bike right now.
Thankfully, I can walk, so hiking has been my sole fitness choice for almost a month now.
On Jan.1, 2016 I set a yearly goal of hiking 1,000 miles and biking another 1,000 miles. I was making excellent progress at reaching both, until now. I have my 1,000 mile of hiking in the bag already, but I still need 250 miles of biking to happen in the next month and a half.
Here’s my Strava data, reflecting my totals to date:
I feel cushioned by logging 93 hours of combined hiking and biking in Septmber this year, a strong number that reflect three weeks of extended backpacking.
Another new goal for 2016 is me averaging 75 minutes of moderate to more walking or biking a day. My research points to that number is the optimum level for me to gain positive mental and physical benefits. Less than that produces lesser results, and any more appears to not only reduce benefits, but brings about a cascade of fatigue that increases inflammation and requies me to do nothing for a day or two in order to recover.
I learned about heart rate variability from a fellow psychologist this year, and since April, I have developed the habit of taking a three minute reading while wearing a heart rate chest strap and firing up the Daily Beat HRV app after I wake up each morning. Based on the reading, I adjust my activity level for the day. Personal subjective assessment of my mental and bodily fatigue is often out of line with what my heart rate variability numbers indicate. 95% of the time,I feel good and the numbers tell me to push it for the day, but I recently came down with a cold, and before the stuffed head and sneezes started, my HRV readings dropped significantly. The time variations between my heartbeats leveled out, a signal that suggests compromised metabolic activity that needs to be respected by backing off and resting a day or more.
The outdoor temps are predicted to be up to almost 60 degrees today. My HRV reading to day was back to favorable.
I plan to log some slow miles on easy terrain today, as I hope to be finally back on track to wrapping up a very good year of hiking and biking.
And yes, I have already voted today – that was done a couple of weeks ago by absentee ballot.
In September of 2013, I walked away from the treadmill at my local YMCA where I had been a faithful member for decades. An 18 mile round trip Camden and back to walk indoors on a mechanical device with all these TV screens on the wall in front of me blaring trivia and shock news seemed wrong. Instead, I now walk or ride one of my bikes for 75 minutes almost every day. I also tend my vegetable gardens.
The best souvenir that I‘ve brought back from the Portuguese Camino is not my small wheel of aged Galatian cheese, my tiny espresso cup/saucer, my scallop shell/cross tattoo, or my wool cap. It’s this picture.
It was taken along the coast of Portugal on my first day on my month long hike. It’s one of many hundreds of small summer family vegetable gardens that are the norm in this part of the world. All the basics are covered: lettuce, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and the almighty collard green- looking like a morphed cabbage plant that also serves double duty as a parasol. These gardens sometimes are paired with a few chickens, in one of the planet’s mutually beneficent relationships. The chickens eat the weeds, garden trimmings, and consume bugs, with the garden receiving nutrition from chicken manure.
That picture has framed my activity here at my home for the past week. I have a renewed interest in elevating my vegetable gardening skills to a higher level. I don’t just want to plant a garden, I now look forward to tending it lovingly as well.
Last year was the first time I used an electric fence to keep the voracious deers from eating my food. It worked, and now that fence is serving its second season of duty.
I have purchased a new hose to water my garden, as well as successfully employing a drip irrigation line to carry us through the dry days. We are limited to how much water I can draw from my dug well, so this week, I am setting up a system to collect rainwater off my roof where it can be stored in a large plastic tank and then gravity fed into the two plots below.
I am a bit behind in the planting schedule. I was able to plant leeks, onions, tomatoes, kale, and some lettuce before I went a way to hike in Portugal and Spain for the month of June. It was unseasonably cold here when we were away, so both the vegetables and the weeds held back a bit until I returned. I had plenty of compost to apply, under the plants, that had aged nicely over the last year from inside my two plastic bins.
Deer love lettuce, so I made a wire cage overlay to protect a small area of various leaf styles.
In the space of a week, seeded plantings of beans, beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, bok choi, and salad mix are out of the ground and greening up under the sun. My neighbor Bill had overflow plants from his own greenhouse that he shared with me: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, summer squash, and zucchini. I bought a few more plants to round out the garden choices: eggplants, broccoli, peppers, basil, parsley.
I have a new experiment going with my brassicas. I have been planting on this land for close to 40 years and in that time I have developed a serious problem with clubroot on my broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts plants. Clubroot is a soil born disease which causes grossly enlarged and malformed roots and stunted, sickly plants. The normal solution is to use a 4 year rotation for those vegetables along with treatment of the soil with lime, but it’s easier to read about this practice than carry it out. I am trying out a new idea.
Home Depot had 40 pound bags of topsoil on sale for $1.58. I bought twenty bags. I planted a broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower seedling in each bag, which I perforated with 12 holes on the bottom. My reasoning is that the plastic bag will keep the disease away from the fresh soil in the bag and I should be growing and harvesting some serious greenage this season.
An unexpected benefit from my work in the garden is the surprising degree of exercise that I have been able to derive from all the digging, tilling, planting, wheelbarrowing, hoeing, watering, pulling weeds, and removing rocks that are part of home agriculture. Here’s a screenshot from Saturday’s Fitbit results from my iPhone 6, that sat in my pocket in a plastic bag while I worked :
8 miles of movement, and it’s not just walking! I can attest from the aches and pains in my muscles that I am getting a practical “crossfit” experience in dealing with these two plots that are less than 100 feet away from my door.
Now that the chickens have moved out , I also have a greenhouse on the south side of my garage that can carry another whole bevy of fall and early winter vegetables that I can establish. And there is that pine tree that I have to cut down that’s shading the greenhouse too much. And the grass needs cutting, and there is firewood to cut up from the six trees that Gary and I felled in May before I left to hike.
There’s also the satisfaction and nutritional benefit of eating real food. I give way a bit of extras.
And finally, I am most interested in planting Padron pepper seedlings in the greenhouse and enjoying the experience of roasting, salting and eating those delicious appetizers in a couple of months.
Who would have predicted that this “back to the lander” from the 1970’s would be leaning on the most simple of actions to improve his quality of life ?