I have a love/hate relationship with summer. It is admittedly my least favorite season of the year. The longer we garden and homestead, the more I appreciate the cycles of the seasons and find myself in rhythm with nature, and I love that. But I just don’t love the high heat and humidity that comes with the summer. Or the bugs. But I love the fun activities that come along with summer, and more importantly, I love gardening. So what do you do when it seems like it’s too hot to garden? I spent some time earlier this summer looking into different ways of staying cool in the garden, and hopefully you find some of these tips and tricks as useful as I have!
I fished around in the recesses of my pregnancy-addled brain to remember all of the things I could think of to help me stay cool. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m out of practice with this stuff or the pregnancy brain, but I wasn’t coming up with much! So I turned to my friends who garden and/or farm (in the Facebook group Old Paths to New and Self-Reliant Living) to ask them how they stay on top of their outdoor chores during the dog days of summer. After all, it’s not just our garden that needs to be taken care of, it’s our animals, too. Most of these tips can help you get all of your outdoor chores completed, not just your garden work. I’ve been following as much of the advice as I can, and have tested several of these methods.
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#1 Avoid Peak Sunlight
The number one tip that everybody had was to work outside before and after peak sunlight. (For most people, I believe that’s 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) Work in the early mornings, and work in the evening. Some people head out as early as sunrise, and they almost all come in by 11 a.m. at the latest. If they are going to go back out to work, most wait until after dinner time.
Personally, I try to abide by this “rule,” but I have to admit, with 5 kids and homeschooling, this can be a bit tricky. Between our normally busy routine and the addition of summer activities, it can be difficult to get my work done during non-peak hours which is why the rest of this advice is so helpful.
#2 Water is Your Best Friend
In just about every way, water is your best friend when it comes to staying cool. If you are working outside during a hot day, it’s so important that you stay hydrated (I’ll come back to this), but in addition to that, water works wonders for cooling your core body temperature. Steven Q. said he keeps the sprinkler on while he gardens (not necessarily in the garden), and he’ll walk through it periodically to cool off. Lisa V. said she lets her kids spray her with squirt guns on hot days while she works. Somebody else said they’ll get their clothes damp before going out to help stay comfortable. One person said that they keep a bucket of water handy so that they can dump it on their self. You could also dunk your head into it if you’d rather not dump it all over yourself. A kiddie pool is good for soaking your feet for a couple of minutes to refresh yourself. And of course, a jump in a pool or a stream or a pond, or even a quick shower can work wonders for bringing that body temp down.
#3 Light Clothing
Light clothing, both in weight and color. Don’t wear heavy clothes to do your chores, and don’t wear dark clothes. Light colors reflect the light from the sun and dark colors absorb it. If you wear light colors, the sun’s rays actually bounce off of you to some extent or another, and with dark colors, it sucks in the rays of the sun and heats up quickly. The thickness of your clothing matters, too. You wouldn’t wear winter clothing in summer, so make sure you are thinking smart. Sometimes it’s a necessity to wear long clothing such as pants or long-sleeved shirts during the summer, but if you don’t have to, then don’t do it. If I’m weeding in the garden, I usually wear pants, or if I’m picking raspberries, then I’ll wear long sleeves, but if I don’t need to wear long clothing, I don’t.
Unfortunately, I don’t own a lot of light colored clothing, probably because I get stains on everything, so I go for the lightest things I have in my dresser or the lightest-weight stuff that I can find. Remember that the fabric that you wear makes a big difference in how you feel. Cotton is a lot more breathable than most synthetic materials, but certain stuff is designed to “breathe” better, like a lot of newer athletic clothing.
Speaking of clothing, your gardening gear makes a difference. I have a pair of “farm” boots that I wear a good chunk of the time for varying chores, but they can make me pretty hot, so I don’t wear them unless I have to this time of year. Sometimes we need waterproof footwear, but make sure you don’t burden your body when it isn’t necessary. Wear the right socks, too. Not wearing socks with your shoes can actually make you warmer, so don’t ditch the socks if you don’t have to.
#4 A Hat is Your Second Best Friend
If water is your best friend when it comes to gardening, a good hat is your second best friend. I have gone years without using a hat in the garden. Two years ago, I started wearing a baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized how helpful a wide-brimmed hat really is. I picked up a floppy hat on clearance because that was the most affordable option I could find that day while on a budget, and it’s been really helpful, but as soon as I can, I want to upgrade to something with a stiff brim or an adjustable brim. The wide-brimmed hat keeps the sun out of your eyes, off of your face, and off of your neck. You don’t realize how much of a difference it makes to keep your neck shaded until you do it!
Not only is a wide brim helpful, but it should also be a well-ventilated hat. Straw hats or hats that have some sort of mesh built in are meant to help keep the air flowing within your hat. I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you wear a baseball cap that your head gets all sweaty, but it’s definitely a lot better with a hat that has some breathing room!
#5 Body Coolers
Speaking of necks, did you know that your neck is one of the points on your body that releases the most heat? The top of your head, your neck, your lower back, and your feet are all release points on your body’s natural temperature regulation system. If you get too warm, your body releases the extra heat from these parts of your body. So aside from staying damp, how does one go about keeping their heating/cooling points well regulated? Two ways of doing that are a neck cooler or a cooling vest. My friend Amber of The Farmer’s Lamp wrote a post about staying cool with a neck cooler, and even has a pattern for making your own. I’d have loved to have made one for myself, but a combination of morning sickness and my sewing machine being borrowed temporarily were somewhat prohibitive to me actually doing any sewing of my own. Amber was sweet enough to send me an extra neck cooler that she had! She’s been dreadfully setting up her new homestead with her family to the mountains of Tennessee, but happened to find her box with her neck coolers packed away and took the time so send me one in the mail. Isn’t that sweet?!
I didn’t waste any time putting mine in a bowl of water in the fridge, and I was quick to test it out the same day. I actually went out to work in the garden for about an hour since I really needed to work out there for a bit while I waited for the neck cooler to absorb the water, and boy was I S-W-E-A-T-I-N-G when I came back in! The first thing I did was to put on the neck cooler, and I can’t even describe to you how refreshing it felt to put it on. I could immediately feel my core body temperature coming down. Amber recommended that I make at least one more when I get the time so that I can rotate my coolers every hour or so while gardening. I think I’ll be making multiple when I get the chance so that Scott and the kids can also wear them. They do the bulk of their cooling for about 20 minutes, maybe 30, but still help for another 30 or so, at which point it’s best to stick it back in the fridge. I also found that it’s good to flip it over every so often since the water beads on one side might be cooler than the other, kind of like a hot pillow in summer. Another alternative to the neck cooler would be to get a small towel wet with cold water and wear that around your neck.
Somebody else told me about a cooling vest which is a vest with pockets in it that you can stick ice packs or the like into to provide torso cooling. This also sounds amazing, especially for folks in regions much hotter than where I live.
#6 Take Breaks and Stay Hydrated
Take breaks and stay hydrated…it’s as obvious as it sounds. If you have to go outside to work during peak sunlight, make sure you take plenty of breaks! If you have to work far from the house or you simply don’t have AC, find a shady spot to sit and rest, and make sure you remember to pound those fluids! The less hydrated you are, the hotter you will feel, not to mention the greater your risk for things like heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Working without breaks can cause your body a ton of stress. It’s better to work in spurts if necessary.
During the times that you are sweating the most, it’s important to replenish yourself. Water is great, but also with the right kinds of minerals. When we sweat, we deplete our body of certain sugars and salts that actually help us to retain water. When I ran Cross Country in high school, we always drank Gatorade after practice, and especially after a race to help us stay hydrated. I still drink Gatorade from time to time, but I’ve started to make a homemade version instead to make sure I’m using ingredients that are better for us.
My friend Michelle of Souly Rested has a great recipe for Maple Switchel on her site that you can check out (maple switchel has different names, one of which is even mentioned in the Little House Books), but I also use a simple recipe I got from my sister:
Mix 8 oz. of water with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 tbsp. raw honey, and a pinch of salt. Stir together well, and enjoy.
She actually recommends using warm water and she uses it to help with allergies, as do I, but I can’t stand drinking warm beverages, so I use cold water, or at the very least, chill the drink after mixing, before consuming.
#7 Be Smart
If it’s really that hot out, don’t work outside unless you have to. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are no laughing matter. You’d hate to end up in the ER from being careless. While heat stroke is definitely the worse of the two, heat exhaustion can leave you feeling sick for days or even weeks, and you’ll be required to rest far more than you would have if you would have just rested when it was dangerously hot. Obviously, animals need to be cared for just as much as we do during the heat. They’ll be smart on their own and find shade to hide in, but it’s vital that they have enough water, just like it is for you. Take care of them, but do it during the non-peak sunlight hours if possible.
“Peppermint essential oil to the back of your neck helps to cool you down” ~ Janelle of Homestead in the Holler
Just remember to always exercise caution when using EO’s. Most are not safe to apply directly to the skin and require a carrier oil, and peppermint is not recommended to be used on children as it can cause respiratory issues for them. Do your research! And make sure that your EO’s are safe for use on skin…not all brands are created equal!
#9 Garden at Night
Trudy C. waits until it is nearly dark out and then wears a headlamp to do her gardening. We all know how much the sun heats the earth! Temperatures almost always dip at night, but even if they don’t, there’s a huge difference in the feel of a temperature when the sun is beating down on you. Some people will even wear or use a black light in their garden to help them search out pests like the tomato hornworm.
#10 Take a Nap
This is kind of like resting, but better. It’s good to take breaks, but sometimes we need a nap as well. If we don’t give our bodies a chance to recuperate from the hard work and heat, we will feel worse the next time we go out to work in our gardens. I often find that I crash hard at the end of the day when I’ve worked outside in the heat, but sometimes I can’t make it that long, and a nap is just the ticket to getting me through the rest of the day.
Remember, keeping yourself healthy and cool is about staying hydrated, rested, and keeping your natural heat vents comfortable. Air circulation or methods of cooling for those parts of your body (top of head, back of neck, lower back, and feet) can make you so much more comfortable! Of course, keeping your internal body temp down makes a world of difference as well. There’s a reason we like eating popcicles and ice cream this time of year!
I’ve tried/tested nearly all of these methods out, but I know there have got to be other ways out there! I’d love to hear about any other methods for staying cool in the garden that you have. Let me know in the comments!