Staying active, staying home: Gardening, exercise and dancing

Submitted to Dorchester Banner
Salsa — sure you can! Practice a little with some good music, and you’ll be moving towards fitness and fun in no time.

“Gardening is a 12-step program, which includes planning, preparing, planting, and producing,” says Elizabeth Hill, urban agriculture and food systems educator with the University of Maryland Extension.

At a UMB Go Green-sponsored sustainability workshop on March 11, Hill showed faculty, staff, and students the steps needed to start a garden.
“Before you start, you need to ask yourself five questions,” Hill says.
• Where do you want to grow?
• How much time are you willing to invest?
• Do you want to avoid pesticide applications?
• How many people are you feeding?
• What do you want to grow?

The planning phase involves looking at types of gardens, size and costs, and location. Hill provided examples of in-ground, container, edible landscape, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical gardening, and salad tables. “Make sure you start small — a 3-by-8 or 8-by-8 garden is plenty,” Hill says. She also urged attendees to pay attention to location, which should be ground level, close to a water source, and protected from animals.

“In preparing your garden, testing the soil is important,” Hill says. Soils, especially in urban environments, often are contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. There are a few regional soil test laboratories where you can have your soil evaluated.

If you’re using a raised bed, Hill suggests knowing the source of your soil and compost. It never hurts to ask. Chesapeake Compost Works is vegetable-based, for example.
Before you start planting, decide if you want to use seeds or transplants, Hill says. Seeds are more cost-effective and provide variety, but transplants are less work and ready to plant when you are.

Hill also provided tips for planting — avoid planting in compacted soil, follow recommended planting widths and depths, lightly tamp the seed down to improve contact between the seed and the soil, and water regularly to keep soil moist, but not soggy.

As far as maintaining your garden, Hill offered the following hints:
• Read labels and follow directions when using fertilizers.
• Water roots, not leaves.
• Use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to save time and water (most vegetables need one inch of water per week).
• Cover crops to help prevent weeds.
• With disease/pest control, be aware of beneficial insects.
• Know how to harvest each type of vegetable.
• Learn how to preserve — canning, drying, freezing.
To request a copy of the presentation, email Hill at
For additional resources, visit one of the following:
• University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center
• University of Maryland Urban Agriculture Program

Kids’ stuff
The Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) has lots of suggestions for ways children can stay active, fit and productive during quarantine, including the following.
BCRP’s own Coach Tim shows you the basics for building soccer skills. Check out for instructional videos.

Or try these exercises to keep your family moving:
• Dancing: No one can pass up a good dance session! Dancing strengthens muscles, increases endurance, supports weight management and more. Just play some good music and let them at it.
• Yoga: While not as rigorous as the other activities, yoga is a fun activity that strengthens muscles, increases flexibility and improves balance and coordination. As a bonus, it also boosts body confidence and self-esteem.
• Hula Hooping: An old-time favorite, hula hooping is an exciting yet challenging way to get children moving. As they focus on spinning the hula hoop around their hips, they’re also strengthening their core, improving their coordination and increasing their flexibility and endurance.
• Animal Walks: This exercise can be easily disguised as a fun game for your child. Make some space and call out an animal – like a duck, crab or bunny – and challenge them to walk or hop like that animal until they reach the finish line.
• Cha Cha Slide Fitness Challenge: Challenge family members to see who lasts the longest doing this line dance in a plank position. Go to Cha Cha Slide Plank Challenge and check out the video on the website. Are you up to the challenge?
• Play: Don’t forget about the simple act of playing. Get outdoors for fresh air, a walk or just kicking a ball. Physical activity helps to strengthen bones and muscles, control weight and improve motor skills. Children will see exercise as a natural part of their lives that provides lasting benefits. When outside, please ensure you follow social distancing guidelines.

Try these free apps to bring nature education to your hike or walk.
• iNaturalist / Seek – An iNaturalist app for kids. Take pictures of species and receive badges.
​• See what plants and animals people are discovering in Baltimore.
​• Agents of Discovery – Augmented reality app for kids. Go on a mission outdoors and receive badges and rewards – There’s a Leakin Park mission you can explore and play!
​• AllTrails – An app full of digital trail maps.
• Leps – An app that lets you identify moths and butterflies by taking a picture of them.
​• Creek Critters – An app that lets you document aquatic critters and water quality.
• Stream Selfie – Take a selfie with a stream, fill out some information on the website, attach the photo and submit!

• ​Merlin Bird ID – Digital bird guide that includes pictures and songs.
​​• Celebrate Urban Birds – Pick an area where you can do a 10-minute bird survey each day for 3 days in a row, focusing on 16 target bird species. You can then submit your data to the website and it may be used in scientific research.
​• NestWatch – Monitor birds nest twice a week and share your results.
• ​Plant Snap – Identify plants by taking a picture of them.
​• Leaf Snap – Identify plants by taking a picture of their leaves.

Find more digital nature education tools at Carrie Murray Nature Center’s (CMNC) resource page.