When I first volunteered to earn my hours for Level 1, I was clueless. I still am in many ways, but I was so green then, and I am not referring to my thumb. I bounded out of my car towards St. Andrew’s Community Garden and began digging an irrigation ditch, as I was instructed to do. I so much agree with that initiation. What is gardening, if not hard work? And I made it even harder by not being prepared. So before you gleefully drive to a henceforth obscure site, at least for you, get your items together so you can return again and again.

Start with a 5-gallon plastic bucket. I know some of you may have decorated baskets for your items with matching garden gloves, but cut the cutesy now. You need something sturdy which has a handle, and, if damaged, does not dull your spirits. First and foremost, take care of yourself by packing a large, full water bottle, strong sunblock, a wide brimmed hat with a chin strap so you do not have to chase your hat onto a major thoroughfare when it blows off, sunglasses, and leather gloves. Leather is hotter than canvas, but it lasts more than two hours before getting holes. Wear light colored clothing and bring a snack, preferably not chocolate which melts all over your seed packets on a warm day. Consider used clothing instead of pristine, expensive togs. A chance of sweat mixing with “soil”, designing large, permanent Jackson Pollock-worthy stains, runs high. Do not forget insect repellent, if you are prone to attracting our friends, and wear long sleeves and pants if you are even mildly allergic to sumacs or other plants. The shoes: a sturdy, closed toed pair which can and will get muddy. A plastic bag for your gardening shoes is only for the connoisseur. I even wear socks to avoid insects and blisters.

I have already made so many mistakes for everybody! Yet I am not done with advice, if you are still here with me.

Bring your own tools, unless you don’t mind raw, oozing blisters (from using dull tools, the ones early birds skipped over) as bragging rights. Label your tools, too, or they walk off, not necessarily due to the neighborhood klepto, but they just work their way back into the shed of wherever you are. If you really want to impress the crew, although this step is treacherous, since people might assume that you know more than you do and pummel you with all sorts of esoteric questions, get a tool belt. I swear the sexiest garment I saw during the summer when I earned my first dozen volunteer hours was a tool belt. She got more done in a shorter length of time than me because I spent half the day running back and forth for various tools. You might be entering a new zone, so get the gear. In order of importance: a trowel, pruning shears, a weeder, a watering can, a shovel, a rake, and loppers. A good, sharp knife has many uses. Might these items be on sale at local hardware stores during snow blower season?

Last but far from least, get your body in shape to bend, yank, and grunt by exercising before spring, but that’s another article. Consider a first-aid kit in your car, if you became glassy eyed during the previous suggestion. Load an ICE (in case of emergency) phone number into your cellphone, so your fellow gardeners can contact someone if you have a heat stroke. Some of us might be little old grandmas, like me, but wimps we are not!

Submitted by Bess Lovec